Tuesday, October 10, 2017

All That Glitters

On Richmond theater's high holy night, all I can do is dress up, walk five blocks and settle in for the show.

The scene: the November Theatre for the 10th anniversary of the Richmond Theater Critics Circle Awards, aka the Artsies. To put that in perspective, the Artsies began on the cusp of the new world order: the year the first iPhone was available.

A non-event for me then and now, the difference being I am now a complete anomaly and not just one of the less connected.

A decade on, the Artsies involve blasts of smoke and confetti falling from the ceiling, the constant shrillness of screaming girls next to me (an unearthly pitch that hurt more than the noise of a punk show) and reminders to actors to limit their speeches to one minute.

Please, they're actors.

As it turned out, that was a non-issue because one presenter and eight winners weren't in attendance for a variety of reasons - just moved to NYC, at a rehearsal, couldn't find a sequined tux - so the show just moved along.

Some non-attendees planned ahead, so when "In the Heights" won best musical direction, a stand-in could share, "If you know Ben Miller, you won't be surprised that he sent words to read." Nope, no surprise there.

One of the most hilarious moments came early on when the lovely and talented Georgia Rogers Farmer took the stage to such thundering applause that she had to curtsy and wait for the crowd to settle down, "Please!" she squeaked with her mega-watt smile over an absolutely gorgeous dress, "I'm a professional!"

Cut to row F, seat 5, where I am sitting next to Melissa Johnston Price's best friend from college and in front of Alexander Sapp, tonight's big winner, it turns out.

Having marveled at just about every performance he's ever done, I shouldn't be surprised that he plays an audience member with everything he's got, making him among the loudest at applauding and shouting affirmations when nominees are announced and winners called to the stage.

When he won Best Supporting Actor, he dazzled the crowd with well-deserved praise for the local theater scene, warning newcomers that, "People who come here from New York or Chicago, L.A. or Terre Haute, you better bring your "A" game!"

It was positively inspiring.

Proving that he was worthy of being part of the cast who won Best Acting Ensemble (for "Toxic Avenger," with the entire cast wearing some shade of toxic green) for more than superior acting skills, when Dean Knight won Best Leading Actor (along with the stellar Jeremy Morris for "Top of Bravery") and began praising such unsung heroes as stage managers, Sapp called out, "Dean, you classy guy!"

He then showed his own classy guy cred by praising the other nominees when he won best actor, but only after saying, "Holy shit! Thanks, Richmond, I'm in love with you!"

It's mutual, I'm sure.

Cut to jokes about the longevity of actors in this town - Jill Bari Steinberg admitted to 39 years in theater and Michael Hawke (who couldn't resist tossing out, "Trump is still an asshole!") to 50 years, and you have some idea of how theater talent can thrive here.

When Grey Garrett won best actress in a supporting role for a play for "Rabbit Hole," she immediately began singing the praises of getting to ask a Pulitzer Prize-winning author questions about his play as the cast worked on it.

Cut to Debra Wagoner winning best actress in a leading role/musical for her masterful turn in "The Toxic Avenger" and bringing it down to earth by saying her feet hurt and her contacts were dried out and it had been 10 years since she stood up there to say thank you. Too long.

When Dawn Westbrook won the same award but for a play ("Grand Concourse") she began by saying, "I have just two words: TheatreLab!" and praised the upstart company to high heaven. She then assured the people who had seen the play that the cat was alive and doing great (significant because in the play, it had died due to neglect).

When Nathaniel Saw won for best direction/musical for "In the Heights," he seemed genuinely touched. "This marks one year of me being in Richmond. Thanks for welcoming me into this beautiful community!"

Of all the unexpected presenters, our former first lady, Anne Holton, showed up to deliver the awards for best play and musical (after some mild ribbing about how it feels to lose to a narcissist) to "Grand Concourse" and "In the Heights."

As another year of Richmond theater was brought to a close, all the glamorous people headed across the street to Quirk to celebrate while I made my way home to change out of glitz and into everyday to meet an old friend from D.C. for conversation and laughs, always lots of laughs.

Seven years we've been friends and he still waits until the last minute to alert me that he'll be in town, so I can't help but razz him about that.

I found him in a dark corner at GWAR Bar eating, but convinced him it would be far more pleasant to be outside in the warm, humid October night than in the frigid air conditioning with heavy metal screaming from the speakers. The windows were dripping with condensation from the contrast inside and out.

Call me a good salesman, but it was an easy sell.

Apparently we weren't the only ones looking for night air because Saison Market's patio was full, so we settled for an indoor table until a prime spot opened up outside.

I'll give him this much: he's a master with words (and likes to tell me that he gives better words than any man I know) and not at all shy about teasing me about my "gentlemen callers," as he likes to call this non-existent group, among whom he counts himself.

But his best line came about during a discussion of his older brother, with whom he has a fractious relationship these days.

"I'm the last person to talk to about norms, but I do know what a norm is," he claimed, despite hours discussing the freelancer life we both live. Can't say that I do, but I'm also decades into being non-norm.

Please, I'm a professional.

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