Sunday, March 11, 2018

Pate and Pearls

The queen had a migraine, but the court carried on.

The moment I saw that Richmond Triangle Players was remounting "I Am My Own Wife" with Scott Wichmann playing 35 roles - a play I was awestruck by in its original run in 2006 - I alerted the posse.

Taking my word for it, Pru, Beau and Queen B signed on without hesitation.

Fast forward to Saturday night and Pru is down for the count with a migraine, so the quartet is now a trio as we headed to Belmont Food Shop for a pre-theater supper at Queen B's favorite restaurant in all of Richmond.

Between the unique vibe and the killer food, I've long been a fan of Belmont and although it had been too long, the meal was a start to finish reminder of why I won't stop going until Mike closes the place or I die and they have to pry his pate with hot mustard, pickled mushrooms and lotus root out of my cold, dead hands.

And the pate was after I'd swooned over a plate of winter vegetables and scored some of Beau's bleu cheese custard. Queen B never let me near her mushroom soup, so I'll never know how good it was, although if her moans were any indication, I should have begged.

The only fly in the ointment of the entire experience was an annoying late arrival to the private party in the Belmont space next door, a young woman who arrived in the tiny and very full dining room with a dozen balloons (including the numbers 3 and 0). Despite the bartender telling her to go back out and enter through the next door, she proceeded to navigate the balloon bouquet through crowded tables, all the while saying loudly, "Oh, I'm so sorry about this," over and over as if it were a performance and she was the star.

There was a collective sigh of relief when she finally exited the restaurant.

For dinner, I chose the matelote, a wine and onion fish stew with rockfish, monkfish, scallop mousse and tiny purple potatoes, a heavenly combination of sea and earth that I washed down with Grillo. Both my companions went with beef cheeks with sirloin and, as Beau put it, "I pulled a Pru," meaning he dove into it with laser focus, only looking up long enough to pretend that he wished he'd shared it.

Two desserts - chocolate silk pie, easily the richest chocolate dessert in the city, and maple semi-freddo with cranberries - were shared by all three of us in a vain attempt to feel better about having polished off so much food. That said, if someone had suggested more pate, I've no doubt we'd have devoured that, too. Belmont does that to a person.

Or, as Beau so eloquently put it, "This group travels on its stomach." If that was supposed to be an insult, I ignored it as we drove to Richmond Triangle Players for a different kind of indulgence.

Seeing "I Am My Own Wife" with the same actor and director twelve years after seeing it the first time was a revelation, as much for the changes in Scott's performance as an actor with an additional dozen years of experience under his belt as for seeing it in a completely different cultural and political climate.

One of the biggest surprises for me was how much more often the audience laughed. As we discovered at intermission, a startlingly large number of people were there solely because they're huge Scott Wichmann fans and hadn't had much idea what the play was about.

Especially in the first act, every time he'd change characters (which he did solely with posture, accent and demeanor), people in the audience would titter. It wasn't that the line was funny, but that they were giggling at his chameleon-like ability to turn character on a dime. As someone more caught up in the words being said, it was an unnecessary distraction.

On the other hand, there's no comparison between how much more comfortable the public is with transgender issues now than it was in 2006. When I saw it back then, the play had a far more exotic undertone - how had this trans woman managed to live in plain sight throughout the Nazi and communist regimes? - because there was so little open discussion of trans issues.

It also resonated quite differently because of the country's unfortunate present leadership, which seems to be leading us backward in time rather than forward when it comes to gender issues. In that way, the play has a new urgency that it didn't last time I saw it.

Driving home, Beau and Queen B searched for words (tour de force was being tossed around) to describe how impressed they'd been with Scott's performance, all the more so because neither had ever seen him before.

Meanwhile, I marveled at how a masterful performance that had so wowed me that I still remembered it 12 years later had affected me every bit as strongly tonight, albeit with slightly different nuances.

That's entertainment.

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