Sunday, July 31, 2016

Someday We'll Be Together

Would anyone really want to read yet another sad saga about my attempt to see a play being thwarted by summer weather behaving badly?

That's what I thought.

Better instead I share my walk up a deserted - it was prime church time - Chamberlayne Avenue where the clerk at Walgreens told me he'd driven through heavy fog to get to work this morning. That fog had become pea soup and I'd sweated my way through it to get there.

Walking home, I crossed the bridge over the paddock where two mounted police horses were casually grazing in a mostly dirt field, the one gnawing on some higher branches out of necessity. I remember the first time I'd spotted the horses there and the feeling of amazement that horses lived a quarter of a mile from me.

When I passed Perly's a bit later, the line waiting for seats was almost to the corner. People who wouldn't consider eating outside were willing to stand out there indefinitely in hopes of some beef bacon.

No, you explain it to me.

The shank of the afternoon was spent on lunch and then the matinee of "Dreamgirls" at the November Theatre, which, it must be noted, was completely full and satisfyingly diverse.

I understand that blue hair lives matter, but it was nice to see a matinee crowd who didn't all qualify for Social Security for a change.

With the usual gaping holes in my pop cultural literacy, I'd never seen "Dreamgirls," not the play, not the movie. To my credit, I'm enough of a Supremes fan to have held on to half a dozen pieces of their vinyl all these years, and I've certainly read plenty about their backstory.

So I knew the essence of the play's plot before the razzle-dazzle production kicked off with a parade of '60s and '70s fashions, falls and wigs to designate the passage of time, songs that were well-executed but never truly grabbed me and a lot of choreography I very much enjoyed.

As I did conversation with the charming man who'd moved to Hampton in 1960 and his lovely "friend" ("My wife died 15 years ago," he explained after calling her "friend") next to him, both avid theater buffs who happily discussed venues there and restaurants here for post-theater dining.

To be helpful, I provided a list.

Because it felt like a two-musical day, the later plan was to meet a friend at Dogwood Dell for a performance of "Spamalot," except it was up to me to go and stake out territory until she got off work.

When I got there, the orchestra was chatting among themselves, rows were gradually filling up with a mixture of beach chairs, tall chairs, blankets and, among the young, grass-sitters. It was like being out of town because I didn't see a soul I knew.

Which was only slightly problematic since I was meeting a friend. Later, she calls to tell me she hung with strangers when she couldn't find me, ran into the restaurateur I recently introduced her to and then proceeds to give me the "man dish," at least right up until he calls.

An announcement was made from the stage that there was to be no ball or Frisbee throwing in the seating area, as if civilized people wouldn't presume this. The "no alcohol or glass" announcement was met with no reaction, undoubtedly due to the number of people imbibing.

A few drops of rain, a little heat lightening and the performance was delayed 20 minutes. Lightening got bolder and we were sent away.

Believe me, I know the drill.

Waiting in the bottleneck to leave the Dell, I saw a guy ask about the year on a shiny blue Mustang ('67, classic stuff) and a couple of guys tossing a Frisbee between trees in the parking lot. Making lemonade, folks, that's all they're doing.

Cruising home, listening to the radio sing, "I got a picture of you over the hazard light," and silently giving thanks that young men still write such things, I was caught unaware when, yet again, the Weather Service started warning that Richmond and a lot of nearby places were about to get slammed.

ETA in Jackson Ward: 9:10, which you know means I was determinedly driving east trying to take shelter before any bad weather hit. Why take them so seriously, you ask? Last time they provided a strong warning and time, devastation touched down within two minutes of their prediction.

Seems they are right on the money sometimes.

After deciding not to take out my contacts so as to avoid a near-sighted, impressionistic view of the storm, I took up a completely unsafe position on my balcony, watching as lightening lit up the sky. Never bolts, just enormous flashes and far-off thunder.

Then suddenly, the wind whipped up trees two stories taller than the houses beneath them in a way that said nothing good could come out of such fierceness and a steady rain began to fall.

Two minutes later, the frenetic trees are completely still and the air is palpable. I hate a damp cold, but I relish a damp pre-storm heat.

Before long, a gentle rain began blowing toward my legs and face as I sat sprawled in an Adirondack chair facing the alley. Rain caught on the tendrils of moonflowers twining through the balcony railing, dripping onto my legs.

Sure, I was getting wet, but not soggy wet like yesterday when I decided to walk three miles to drop off rent. I got almost two miles in - I was right in front of Redskin Park with all the weekend fans watching the team grunt practice - when rain started and didn't let up, so I slogged on to my landlord's house, at that point, mainly to borrow an umbrella.

He graciously gave me one and I got two blocks up the street toward home when the rain stopped and the muggy sun returned to start drying out my clothes as I walked home.

By the way, carrying a cumbersome walking umbrella all the way. Grateful/not grateful.

No, tonight's rain was less direct so more enjoyable, even as the lightening and thunder got more and more distant, the temperature seemed to drop and sirens began wailing from a couple different directions.

Inside, without the waning visuals, the storm amounts to no more than the steady patter of rain broken up by the sound of cars on wet pavement and the relentless drip of gutters. It stops as suddenly as it began, kind of like the man dishing.

I may aspire to eat ham and jam and Spam a lot, but clearly there's no double dipping on musicals in one day. Mother Nature says no.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

You Can't Fix Stupid but You Can Vote It Out

Hostesses need not worry about small talk at parties these days with such an historically significant election at hand.

Even when the guest list is all kinds of diverse, pulling from friends, family, work connections and associated tangents, you can bet the farm that once mingling begins, straight talk about our next President is going to come up.

I drove to Church Hill listening to a dire weather warning about impending torrential rain - complete with buzzing - to reach a friend's surprise birthday party. Some friends you'd drive through torrents for, in this case, for the kind of introverted person who became a friend practically from the first time we began a conversation six years ago.

Every time I met someone new tonight who asked about my connection to the birthday celebrant, I had an array of anecdotes about our relationship to share. My favorite, of course, is about how I helped him get the girl, the girl.

Despite my early sagacious advice, he's the one who's been thoughtful and romantic enough to keep her.

That the party had been planned as a potluck ensured obscene amounts of food, including what one friend had warned us would be "mediocre wings," when actually it was wings from Bonchon Chicken that made fans of nearly everyone.

But not for us any nibbling until we'd donned party hats (blue, worn at a jaunty angle), grabbed noisemakers (green, required I was told) and scared the birthday boy half to death when he unlocked the front door, expecting to walk into a romantic birthday dinner chez his main squeeze and instead finding the most eclectic group of people he knows ever assembled.

I can't attest to where the conversation went in other nooks and crannies of the house, but there was some fiery rhetoric going on in the narrowest part of the kitchen near the refrigerator where I found myself.

Not going to lie, it brings up many feelings to hear people talk about being part of the groundswell that wants to commit to each changing just one person's mind about voting for Trump. Didn't childhood literature teach us that slow and steady wins the race?

"If each of us convinced just one Trump-supporter to change his vote, it would make a difference in the election," said one of the two men who'd gotten the "wear peach shirt" memo. His passion was palpable, even if his clothing choice was matchy-matchy.

Truthfully, I can only mock so much because I was one of three women who wore a summer outfit with a cut-out back, so apparently there were different memos for each sex, fortunate for me since I look dreadful in peach.

More than one person admitted that they would begin at the source by trying to change their parents' minds about Trump.

"We need to start by asking these people what they like about him," a friend insisted. "We have to understand where they're coming from to address their misconceptions."

And sometimes, you can't even try. One guy shared that after trying to talk rationally with Trump types, he'd complained to a friend that people like that were hopeless causes. "Don't talk to me about Trump supporters," the friend told him. "I'm behind enemy lines."

He lives in Colonial Heights.

It's satisfying to see how engaged people are in this election cycle, comparing speeches, giving massive props to Biden's, trying to figure out how 2020-related Romney's was, praising Obama's (about whose speech my own Dad had written "[it] exceeded anything sine William Jennings Bryan"), allowing for the significance of Bloomburg's and most definitely still over the moon about Michelle's, all of us convinced that she'd clean up should she run in 2020.

People are scared at the possibility of a Trump presidency and a birthday party of familiar faces seems to be a good place to admit that you're already preparing yourself for the worst possible eventuality.

One woman said she'd recently been part of a bachelorette party that made a stop at Trump Winery, which made her exceedingly uncomfortable. Her mother insisted she keep her feelings to herself and all she could think about was, why throw hard-earned cash at the business of a man whose platform terrifies you?

I feel completely comfortable invoking MLK at this point: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Ahem, the foreseeable future matters hugely, even to a well-aged vintage such as myself.

When the discussion veered to lighter topics, it was far funnier, as when a woman shared her experience visiting a European market that used a remarkable customer reward system.

She and her husband had ordered, and while she was hoovering hers, he was less impressed with his, basically pushing the food around on his plate.

The owner's wife took note, praising her and chiding him, and then delivering 3 or 4 desserts for her with explicit instructions not to share with him.

Odd as that sounds, it gets odder.

After setting down the desserts, the owner's wife moved behind her and - wait for it - began massaging the woman's shoulders while her husband nibbled on the verboten desserts. I'm not sure how it could have gotten much weirder unless they'd initiated a threesome right there on the table.

"I'm telling you about it so maybe you'll want to go check it out for yourself and write about it," she tells me at the conclusion of her story. Are you kidding? Who wouldn't want free desserts and a back rub from a stranger?

A service industry friend chimes in. "Gee, I wish I'd known to try that move before I left my last position."

I heard from another friend who's been training to be a yogi about the challenges of closing down her busy mind to meditate. "I didn't know how to turn off the 17 voices in my head and just be present in the moment," she explained about her first attempt at meditation.

Next thing you know, we're discussing science and why people react to the power of thunderstorms in the same manner they react to being near the ocean or running water: positive ions are released with all three and humans can't help but react to them.

But ultimately, the chatter always returned to the journey from now 'till November, with one young voter admitting that, "Part of me believes that we can really make change this time and the other half says, nah, they're just trying to pull one over on us again."

We can not risk being cynical, kids.

Another admitted he hadn't voted in the last couple of elections and while all I did was gasp in surprise, another friend extended his hand to democracy's non-participant, saying, "Nice knowing you."

Although he's got all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, his point was simply that when you don't vote, it's not rebellion, it's surrender.

It's good to know that I count as friends so many people who refuse to just roll over. Sometimes it takes a birthday party to remind you that we're as great as the people who participate.

Friday Night is Killing Me

Sometimes life is about choices. Of the random things that went on in my world today, let's see, I could write about...

~meeting a Georgetown University sports management major and talking about RFK Stadium
 ~the extended lunchtime discussion of race and politics at Croaker's Spot
~an unexpectedly teary at dinner
~a casual friend sharing that she was married for 42 days. "The first 30 were cool."
~the old rocker (his self-description when we met) greeting me by saying I smelled like I'd just showered seems to me that the likeliest topic for my post should be semi-famous old rocker Tommy Stinson.

Approaching Gallery 5, my mind wandered to my life circa 1992, the year aforementioned semi-famous old rocker put out his first solo record post-Replacements breakup the year before.

His then-band name - Bash and Pop - said it all and I'd revisited it via my 24-year old CD as I drove around today, remembering how I'd used "Tiny Pieces" on several mix tapes I'd made for myself back in that other lifetime.

Why would I not come hear him live four blocks from home all these years later?

All the formerly young dudes were there, a fact which wouldn't have surprised me if I'd bothered to consider the thought. Women of a certain age showed in smaller numbers, like the suburban Mom (of a 19-year who only listens to Slipknot and Marilyn Manson...hmmm) standing next to me who admitted to being a Replacements fan, even once owning drummer Chris Mars' solo album.

P.S. She also left early looking bored. Pity.

Fittingly given what was to come, the opening band was "a less intimidating version of Long Arms," according to lead singer James when he introduced his fine band, meaning electrified acoustic guitars and less drumming.

The funny part is that sometimes James is just another history nerd I see at the noon lectures at the Virginia Historical Society and other times, like tonight, he's a rock god.

That is, when he's not grilling his band mates on the term for castrating chickens, which no one knew. Answer so you know for future Long Arms shows? Caponize. Put that in your crossword puzzle and finish it.

Not long after, James sighed dramatically. "We're going to singk about our feelings. Strap yourself in, kids," he warned, calling the band's sound tonight "castrated."

That's where James and I differed.

Of all the times I've seen and appreciated the talent of Long Arms, never have I enjoyed a performance so completely. Why? Because I could actually hear James' earnest and literate lyrics and comments referencing Kerouac, Country Joe and the Fish and, yes, his feelings. The band's energy, excellent guitar licks and dance-ability was still there, just not as ear-splitting (aka caponzing).

He didn't see it that way, yet this is a man who already knew what play Lincoln was watching at Ford's Theater and when I share that I saw most of it (until storming began), asks, "Before or after the line where he was shot?" Impressive, right?

"The next song is called "Party Girl" and it's for me," he said from the stage. No doubt.

Complete. Nerd. Slash. Rock. God.

No one wants their favorite Long Arms set to end on a Friday night, but sadly it did, freeing up James to mingle, wherein I could razz him about the show starting late. Would he want a history lecture to begin late? I think not.

The tardiness he casually explained away as due to the eating and drinking he, Tommy Stinson and cohorts had been doing at Comfort before the show, such an enjoyable exercise that the semi-famous old rocker had suggested moving his set time back to 10:15 to prolong it.

As you might imagine, no one was going to hold this man to a set starting time. Let's not forget "Never Aim to Please" was the first song on his first album.

When Tommy finally shambled up on stage alone with his guitar, it was with the same spiky blond hair and earring look he'd sported on that first Bash and Pop record. That it was just his acoustic and voice brought back the MTV Unplugged era in spades.

It wasn't the most organized set - "Hmm, what do I play now?" he mused more than once - but he's seasoned enough to effortlessly knock back a handful of new songs before telling a story about mistakenly leaving his Maker's Mark at the bar before coming onstage. The bartender had kindly brought it to him.

"If someone would be so kind as to order me another one, that'd be great," he announced to a roomful of fans. When it shortly arrived, he thanked the guy in the red shirt who'd delivered it and commented on how nice it would be to have a line of Maker Marks stretching to the speaker.

Even semi-famous old rockers can't drink all night without acquiring a little attitude, as evidenced when he sang, mid-song, "But I'll sing for all you mother-f*ckers here," and let out a rueful chuckle.

After the simplicity of the unplugged set, he invited his electric guitarist friend Chip Roberts, the other half of Cowboys in the Campfire (apparently the successor to Bash and Pop) to join him onstage for songs such as "On the Rocks" where Chip could show off his fantastic guitar chops.

It wasn't long before it became clear that these two have spent way too much time together on this tour with Tommy rolling his eyes when he noticed Chip still had his reading glasses stuck in his shirt and complaining, "Every f*cking day," likening their relationship to an uncle or a marriage (what?).

"No, no, I love him."

He should, considering all that Chip's pedal steel playing added to the song, "Match Made in Hell," a song he exhorted the crowd to join him on the chorus. "Match made in hell," yea, we got this.

This tour means Tommy's talking to lots of journalists and he's already tired of being asked "almost every day" about all the new books being written about Big Star, another band whose musical importance, like that of the Replacements, never translated to commercial success.

"I still listen to Big Star's music, but what's with all these books being written about them at the same time?" he grumbled before launching into a Big Star cover. Contrarian.

A set list was finally located but Tommy couldn't read it without glasses and he ignored Chip's offers of using his. The duo were clearly part Oscar and Felix.

Naturally, a semi-famous old rocker has to leave the stage so he can come back for an encore, thrilling the once young dudes and dudettes with the title song off that long-ago album, "Friday Night is Killing Me."

It hasn't so far, but I also just showered. Give it time.

Friday, July 29, 2016

All That Glitters is Not Gold, It's Heat

You know what the problem with tonight was? No eunuchs.

It's not like dinner at Acacia wasn't fabulous because when isn't dinner at Acacia fabulous?

My chilled cucumber/avocado soup with creme fraiche tasted clean as a cuke and creamy as an avocado. I'd rank my tile fish collar (probably my favorite part of the fish) over summer succotash with curry sauce as the star of the table (and the epitome of the chef's mad skills with seafood), except each of my table mates would probably have made a case for their soft shells, their wahoo and their crab cake.

Sipping a refreshing beverage of Lindera farms strawberry vinegar, honey, mint and soda, I was comfortably cool, but one at our table was feeling a tad flushed (despite her Anton Bauer Zweigelt Rose), hardly an unusual occurrence.

What we needed, she thought, was someone to stand on either side of her at the table with  palm frond fans. My suggestion was that they be shirtless, wear harem pants and include peacock feathers in the fans.

"That's what this restaurant is missing! Eunuchs!" she exclaimed, metaphorically smacking her forehead with the realization.

Consider that this was prior to an explanation by another friend of why I shouldn't go more than three days without showering and you have some idea of the scintillating dinner conversation we enjoyed.

Seems her research turned up the rather gruesome sequence of personal deterioration that would ensue sans bathing: the first day, sweat, the second, bacteria and the third, mold.

Growing on one's body, mind you.

I suppose the best news was that because we had theater tickets, we lacked the time for a proper linger over dessert and after-dinner drinks or god knows how much lower the conversation might have degenerated.

It was our take two for Quill Theater's "Merchant of Venice" at Agecroft after being sent home last weekend due to the arrival of thunderstorms. Fortunately, a look at the weather just before leaving home had assured me there was no chance of any rain or storm activity until 9:45.

With any luck, we were hoping the play, which began at 7:30, would be finished by then.

But fish not with this melancholy bait

Of all Shakespeare's plays, "Merchant" is surely one I've seen the least often and probably last as done by this same company when they were called Henley Street. The rarity of productions can undoubtedly be attributed to the play's problematic treatment of Jews, making for an easy analogy with treatment of other religious groups today.

Love is blind

From the opening scenes, the play was strong, in large part due to the uncompromising yet sympathetic portrayal of Shylock, the moneylender, by Matthew Radford Davies, a handsome Shakespeare professor at Mary Baldwin.

I think it's safe to say that his students must leave his tutelage well schooled in the mechanics of total character immersion. Simultaneously, he conveyed the years of persecution he'd endured and the effects of it in his now-merciless need for revenge.

We have friends who practice merriment

Completely compelling as the production was, the sweat factor - at intermission, the heat index still registered at 101 degrees - necessitated fans of the hand-held and battery-powered varieties and copious amounts of water in order to stay alive, forget about comfortable.

Once again, tragically, we were suffering from a lack of eunuchs.

Let not the sound of shallow foppery enter

In fact, at intermission, I was questioned on my ability to exist in my un-air-conditioned apartment given the heat dome that's dominated Richmond the past week and a half.

"Does anyone check on you?" one friend inquired. "If you mummified up there, who would find you? Would anyone even know you were gone?" Negative.

Madame, you have bereft me of all words

Probably the most moving moment of the evening happened when Shylock gave his "I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?" speech, which took place under a sky being lit up by lightening and which competed with the rumble of a train along the riverfront.

I never knew so young a body with so old a head

Now, here's the kicker.

We got through the trial scene, albeit uncomfortably watching Shylock ridiculed for and then stripped of his faith, money and dignity, before the house manager came out and insisted we go inside Agecroft to stay safe from the impending storm.

The time was, it should be noted, 9:48. Kudos,

A straw vote settled the matter for our quartet and we headed directly to the car. Those not acclimated to heat (that would be everyone but me) had long been miserable and had no intention of waiting 15 minutes to determine if the play would be continued.

Besides, all we'd miss would be the so-called happy ending - reunited lovers, unexpected inheritances and ships coming in - and, if I'm honest, while I'd have loved to see the last bit, I was ready for some rain relief, too.

You know, in hopes I won't be mummified tonight. No eunuchs, sadly.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Same As It Ever Was

You think you know a place, and you realize you don't even how it was named.

Next month, it'll be a decade since I abandoned the staid Museum District for the wide open frontiers of Jackson Ward, almost immediately falling in love with the far more historic and quirky nature of a neighborhood "in transition," whatever that means.

Yet it took a visit to the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design today to see the new exhibit "Drawing on History: Infill Design Competition" with a favorite photographer to finally learn how my beloved 'hood got its name.

Short answer: a saloon!

No kidding, it was James Jackson's beer garden at Second and Leigh that Jackson Ward was named after, a fact that gives me no end of delight to discover. I was almost as tickled to read that it's also the least altered residential neighborhood in all of Richmond.

And if you really want me to brag, let's get as hyper-local as my own street. Clay Street specifically is considered to have one of the finest collections of architectural cast iron in the entire U.S.

Shucks, this old ironwork? Why do you think I had the bushes taken down and planted a complementary garden using it as a fanciful backdrop?

After a fabulous lunch, I suggested a visit to the Branch, knowing that, despite my friend's current Southside address, his years in Church Hill and J-Ward would make him curious about an exhibit showing the possibilities of infill building.

For icing on the cake, I told him I'd walked by the Branch yesterday only to discover that block of Davis Street closed because three enormous old trees had come down, completely altering the look of the block and didn't he want to see that?

Arriving to find the trees now removed, his attention went at once to one of the remaining cars that had born the brunt of a fallen tree and he made a beeline for it.

"Ooh, destruction!" he said with glee. Only a guy would want to inspect a car with its roof crushed to the console, full of shattered glass, branches and debris, with rain and broken glass in the cup holders.

Inside, discussing the new look of Davis Street, one of the staffers said his Mazda had also been crushed, but he also looked pretty happy at the prospect of a brand-new car.

Moving on to the gallery, we got an eyeful looking at the design submissions for the many empty lots in two neighborhoods that deserve attention: Union Hill and Jackson Ward.

It wasn't hard to see why the grand prize winner had been chosen. The three-story house design for Union Hill had it all: the same proportions as the surrounding houses and exactly the same feel. And unlike so many more modern house designs, it had eleven (eleven!) windows on the sides of the house and that counts as one window those that were actually three-part windows.

This is a really big deal to me (and should be to more people) because of the past 50 years of building houses with no thought to cross-ventilation, which is completely unlike the houses around it built in the 19th century, pre-A/C.

But the winning design also had an appropriate front porch and two levels of back porch, an essential design element for the neighborhood, even if the reason for back porches - for the "help" to do chores on out of sight of people on the street - speaks to our entitled past.

Let's never lose sight of the first rule of community-building, kids: good porches make good neighbors. That may be an old chestnut, but I find it impossible to get behind houses in 19th century neighborhoods that don't have front porches for sitting and visiting on.

What I could get behind was suggestions by architects for the proposed designs to use re-purposed materials from nearby dilapidated residential buildings in the construction of the new. Brilliant.

Not all the entries were houses and some of the commercial buildings we saw offered fresh ideas on how to integrate innovative spaces into older neighborhoods.

One  three-story building had a ground level space for an herbarium, shop or market, with a one-bedroom apartment on the second floor, a rooftop garden and a three-level public greenhouse behind it. How cool an addition to Union Hill would that be?

Another design had an artists' loft that put artists in full view of passersby, with the goal being creating spaces for artists in gentrifying neighborhoods.

Leaving the exhibit, FotoBoy and I marveled at the variety of ways these architects and architectural students had envisioned houses and buildings that not only transformed vacant lots, but would also become part of the fabric of the area.

Lunch and an exhibition, a practically perfect way to wile away a hot July mid-day. Someone needed more, though, once again ogling the smooshed car. What, again?

An appetite for destruction is apparently written on the Y chromosome. Happily, his X is also strong.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

As Happy as Clams at High Water

You might not know it to look at me, but I have something major in common with Lincoln.

Neither of us saw the end of "Our American Cousin," although his reason was far more tragic than mine.

The funny part is, when Quill Theater's production first ran last season as part of the historical staged reading series, the performance was stopped at the moment when Booth shot Lincoln. Brilliant, right?

Tonight's reprise performance at Maymont was going to be the entire play, so Mac and I showed up an hour in advance to find a suitable spot on the Carriage House lawn, only for it to start raining gently moments later.

We took refuge under cover with another woman and fell into a discussion about a news item I'd read today saying that after years of schools moving away from teaching cursive handwriting, many schools have gone back to teaching it.

Nuns everywhere are probably celebrating.

"But like Madonna and newspapers, cursive has displayed a gritty staying power, refusing to have its loop de loops and curlicues swept to the dustbin of handwriting history."

I told my friend that it was a Louisiana senator who'd heard from a surveyor that young people couldn't read the handwriting on old documents and been shocked enough to introduce legislation requiring cursive be taught in schools again.

The woman sitting near us then apologized for eavesdropping and joined the conversation. Seems she works at the Library of Virginia where they have an ongoing volunteer project where people can sign up to transcribe old letters in the collection.

And, yep, most of the people who do it are older because they can actually read cursive. So what happens next century, I wonder, when someone happens on a cache of old correspondence and there are no cursive readers left to translate?

But I digress.

Eventually, the rain tapered off, stage hands attempted to sweep the water off the stage and the popular 1858 play could commence, albeit without lights or amplification due to the weather.

The scant audience- we were among the few brave souls who'd come out despite the forecast - obliged by moving our chairs and blankets closer to the stage. Some of us kept our umbrella within easy reach.

Aside from the clear and present danger of seeing multiple actors slipping and sliding on the wet stage, the play was great fun and it became clear within a few minutes that it had to have been written by an Englishman. Naturally, the titular cousin was loud, coarse and vulgar, unaccustomed to bathing and a prodigious consumer of victuals and drink ("I'm as dry as a sap tree in August").

A country bumpkin, in other words, used to life in Brattleboro, Vermont, not the refined drawing room of Trenchard Manor, but an honest and decent man, if nothing else. And so American.

Liz Blake White was the ideal aristocratic daughter, Florence, entitled and dismissive of those she deemed beneath her, quick with asides and eye-rolling to the audience. Even the servants are surprised when she decides to be more than decorative and pleasant to advance the family cause.

You? Grave business? Why, I thought you never had any graver business than being very pretty, very amiable and very ready to be amused.

Nice work if you can get it.

Mac and I were feeling the pain of the women in the cast having to wear heavy hoop skirt dresses - anything for art, right?  - while we sat there in our minimal sundresses, gasping for oxygen like guppies flipped out of their bowls.

Just when things were getting good - what American could resist a sweet dairymaid making cheese and butter, a woman who should have been an heiress? - artistic director Jan Powell arrived in her rain slicker in front of the stage and killed the fun announced that more rain was on the way so the show was over.

Sure, it beats a bullet to the back of the head, but it was still disappointing.

As usual, I was so very ready to continue being amused.

Stupid Girl, Only Happy When it Rains

When someone writes, "It was cool hanging out with you," couldn't they be saying you make them forget about the heat?

I'm fascinated to read today that the Washington Post labels people like me "heat deniers," a term that makes us sound more like morons but actually just addresses our rational acceptance of hot weather in summer.

Important to note: it's not that we deny that it's hot, just that it's unbearable. Buck up, weather wimps.

My solution to dealing with triple digit temperatures involves several pro moves, the only one of which I'll admit to publicly is wading out to waist-high depths in two different rivers over the course of two days.

Despite waiting out the sky's ominous threats in a breezy gazebo with friends and strangers, tonight's outdoor party got rained out, but not before some of us gathered for a fine dinner and lots of conversation about theater, hypocrisy and gifts of jewelry.

Because now, finally, I understand why women love being given a bijou or bauble.

To compensate for ankle-deep puddles, a wet dress and missed opportunities, I accept a friend's invitation to Amour for Le Petit Rouviere Rose and the accompanying thrill of seeing a sweetbread virgin's cherry popped after an octopus salad.

We finish with Cremant d'Alsace Rose and sorbet samplers, sharing cantaloupe pastis, blueberry, lychee rose, strawberry, coconut milk and pineapple, along with the heaviest of topics: why some people choose to take care of themselves while others slide into decay with abandon.

For that matter, the more things change, they more they stay just as unsatisfactory as they were.

Proof of just that abounded at the VMFA's fabulous new photography show, "Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott," a collection of mid-century photographs, many of them chronicling just how little progress we've made in this, our so-called post-racial world.

Witness: An image of a man behind a newspaper with the screaming headline, "Seven Unarmed Negroes Shot in Cold Blood by L.A. Police" and another capturing five black men in suits and hats picketing with protest signs, including one reading, "Police Brutality Must Go."

A closer inspection of Parks' images of black life in the '50s and '60s tells stories so much bigger than a first glance offers up and surely must have been revelatory to Life Magazine's mostly white readership. The exhibit could not be more timely.

As for changing with the times, I thought that Old Saltes were the love of my life, but after years of devotion, I find that my head can be turned by a Pickering Pass.

Permanently? We shall see.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Heatwave in My Brain, Smolder in My Soul

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea. ~Isak Dinesan

My first choice would be the sea and my last resort, tears. So I sweat, while the rest of Richmond seemingly takes a different tack: retreat.

It could be when you're walking down the street and, block after block, there are no other people to be seen walking, much less the usual lounging on porches.

It's going four blocks to the ice cream shop and seeing that they're sold out of over half the flavors. Seems the neighborhood has been mainlining gelato the past few days.

It's most certainly when your friends - modern-day hippies and activists when it comes to environmental concerns - praise the benefits of releasing toxins through sweat, then admit that they're going to buy a window A/C unit tomorrow to install in the "community" room of their collective's house.

It's meeting a friend I haven't seen in months for brunch at Amuse (housemade ginger limeade, chilled one-note strawberry soup, Cheddar Bay biscuits du jour, yum, and a fresh take on tres leches cake with chocolate sauce), which is mobbed, but seeing people choose to leave rather than sit on the balcony.

Or it might be when I'm standing outside in my fourth change of clothes for the day, watering my garden and filling the birdbath at 10:30 at night.

I get it, it's next level hot. Call it "soup," call it oppressive, while I take cold showers and baths and train three fans on me while I do nothing more than read in bed or sleep.

Once I got up this morning, my apartment was already 93 degrees and it wasn't much past 9:30.

Arriving home from the Silent Music revival seeing Dharma Bombs play a soundtrack to Buster Keaton's madcap chase caper, "The Goat," it's a refreshing 96 degrees in here, down from 98 when I'd come home from a feisty three hour meeting discussing the past year's theatrical season and who's award-worthy.

While I'm at home, I pretty much live in a tank top and underwear with my hair up. A constant sheen is my new normal. There can't be a toxin left in my body.

No season suits me better than Summer in the South.

Baby, I was born to sweat.

Hello, Heat Wave, My Old Friend.

It was too hot today for me to do much more than read, eventually giving that up to take a heat nap.

Ostensibly, it was for similar reasons that TheatreLAB lowered the thermostat in the Basement to frigid for tonight's performance of "Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play," but now that I've seen it, I'm more inclined to think they lowered the temperature so our brains wouldn't melt from seeing such a complicated and brilliant production.

Beginning with a group of survivors huddled around a campfire with tree branches overhead to simulate the forest that has become their home, the play's cast easily deserves a best ensemble award for making their interaction throughout the play feel as natural and spontaneous as the bonfire parties my next door millennial neighbors often host on Friday nights.

Except they're not dealing with nuclear meltdown.

There are three things you may want to know about the post-apocalyptic world portrayed in "Mr. Burns:" 

First, people are not competent and, second, gay men drink more Diet Coke than straight men. No big news there, right?

Last, and perhaps most importantly, when required to start from scratch, civilization will turn to the "The Simpsons" for a cultural touchstone, specifically, to the "Cape Fear" episode, in and of itself a fascinating choice. Even the Simpsons theme wove its way through the entire production in one form or another.

Wait, now that I think about it, there's a fourth. This is a play so full of ideas, its scope so wide, that you'll leave the theater craving a second viewing just to clarify everything further in your head. My companion likened it to Charlie Kauffman's "Synecdoche, New York" for how meta it was.

But it's also the time travel aspect - the play covers 80+ years of post-global disaster life - that had our heads spinning at both intermissions. Yes, two breaks, both to allow the entire room to be reconfigured so the audience would experience each act from a different perspective.

But it had better be a smart audience, I tell you what, because this is a play that expects you to not only have a passing knowledge of "The Simpsons" and the DeNiro remake of "Cape Fear," but also Gilbert and Sullivan, Top 40 hits (yes, that was a Britney song we heard), the darkest reaches of capitalism, ole bedroom eyes himself, Robert Mitchum, life post-grid and Greek choruses.

I got them all, yet both our brains were in overdrive by the time we walked out of the ice-cold Basement, wowed beyond belief, deep in discussion about what we'd just seen and already planning to see it again.

Good thinking, TheatreLAB, cooling our brains down before electrifying them. It's what Bart would have done.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Don't Tell Dad

Everybody has their own beach rules.

You can spring from the same set of loins, but it doesn't mean you "do" the beach the same way as your kin, a fact of which I'm reminded every time I share someone's beach time with them. The past few days have been at a cottage called "Flip Flops" with a couple of my sisters and various members of their clans.

We couldn't be more different beach-wise, at least in most ways.

Oceanfront is a must for me, while she's okay with oceanside, which is still considerably better than the sister who rents in the woods on the Sound side.  I want to hear and see the ocean every minute of every day I'm there.

I wouldn't think of using air conditioning ever (hell, my cottage didn't even have window units until two years ago), but especially when I'm surrounded by salt air and breezes, while my sister cools her beach house to meat locker temperatures. Walking in, hot from the beach or wet from a shower, is unpleasantly cold.

Every cottage needs a screened-in porch in my opinion, yet my sister only requires a covered porch, although I will say that this year's did at least have a view of the ocean. I said nothing when she began the day by slathering anti-itch cream on all the bites on her ankles from last night's porch session.

They like to be off the beach by 4:00 while my favorite beach time is just beginning then. Maybe it's the art historian in me, but I can think of no richer, more saturated colors in summertime than the last few hours before about 7:00, after which the evening can officially begin.

And what folly is this? My father instilled in the six of us the absolute need for binoculars at the beach, yet they don't bring them. So all the strange ships far out in the water, the dark schools of bluefish just under the surface and playful pods of dolphins have to be scrutinized from afar. What can a person learn from that distance?

Where we agree is that time spent at the beach means time spent in the ocean.

Knowing today was my last day there and breaking every mother's rule about eating and going in the water, I finished my lunch, wiped the crumbs on my legs and headed directly into the ocean just behind Sister #4's family.

Nephew #1 eventually joined once the left and it was just us when three dolphins surfed the waves directly in front of us. As many times as I've seen them, I'd never been closer. Yet he headed back once he realized his beer was getting warm onshore.

Left alone in the brilliant green water by myself became almost a meditation.

Up to my neck, with no one around to talk to, it occurred to me that this was why doctors used to send recovering patients to the seashore: the gentle exercise of staying above the waves, the warm yet still refreshing water, the briny air all combined to make me feel utterly relaxed but also strangely invincible.

After a while, Sister #2 joined me in the ocean, saying I'd looked pitiful out there by myself. Beer gone, Nephew #1 returned, only to crack us up with his Nature Channel impersonation as a pale, young woman who'd been floating on a paddleboard nearby attempted to awkwardly stand.

In the muted voice of a golf announcer, he intoned, "Yes, and now she's presenting her albino thighs and cheeks to capture the male's attention and find a use for her child-bearing hips...." before she took a nosedive.

So much for my meditative state.

By the time I finally climbed out of the water, fingers as wrinkled as raisins, it had been nearly two hours since I'd given over the rest of my day at the beach to the ocean and it was time for a quick outdoor shower to get the salt crust out of my ears before heading home.

Home, past signs saying "Blue Lives Matter," behind an 18-wheeler spewing dirt like smoke with projectiles (illegal, right?) which, given my open car windows, felt a lot like traveling in Pigpen's wake and uncomfortably close to a group of trucks with Confederate flags parked on the side of Route 460.

None of which, I'm happy to report, affected my ocean-induced state of relaxation.

I made it home in time to catch Afrikana Film Fest's outdoor screening of the 1988 cult classic "Coming to America" being shown up on the hill at Tredegar under the stars.

Guests were encouraged to recite lines, sing songs and act out and they did. Dogtown Dance even performed live when the palace dancers did their big number in the movie.

Honestly, I hadn't seen it since I saw it in the theater when it came out when we were all in Eddie Murphy's thrall and swooning to hear him say things like, "I want a woman that will arouse my intellect as well as my loins."

It also didn't hurt to have - flashback! - Arsenio Hall say stuff such as, "Girl, you look so good, someone ought to put you on a plate and sop you up with a biscuit."

It's a compliment I know I'd be happy to hear, although it might taste a little gritty. I've still got sand in my hair.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Summer's Here and the Time is Right

They are commandments, not suggestions ~ god

Puh-leeze. Only heading South would I see such nonsense painted on the side of a truck.

Whoa, big fella, separation of church and commerce, remember?

Once I'd moved on to the easterly portion of the drive, I pulled over at Adam's Country Store for ham sandwiches and a discussion of who does what around the store. The old gent opening my soda tells me Dad used to spend a lot of time when he was supposed to be working sitting on the stool behind the counter, even napping on occasion.

"We said we were going to put a seatbelt on that stool so he wouldn't fall off!" he jokes for what surely must be the hundredth time. Nice work if you can get it, I crack. He pauses, looks at me to let it sink in and laughs out loud, as if I hadn't just said the first thing that came to mind.

"It sure is!" he says with a big grin. All this appreciation for my wit and an RC Cola, too.

So I'm back in Kitty Hawk, four tenths of a mile from my usual house on what is easily the narrowest and therefore most fragile stretch of beach on the Outer Banks.

At high tide, the waves are rolling up under a half dozen houses. When you pull into one nearby house's driveway, all you can see at the end of the carport is ocean. A few years ago, I walked this stretch at high tide one morning after a bad storm and sunk into the sand to my knees. It was terrifying.

But it's enough that I'm at the beach, so I'm certainly not complaining about the width of this particular stretch.

Especially because the ocean looks like the Caribbean, striped uncharacteristically brilliant green and deep blue as far as the eye can see, a line of cumulus clouds stacked along the horizon.

Even better, it's completely clear so when you're in it, you can see crabs and shells on the bottom. Yesterday's water temperature was 74 and today it was 75.

I know these numbers solely from the lifeguard station board, which also informs me of the hormone-driven millennials charged with protecting us from a watery death.

Yesterday's ace team was Cat (complete with a feline face drawing) and Hunter (he of the side ponytail and nose covered in white zinc), while today we got another dose of Hunter, but this time paired with - wait for it - Linsea.

Wow, Lin-sea, really?

If her parents did that to her, they should be charged, but, who knows, maybe her distinctive name set her on a path to make the beach a safer place and who can argue with destiny?

Today's board also carried warnings about "strong shore breaks," which meant that an especially high percentage of people in the water were being knocked down close in, right where the waves were breaking.

I'm not saying it was entertaining, but for those who appreciate physical humor, we did have front row seats to the action.

A nearby man - whether just gawky or frail, it was tough to tell - got clobbered so many times that eventually he became one with the sand and required assistance to pick himself up out of the water.

Because there are seven in our motley crew, when we're not on the beach seven hours a day, we tend to congregate on the L-shaped deck that faces the beach road with a view of the ocean behind it because it's a sprawling space with room for everybody.

We've played Scattegories out there, eaten breakfast out there, spotted the moon on the rise from out there, eventually following it down to the beach to see its shimmering reflection. It was from the porch that we hear Harleys rumbling by and someone doing cannonballs into the pool next door at midnight.

Every morning, from the deep bush-covered backyards around here come the songs of small birds hiding in the shrubbery, an ecosystem completely different from the shoreline one just across the beach road. At night, it's crickets we hear.

There's a rustic outdoor shower and a fish-cleaning table under the house. I've just about finished my first book and I finally evened up the shorts tan I have from months of sunny day walking.

I am in my element and in high goof-off mode. At the beach, there are no commandments, only suggestions.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Burning Photographs

Of course he didn't. He's Ryan Adams.

Play a single song from "Rock and Roll"? Of course not despite its near pop perfection. Okay, surely play something from his complete cover of T Swift's "1989," his most recent album? Hell, no.

The stage at the Charlottesville pavilion was set with two massive pretend Fender amps, a Dr. Pepper machine, a couple of early game machines and a flag with a peace sign for stars. The juju appeared to be good.

Around us were, presumably, Ryan Adams fans from a five year old with a Queen patch on his little denim jacket to a guy with a souvenir t-shirt from the recent Guns 'n Roses show in D.C. The crowd looked pretty diverse age-wise, with the largest concentration - no surprise - in the decades before and after Ryan's 41 years.

Except none of them looked like someone Mandy Moore would have married, if you know what I'm saying.

It was a warm night for an outdoor show, though it didn't compare to the epic swelter of the Arcade Fire show in June 2011 when people were passing out and everyone's clothing was soaked, and Blenheim Rose gets credit for helping with that.

Given my vertical brevity, of course a 6'6" man and his wife had to sit down in front of us, but the guilt in doing so was killing them. The giant insisted on measuring my height against his to determine how far he'd have to bend over if he sat in front of me. Meanwhile, his wife asked if I could be bought, offering me a warm cinnamon doughnut from the brown bag in her lap.

I can be bought. Tall people get in front of me at shows all the time, but rarely am I compensated for the inconvenience.

Ryan Adams looked about as curmudgeonly contrarian as he'd appeared when I first saw him in 2007 at the Norva, balancing that out with his off-beat humor, telling the crowd good-night after almost every song.

After playing the closest thing to a crowd-pleaser, "I Still Love You, New York," he cracked, "I just made that up. Thank you and good night." He sang happy birthday to the lighting guy.

Or, "Okay, I'm going to do the mellowest version of a song ever and later do something with sock puppets," before playing "Let It Ride."

Despite having driven through driving rain and hail to get to Charlottesville, I'm here to tell you there were no sock puppets.

Which was okay only because there was a fabulous dinner at Alley Light first, a make-up date since I'd been under the weather when we'd gone last Fall.

Fortunately, there are do-overs for some things.

Tonight's goal: a fuller experience, meaning we stuffed ourselves silly with a special of earthy French lentils with bacon and sausage, light and bright potted shrimp with garlic mayo and pickled carrots, ricotta with beet cubes and pistachio pesto that we slathered thickly over crusty bread, the thinnest of tuna tartare with shaved Parmesan and a massive vegetable board (that looked like one of those late Renaissance elaborate fruit and vegetable still life portraits) over a Provencal aioli, accompanied by a Maison Shaps Cremant de Bourgogne.

We ate all the things, drank all the bubbles and listened to Ryan Adams outside on a warm, summer night. It was glorious and I have the tie-dyed t-shirt to prove it.

But what  I wouldn't have given to hear "Anybody Wanna Take Me Home?" live. Anybody? Thank you and good night.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Dressed to Kill

No parasol shame.

If that isn't already a thing, I'm calling it right here. There are so many reasons - the strength of the late afternoon summer sun, my experienced skin, hello, common sense - to carry an umbrella when I choose to walk outside and don't care to wear a hat.

The last few days, it's become a new habit to bring my own shade, like I did tonight for nearly a mile to meet Pru and Beau for dinner at Lucca Enoteca. The occasion was cashing in one of my birthday presents, namely a ticket for tonight's Eddie Izzard show across the street at CenterStage.

I'd nudged Beau about dinner reservations last week, knowing that half the show's attendees wouldn't think that far ahead. Not only did they not, some were foolish enough to walk into the packed restaurant as late as 7:00 and think they were going to be seated.


We, on the other hand, were tucked in a corner table in the front window, away from the fray and with a fine view of the growing mob of Izzard fans directly in our sight lines. Color us surprised that people began lining up to get in two hours before the performance even began.

Not us. We devoted 99% of those hours to eating and drinking, aided and abetted by the affable bartender subbing as our server because of the full house, while being honest enough to share that despite the kitchen staff being well-coordinated and running up to speed, the front of the house was green and struggling a tad.

A large tad.

It didn't affect us as I introduced them to Lucca's sublime octopus and potato salad, or as we munched through a meat and cheese tray and an exquisitely flavorful salad of beets, golden raisins and pistachios before polishing off one crostada, hazelnut, and two panna cottas under macerated fruit.

Passing through the harried-looking staff replete, we made it across the street with time to spare.

Now it's confession time. When Beau had gifted me with a ticket for this show for my birthday back in May, I had zero idea who Eddie Izzard was. It's not like I wasn't grateful for the gift, just clueless about what it was.

My benefactors were amazed at my ignorance.

"Well, did you at least look him up on YouTube to get an idea what to expect?" Pru asked logically. Of course I didn't. Would I look at a trailer before going to see an unknown film? Not on your life.

When the usher who seated us admitted that she had no idea who he was (but that the show had sold out), I confided to her that I didn't know either, that I was just there because of a birthday present.

"Ooh, happy birthday!" she squealed.

With no idea of what to expect, I was delighted by it all. The light show, the backdrop of a large target with a man's form on it (so Bond!), Eddie coming out with a bowler hat and cane before tossing them away, all of it.

"He's dead sexy," Pru had warned me, as if ten seconds of watching him wouldn't have told me so.

But that initial excitement was trumped many times over once he began sharing his thoughts, riffing on everything and letting loose a stream of simply yet brilliantly-stated opinions about gods, politics and transvestites, among which he counts himself.

Did I mention there was even Virginia humor?

He blasted the three holdouts to the metric system: Liberia, Myanmar and that other third world country, the U.S. He reminded us that Britain had a civil war first. He insisted that he gave Richmond its first German comedy sketch. "Lord of the Rings" was dissected with a chicken deciding to keep the ring.

How many comedians are able to work in Charles I, "It's  A Wonderful Life" and the Magna Carta into their act? I love my comedy with a side of European history ("What do you mean you lost France?").

Within minutes, I was worshiping at the feet of this intellectual liberal with even more opinions than me, plus a penchant for make-up that began at age four. Thank heavens I had on fabulous Berry Seductive lip stain so I could hold up my head in front of this wondrous specimen.

His was just such a wickedly smart humor.

"Humanity can go backwards," he began. "As shown by a recent referendum vote in my country. So now you know how to vote in your election." Weighted pause. "I'm not telling you what to do, but do not vote for Donald Trump."

Cheers and applause.

There was an entire bit on the use of the term "et voila" and its practical application, a recurring joke throughout the night. He discoursed on how the English language developed so oddly that four seemingly similar words - cough, bough, dough and through - could each be pronounced differently.

When non-English speakers question how we understand the differences in pronunciation given nearly identical spellings, he nailed the English/American response. "We just know."

Pru and I about lost it when he explained himself as an "action transvestite," someone who digs both action movies and make-up commercials. "Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker," he purred.

Particularly hilarious were his rants about gods, which detoured into human sacrifice, god's absence at every major crisis in the world and the problems of being a transvestite in biblical times.

"What did transvestites do in those days? Say I wanna wear Mary Magdalene's outfit!" (Response: "You already are!")

The Kracken made several appearances including one where it came out and started stamping on things willy-nilly.  "Basically, right wing foreign policy," he joked to prolonged clapping.

I saw an usher tell a guy to quit filming the show and not long after, Eddie called out a guy in the third row, saying, "Is someone taking photos? Please turn that thing off so you stop bothering your neighbors and stop doing it every few seconds or it's a video!"

How refreshing to expect the audience to stay in the moment.

An extended segment on the folly of dressage - he called it "like riding into a cabinet and parking" - showed his command of physical humor while saying it made the horses look sneaky like burglars demonstrated his offbeat wit.

"There's no burglary in dressage," he deadpanned. Nor is there any shame in coming late in the game to the Eddie Izzard fan club.

How do you know if a smart man with razor sharp humor is worth walking miles for under your parasol? You just know.

Monday, July 18, 2016

I Feel Like a $3 Shirt

I have a crush on a new theater collective and I'm being really obvious about it.

How obvious? Four days after I saw Nu Puppis' deconstruction of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," I wanted to see it all over again, to see if my response had been solely a first time thing or if I'd still be laughing (or grimacing) throughout.


Because my delight in this production is so great, I had to bring a like-minded friend along, hopefully to experience the same jambalya of reactions I'd had. We met at my house and walked to Saison for fried chicken night first.

You don't approach this kind of ritualistic millennial mocking without a full belly.

Even though it had been months since I'd made it there on a Sunday night and despite a full reservation list, we were lucky enough to slide into the bar with no problem. My thirst after a busy day was quenched with a rosy combination of grapefruit juice, passionfruit juice and Cheerwine and arrived in a funky 60s-looking glass with palm trees adorning it.

Today's sides were redskin potato salad and squash casserole with still-recognizable squash in it, so neither cooked to death nor buried under too much cheese, but as I told our server, it didn't matter what the sides had been, my order wasn't changing.

Quarter chicken dark meat, washed down with my fruity libation. If only all Sunday suppers were so satisfying.

The plan was to arrive early enough at Firehouse to ensure getting tickets, a smart move given how quickly the room filled. Unlike with "American Idiot" when we were instructed to use our phones, tonight we were told to turn them off because there was no such thing in the '50s when it was first written, nor even during the 80s when it became a play.

So it just wouldn't be right. "We don't want to open up some weird wormhole," artistic director Bassin informed us. No, we don't.

Next thing you know, Max Erlich was belting out "Bless Your Beautiful Hide" and I was thrown back into the Oregon Territory circa Hollywood 1954. It was glorious.

Everything I'd been smitten with last week was just as (choose one or many) funny, irreverent, off-color, snarky, hysterical, smart-assed, well-rehearsed, culturally referenced, corny, stirring and memorably performed as the first night.

You haven't lived in the theater until you've watched a gaggle of 20-somethings show off their stage fighting skills or stuff their faces with microwave pancakes.

Seeing it a second time showed me where the ad-libs were and how different they were from night to night. The twenty actors were just as nimble and their voices harmonized even more beautifully from tonight's better seats. The actors' posturing and asides were every bit as side-splittingly funny.

Best of all, my friend reacted precisely as I'd hoped, doubled over laughing, grimacing at the sound of fist fights and gasping in amazement at some of the stuff that came out of their mouths, the sly side looks and creepy innuendo. In awe of young bodies springing, jumping and arching, oblivious to concrete and metal.

Bottom line: the kids are putting on a show capable of bursting every musical theater notion you might have in your pretty little head.

Get over it. If this is the direction Richmond theater is taking, it's a wonderful, wonderful day.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Lean In to Discomfort

When the world around you seems to be falling apart, you do your part to start knitting it back together.

By the time I got the notification about the RVA Roundtable on Race, it was full. I felt lame until reading that it filled up in less than an hour. My name went on the waiting list, along with enough others that a second session was scheduled.

My fist thought was to invite Mac to join me since we'd just been discussing this subject a few nights ago. What are inherently privileged white women going to do to make things better? Both of us were willing to join a roomful of strangers to find out.

We set out from my house, she with a fetching straw hat and me with an umbrella, intent on joining Stoplight Gelato for today's grand opening celebration. This long-time J-Ward resident has had to schlep to Carytown for ten years for her ice cream fix.

No more. Love you, Bev's, but sometimes a girl only wants to walk three blocks for frozen dairy product.

The place was bustling, the case full of appealingly rich-looking gelato and within no time, a tiny woman came over to thank us for stopping by. I reversed the thanks, happy to have a source in the 'hood. And unlike some places, portions are sized right, prices are just as fitting and the place oozes charm.

I got a cup of mint chip with chocolate bourbon sauce and Mac went with a sugar cone of coconut to enjoy as we sauntered over to the Black History Museum and Cultural Center for the roundtable, passing by the usual Sunday neighborhood characters in place, some under the shade of large Crepe Myrtle trees with coolers and a radio blaring a soul station, others sweating it out playing basketball in the bright afternoon sun.

Once inside the new museum, we joined participants, taking chairs in one of the small circles already occupied with a black man and woman. A younger white woman soon joined us and we were complete.

Like many facilitated discussions I've attended at the Valentine, the idea was to get us talking, first in our small groups, then together as a larger whole. A few rules- let one person speak at a time, use "I" not "you," but most importantly, "lean into discomfort."

About damn time.

The first questions involved our names and their significance, a subject that provided more fodder for discussion than you might thing.

When asked how many people have had their name mispronounced in their life, probanly close to 90% of the room raised their hand. My name is too basic for that, so I was one of the holdouts.

A woman in the back raised her hand and talked about frequent garbling of her names. "We took phonics out of learning years ago and it messed up the whole world!" she said. Preach it, sister.

Another woman said she'd married a Bobbit, with all the baggage that brought, and a round of laughter erupted. I looked at the young woman in my group and leaned over to ask her if she knew the reference. She didn't.

He was the first man most people read about whose wife had lopped off his member, I explained as her eyes grew wide. We elders have to pass on our knowledge to the young.

Moving through questions and discussions, it was startling to hear some of the stories. One man recalled confusion as a child about the races. "But, Daddy, that man ain't white, he's Jewish!"  One woman told of her father having to pay a poll tax to vote. A SW Virginia resident said the KKK is still very active near where she lives today.

And it wasn't just native Richmonders, either. There were people who came up in the Bronx, Queens, Bed-Stuy and the southside of Chicago, all with interesting experiences when it came to race. One woman spoke of a brother who consistently broke the law, disrespected policemen and never got in any real trouble. Because he was white.

"White privilege means getting second chances," one white woman succinctly said.

After brainstorming how to move forward collectively, we cleared the room, so session number two could convene. It's a start and that's something.

The only logical thing to do was to march our privileged white butts over to the Basement to participate in their "Haikus for Change: Poetry to your legislators" event. I'd already scribbled out a first effort and I talked Mac through creating her own as we walked over to Third.

I was inspired by the scene- some people were being filmed reading their haikus, others quietly writing on the carpet or at high-top tables. All purposeful. I wrote my haiku on a sheet of paper and then wrote another. Name and address of registered voter. Boom. Done.

Seventeen simple syllables each about things that matter to me. They're graciously taking care of the enveloping and mailing to our lawmakers.

We, the people, right? Emphasis on "We."

Folly of Word Nerds

Because being on a screened porch strung with fairy lights while a July rain falls just outside is a practically transcendent way to wile away an evening.

That the gentle night also involved mocking, condescension and outright compliments only attests to our unlikely activity: my first foray into the oh-so popular game that's swept the nation.

You read right, last night I was introduced to Cards Against Humanity.

That's right, I killed new age music. How, you ask?
...An ice pick lobotomy.

It wasn't the plan. That had been determined months ago and consisted of dinner and "The Merchant of Venice" at Agecroft. Given the play's talking points about Jewish-ness, I'd chosen Dinamo for its fusion of Jewish and Italian food.

He Who Shall Not Be named (aka Mr. Google Scheduler) had us there before the propeller even began spinning. Naturally, we were the first eager beavers in the place other than staff. Ouch.

Not that I cared once I was sharing octopus salami that looked like paper-thin slices of a jeweled window and tasted  like a seaside meal or polishing off my own cold plate of marinated seafood salad of mussels, clams, shrimp and octopus. Keeping it simple, I finished with a Nutella cookie and we left for Agecroft.

We were a well-oiled machine, seated, with new Shakespeare fans in hand when the entire audience was directed inside due to "pool rules." Thunder and lightening were fast approaching and they didn't want any of us good patrons to be electrified, as house manager Noah so quaintly put it.

A brief wait, a decision to go back outside and begin and then the cold, hard facts. The show was called.

So, you see, it wasn't like we didn't try to get some culture before descending into the gutter of sexually offensive and politically incorrect conversation.

It was my first time on the porch since it had been fully tricked out, meaning I couldn't help but admire all the little touches - Wellies by the door, cushioned chairs of various styles, tables with candles and lamps, flowering plants and antique window frames.

The sole male commented that the ledge covered in necessaries - various bug sprays for body and room, aloe if you did get a bite, sunscreens of myriad strengths - was the only jarring note in an otherwise lovely space, but I disagreed. Vehemently.

A screened porch is an outdoor room, but also a utilitarian one. Such a ledge was completely appropriate, in my opinion, because all the assorted sundries you could possibly require while enjoying the porch were readily available. You never had to leave the porch to stay comfortable.

Decorating roundtable finished, we got down to the serious business of cracking each other up.

As a CAH virgin, I immediately was curious about the fact that there were black and white cards. You mean like the races? Setting the tone for the evening, my hostess arched an eyebrow and announced without so much as a chortle, "All cards matter."

Not going to lie, we had all kinds of fun trying to figure out what combination would win the favor of the round's card czar (or, more accurately, czarina, since men were outnumbered 3 to 1), taking into account who leaned toward corny and who always opted for sick or intellectual humor.

A girl's best friend?
...David Bowie flying in on a tiger made of lightening

Brilliant, right? Okay, but so is this one:

A girl's best friend?
...Licking things to claim them as her own

Turns out this game's underlying purpose is encouraging players to inadvertently remember things or share personal history. Now I know I have a friend who's not ashamed to say she's a territorial licker.

Sorry, teacher, I couldn't finish my homework because of...sniffing glue.

"Oh, yea, I remember that," one of the participants says. I wouldn't have pegged her for the glue-sniffing type, but who am I to judge? That said, no one would admit to being "balls deep in a squealin' hog" when that came up as an answer, but the night was still young then.

I soon learned that some black cards came with two blanks, necessitating each of us to choose not one, but two phrases that best completed the sentence.

The Academy award for...flightless birds 
Goes to...battlefield amputation

To have two such disparate cards in your hand, much less to combine them so cleverly, well, kudos to me.

Although we'd begun playing around 9:30, it was probably sometime around midnight (post-Pimm's pops, Pimm's cups and Miraval) when we got our first card with three blanks.

"Having to come up with three cards is gonna take forever," our hostess warned, specifically looking at a certain slow player. "We're slow with two! We're good with one, one card, that's it."

What's George Bush thinking about right now?
...Not reciprocating oral sex
...Fiery poops
...Third base

Plausible, all of them, right?

As the night wore on, we especially enjoyed questions that referred back to the person asking. So when I read, "What's my anti-drug?" the friend in the colorful dress exclaimed, "Yours?" and stares at me as if she can discern it from my countenance.

Ultimately, it led to a big discussion of what exactly constitutes an anti-drug. That's one we didn't fully resolve.

After a while, I knew my competitors well enough to tickle their fancies with my answer, as when the formerly soggy one delighted at my response to his card.

I got 99 problems but...Count Chocula...ain't one.

Oh, he laughed. Man, if you only knew how long I held onto the Count Chocula card before finding the ideal place to drop it. A far better player, though, was the Bermudian, who caused us to about lose it when she proffered this:

Daddy, why is Mommy crying?
...The patriarchy

When I read the card, "What is my secret power?" a friend looked askance. "That's the question? I was about to answer!" No, please, tell me my superpower. I'm curious.

Looking at the answers submitted, the Czar mused, "It's between inappropriate yodeling and Toni Morrison's vagina," a sentence I would stake my life on has never having been uttered before in the history of humankind.

One minute we were playing, laughing almost constantly and next thing we knew it was after 1 a.m., and this is not a crowd that stays up late. With that in mind, I got up to leave, a different person than when I'd arrived.

Of course I didn't win, but I didn't do too badly, either. There's already talk of procuring other versions since we practically went through an entire box of black and white cards in one marathon session. Cards Against Humanity may be five years old to the rest of the first world, but it was brand new fun for me tonight.

Let's put it this way: I understood the game well enough to find my seatmate's two-part answer absolutely hilarious.

Step one...folly of man
Step two...Cards Against Humanity

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Last of the American Girls/She's a Rebel

That's refreshing.

The comment yesterday from a music impresario when I mentioned I didn't have a cell phone could also apply to today's 96 degree weather, a veritable cold front after yesterday's triple digits.

Even more refreshing, though, is that there's a theater in town where I can see a rollicking millennial deconstruction of a theatrical dinosaur such as "Seven Bride for Seven Brothers," and then just two nights later, a 21st century rock opera like Green Day's "American Idiot.

On the very same stage.

Yo, Firehouse, you are nailing this whole "breaking through" thing magnificently with that kind of variety in programming. Color me impressed.

The show began a tad on the tardy side because they were trying to seat those on the waiting list, which they managed to do, a fact that, when announced, garnered clapping.

"Applause for the waiting list?" artistic director Joel Bassin mused. "Good Friday night crowd!" He explained that they had chosen to cast the play with people who could play their instruments, sing and act rather than use a band and actors (I ask you, does it get any more DIY/punk than that?), which turned out to be far easier to do in this talent-filled town than anyone anticipated.

Like the other night's production of "Seven Brides," a surprisingly large number of people in attendance were first-timers, testament, perhaps, to the appeal of mixing things up.

My fellow Green Day fan and I were not among the Firehouse virgins.

Bassin then warned us things were going to get loud, as if a pop-punk rock opera about disaffected youth during the Bush administration and early stages of Iraqi involvement could have been anything else.

And it was very much a rock opera, and in true operatic form, there was almost no dialog beyond a video screen of Johnny's occasional messages home to his Mom, with a recurring theme: "I forgot to shower. Again."

Hey, it happens.

Although the only Green Day album I own is 1994's "Dookie," so many of the songs from 2004's "American Idiot" were familiar and the record unfolded in a clear-cut story line about dreams deferred and lessons learned with bad experiences.

Growing up, in other words, and I actually recall just how mature Green Day seemed all at once when they stopped complaining about how boring suburban life was and dove into addressing the ills of the larger world.

They all have to grow up someday, don't they?

It was an energetic production and from our seats in the front row, we could see well-earned sweat glistening off every face. There's nothing like watching youthful exuberance explode off furniture or spring up on a platform as tall as they are, but props also go to lone Baby Boomer Starlet Knight for holding her own among the flannel set.

Being so close to the action also meant that when a member of the ensemble was showing off his sweaty bicep mid-song, I was one of the people he offered it to.

Squeeze 'em if you get offered 'em, I always say.

Everything about the production worked, from the rock solid casting to the actors trading off instruments - including drums and violins - to the pure emotion they were putting out to the audience.

We couldn't have been the only ones wowed by the synergy of it all.

Central to the story was how the events of September 11th defined a young generation (the production's director was then in 7th grade...ouch) and when video screens showed footage of the twin towers being hit, I couldn't look. My younger seatmate, though, couldn't look away, especially when angles were being shown that he'd never seen before.

Some things you (okay, I) never need to see again.

Regardless of where a person falls on the Green Day spectrum, the production sucks you back to teenage universality, when life is either flippin' fantastic or absolutely as crappy as it can be and nothing matters.

Because that's how teen-aged minds and hormones work, at least until they get a little seasoning.

And, speaking of such things, entering the ladies' room during intermission, I found myself behind two chatty young women. One was relating a story about her actions that mystified her friend. "Who are you?" she asked incredulously.

Walking toward a newly-vacant stall, the young woman said over her shoulder, "I'm still trying to figure that out."

It takes years, I interjected, as if I were part of the conversation and they both smiled at me with what looked like gratitude.

And if you can turn that experience into a work of art, say an album or a rock opera (maybe a book?), nobody will care whether or not you shower. Really.

I feel certain Green Day will back me up on this one.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Song of the South

Nothing needs to be hot right now. It's July.

Not showers or bath water, not food nor drink, certainly not clothing. It's time to embrace the heat. My method involves taking a walk along and knee-high dip in the river this morning and giving into my first heat nap this afternoon, both out of sheer necessity.

Sure those 96 degrees outside felt like 104 by 4:45, but it was a clear-skied, breezy 104. Honestly, it could be so much worse.

"Not sarcasm: I love this weather. #bringontheheat #you'll find me outside," a friend writes on Facebook. She was mocked and challenged, but I'm with her 100%.

So naturally, I did what any civilized Richmond woman living without air conditioning would do - and has done - since at least the 19th century: donned a thin cotton dress and grabbed a parasol to best deal with the heat outside.

My purpose was simply to stroll over to Rappahannock for oyster happy hour.

The dozen Old Saltes were chilled, the orgeat lemonade was possibly the most refreshing thing I ever put in my mouth and I could not have been happier to enjoy both in air conditioning that was doing its best to keep up, but mostly unsuccessfully.

Leaving the restaurant for the Valentine Museum, I passed one of Rappahannock's waiters standing on Fourth Street and joked about him being outside in the swelter.

"Like it wasn't sweltering inside, too?" he cracked, jerking his thumb at the dining room. True that.

Behind the Marriott's loading dock, a man in a black suit sat smoking a cigarette, pointing at my flowered umbrella as I walked by, saying, "That's a good idea." I wish I could say it was original.

At least I was walking East, so the worst of the sun was behind me.

The Valentine's auditorium was already filling up when I arrived hot and glistening, only to be reminded that of course the museum of the city of Richmond would be gracious enough to provide fans to its guests on such a sticky summer day.

After walking eight blocks, I was only sorry the fan didn't come with a bare-chested man to use it on me so I could just sit back and enjoy it. Addressing my own fanning needs instead, I spotted a Milky Way miniature at the feet of the woman next to me.

What, ho? There's chocolate?

On my way to score some of my own, I ran into a photographer friend and invited her to sit with me. Her backside barely landed when she spotted my candy stash and quietly asked, "Hmm, there's chocolate?''

You see, some messages get garbled as they're shared (like that childhood game "telephone") and other messages could be passed between dozens of women and the original message would stay true. Not to sound sexist, but we don't mess around when it comes to our chocolate.

But it wasn't chocolate we were there for, it was a screening of "Polyfaces," a documentary about Joel Salatin's game-changing Polyface farm, with a Q & A with Joel afterwards.

Between reading and having heard Joel talk before, I knew a fair amount about the unique farming methods and impressive results, but the Australian-made film showed how real people had become part of the movement by interning at Polyface to get grounded in farming basics or starting their own farms using his methods.

Hearing Michael Pollan of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" talk about asking Joel to ship him a chicken because he'd heard how fabulous they were and having Joel refuse, telling him to come to Virginia if he wanted to taste one of his birds, was a perfect example of how Joel marches to the beat of a different drummer.

His son picked up the tune, beginning by raising chickens as a boy and selling eggs to neighbors and progressed to then killing the old hens, cooking the meat and selling bags of chicken meat to neighbors for, what else, chicken pot pie.

The film wasn't shy about the rigors and realities of farm life - slaughter and processing animals, lots of cow pooping, farm dogs nursing - because one of the big differences in Joel's methods over mainstream U.S. farming is that his is more labor-intensive.

Somebody's got to move those cows, chickens and turkeys from field to field if you're replacing the use of chemical fertilizers with rich cow poop and yard bird scratching.

For those of us who recall the '70s, it was gratifying to see so many young couples excited to get back to the land and become part of a revolution in how we grow and consume our food. Watching a babe-in-arms eat through a fresh tomato like it was candy spoke to how we shape our children's palates and not in a good way.

I hadn't realized how fortunate we are to have access to Polyface eggs and meats since he only services an area three hours from the farm, but after watching the film, I'd have to say that his main role now is in teaching younger people his methods and inspiring new generations of conscientious farmers.

Who, coincidentally, look and sound a lot like the people being called hippies 40 years ago. Happy, groovy, nature-loving hippies. Not a thing wrong with that.

During the Q & A, things got feisty when someone asked about being told the farm now uses some GMOs and Joel wasted no time in disabusing us of that notion.

He raved about the contributions of the interns (even introducing three, two current and one former) and noted that they average one "all Polyface wedding a year," as in bride and groom were both employees or interns.

I've heard of people interning on farms and finding their soul mate that way, but I'm hardly the rise-at-dawn-and-do-chores type, so that was never really an option for me. So I may not be up to the rigors of farm life, but I can handle summer in the city like a boss.

"I'm fine with this weather," a guy tells me as I sashay by. "Think about February!"

Those of us who would prefer not to can be found outside. It's July. Sweltering, yes, but happy, too.  #nosarcasm

Came in Through the Balcony Window

Because only a day that began on such an absurd note could end so hilariously.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't be washing screens after going to dinner and the theater, but I couldn't risk the raccoon showing up hungry like last night and finding a conveniently open window leading to my bedroom.

Why would a city raccoon climb a two story building to the balcony of my apartment at 4 a.m., you wonder? Well, to get to the empty soup can in the recycler out there, of course.

When his noisy visit awakened me, I experienced about a millisecond of fear (because it seemed unlikely a person could get up there) and then placated myself with assurances it had to be a 'coon. Finding a couple of cans and bits of newspaper in the middle of the balcony this morning seemed to confirm it.

Resolved: I will rinse my cans better.

I revisited the balcony just after Pru arrived to collect me for our evening out. I'd somehow managed to walk out without my keys, but not without locking my apartment door first. It was only when I went to lock the front door to the house that I realized my gaffe.

Rather than panicking, I suggested Pru smoke 'em if she had 'em and I'd be back momentarily, before going back to the balcony and removing the screens leading to my left bedroom window.

It wasn't the most pleasant of jobs just after showering (I confess, I hadn't cleaned those screens in the seven years since I put them in), but I at least had the good sense to reach in and snag a pillow case to place across the sill so as to save my legs from debris and dust as I clambered through.

Volia, keys procured and our night proceeds. Pru hadn't even finished puffing when I reappeared at the car.

Mom always said a woman must have an emergency plan when she finds herself locked out and mine simply involves breaking and entering. No big deal.

We joined the dinner crowd at Garnett's at mid-stream, but within 15 minutes, every table was taken and to-go desserts were walking out the door while a soundtrack that began with the unlikeliest sounding of bands - War  - supplyied a solid bass line and constant good mood groove.

Over my farmer's salad and her cheese plate, we swapped tales of July, mine of Paris and castles, and hers of pricey chairs used in the pursuit of wooing. It was a more than equal trade.

But the evening was soon to get even better.

First, imagine trying to explain the plot of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" to an Englishman who'd never heard of it. Pru had done just that today when sharing with a coworker what we were going to see tonight.

Something about blunt force proposals, kidnapping and treating women as chattel didn't translate well and her friend was gobsmacked that such a story had ever passed as family entertainment, much less a classic Hollywood musical.

But for those of us who are dance fans, few musicals showcase as many terrific male dancers as this one, and not just in stereotypical dance moves, but incorporating dance into lumberjack activities like rolling a log or chopping wood.

Say what you will about lumbersexuals, but it always appealed to me.

Once at the Firehouse, I chose front row seats, the better to see all that glorious dancing, and almost immediately we were engaged with the woman next to us about the program's artistic note from the new (and young) Nu Puppis, the performing arts collective presenting tonight's play.

Both the woman and I had immediately been affronted by the wording on the program, namely, " ensemble of 20 artists took an archaic beast of the Golden Age and turned it into a joyous affront to the senses."

Rather harsh, don't you think?

Don't get me wrong, I've got no problem with joyous affronts to the senses, but "archaic beast" seemed a tad dismissive of a production I admit to having a huge soft spot for. Granted, it pre-dates me, so I know no world where "Seven Brides" didn't exist, so perhaps my attachment is understandable.

But the woman next to Pru took umbrage with the reference, too, convinced it spoke to not just the script but to fans of it.

Who you calling an archaic beast, anyway, kids?

Before long, though, Pru had mentioned my recent trip and she was sharing her own Parisian memories of when she was 32, newly married and regularly visiting friends in Frankfurt, Germany so the new couple would have a base of operations to tool around France in a VW Bug.

You read that right. If there could be a more exquisite way to visit France in 1972 than in a Beetle with your new husband, I'd like to know what it might be. Go ahead, I'll wait.

"We usually stayed in pensionnes and hostels, but the one place we camped on the whole trip was in Paris," she shared, amazing us both with this unexpected fact. Wait, you could still camp in Paris itself in the '70s? Did it get any groovier than that?

Artistic director Joel explained that this young company was about to give us a non-traditional production that amounted to coloring outside the lines. His hope was that it would affect us in some way and change the way we see everything.

I'd have been happy with just singing and dancing, but I was certainly up for more. And, man, did we get it.

From the opening moment when the actor playing big brother Adam burst through a door in a leather shirt open to the waist to reveal a six-pack and sculpted pecs singing "Bless Your Beautiful Hide," to his references to plowing that included major crotch thrusting, this was not my mother's "Seven Brides."

It was better. So. Much. Better.

This young troupe managed to stay true to the original while completely sending it up, using sight gags, pop culture references and physical humor to mock man's baser instincts at every turn.

When Adam comes to town to find a bride and first sees Millie, the world stops, a spotlight fastens on each of them and the first few notes of Cutting Crew's "Died In Your Arms" ring out. "I..." is all we hear before they bump uglies.

After Adam's brothers kidnap the women of their dreams, Millie refuses to allow the men in the house given their bad behavior. "I won't sleep alongside you, Adam Pontipee," she tells him. The millennial women in the back responded by snapping their fingers in support.

I could have started a discussion group off of that alone, but refrained.

Hands down, one of the most hysterical lines came about after Millie has worked her magic on the brothers, teaching them manners and dancing, even "sewing" them new shirts so they can go a'courtin in town.

Coming onstage in colorful polo shirts, one of the brothers muses, "Where'd we get these shirts?" which was really shorthand for "How the hell did this woman change our lives so drastically, so painlessly, so quickly?"

It's a talent, boys. Kind of like what we were seeing tonight.

Nu Puppis did more than just dust off a golden oldie, they rewrote it for digital natives. When brother Gideon admits to missing his girl, Adam offers him a Playboy magazine and a pump bottle of lotion to take his mind off love.

Howard Keel and Jane Powell were probably rolling over in their graves right about then. And if not then perhaps when Millie slid into the splits as they posed like rock stars, who knows?

The avalanche caused by the women's screaming after they're kidnapped was smartly accomplished by a stagehand holding a white sheet onto which projections of avalanches were shown to a vigorous drumbeat. A rolling metal riser was labeled "tree," a place where shunned husbands could sleep or courting bachelors could pluck flowers.

Now that's some creative special effects.

Humor abounded, like when Adam's log-winded explanations of his bad behavior have Millie looking at her imaginary watch or when the brothers sing of having to make it through winter, all the while clutching their loins to a march-like beat.

When Millie has her baby, it's a faceless form whose arms fall off and is held by its head by father Adam. A mannequin form subs for one of the brides, being tossed and kicked about by her hapless suitor. Sock puppets speak for characters like we're watching a down on its heels high school production.

Truly, this cast and crew was having fun with every nuance of the archaic beast they'd taken to their bosom, managing to insert social commentary, blatant physical humor and every pop culture reference they've ever seen to bear on the tragic plight of men without women.

And that would've been plenty to make for a raucously enjoyable night of theater, but they took it a step further, nailing the big dance numbers despite limited room and having to work around the "American Idiot" set, Firehouse's concurrent production.

There was the classic barn-raising scene, only here a bed subbed for the river in the log-rolling scene. And the "Lonesome Polecat" number where the men moon over their women? Every hatchet was in place, every lean and swing of the tool matched by that of their brethren.

My mother's "Seven Brides" was never far from the surface, even when all the men were in their boxer briefs or Adam was spattered in blood.

Which, thankfully, I won't be tonight after all because the roving raccoon won't have access to me now that I've washed and replaced the screen next to where he does his middle-of-the-night snacking.

Bless his beautiful hide.