Monday, October 29, 2018

Mixing Metaphors

Bagels, backers, tequila and tacos. Oh, right, and Hell. Just another typical Sunday.

It was a glorious morning to walk to Nate's Bagels, overcast and brooding on the way there and blue skies and sunny coming back. Kind of like life. The only problem was that after last week's glowing review of the place, the line was even longer than usual.

Not that we were in a hurry.

But some people walked in, eyeballed the line and made an immediate U-turn. Sorry, but once my mouth is set for Nate's, I don't care how long I have to wait to be satisfied. Some people looked like they'd just rolled out of bed - I spotted a woman in slippers and several people in pajama pants - and were using their line time to wake up. Not a bad system.

When we finally got to the counter to order, Nate himself came over to say hello. When we mentioned the review, he shrugged. "It was no Karen, but it was good." Hilarious.

Given that we'd already had breakfast, the purpose of the bagels was to tide us over during the matinee we were attending, which took place only after we'd spent quality time with the Washington Post on the couch. Yet again, it was a depressing day to be reading the news, but better to be informed.

After outfitting ourselves for the theater, we drove to the Gottwald Playhouse where we ran into a trio of women, two visiting from New York, navigating the parking lot payment machine. It took me no time to find out how the local had been entertaining her guests, chief among which was Richmond's ridiculously low prices for parking. They laughed out loud at an $8 fee to park for the rest of the day. Richmond's cute, right, for its simplicity, I asked them. "It's adorable!" one said in her thick New York-ese accent. "We thought it was $25 and that didn't seem bad!"

They'd done a trolley tour the day before and now were off for a tour of Mr. Jefferson's Capital, but only after regaling me with the splendor of the brunch they'd had at the Stables at Belmont. They were as impressed with the cost of food as they were with the quality of what they'd gotten.

After wishing them a good time, we headed to the same building we'd been in the night before for the gala to meet up with Pru, Beau and Queen B. Inside the theater, a row of tables had been set up in front of the risers of seats and we found them ensconced at the last available table.

The premise of "Gutenberg! The Musical" was that the two men onstage - the hilarious and multi-talented Chris Hester and Paul Major - were presenting the musical they'd poured their blood, sweat and tears into to an audience of of potential backers. Because they needed a producer (aka money), it was just the two of them playing all the roles, a task assisted by the many baseball caps labeled with character names: Drunk #1, Young Monk, Drunk #2, Anti-Semite, Daughter. You get the idea.

As for why they'd chosen Gutenberg for the subject of their play, well, who needs historical accuracy to come up with a good musical? Not these guys. Instead, after Googling the inventor of the printing press and discovering scant personal information, they'd set out to make up a Broadway-worthy story with enough inside theater humor to keep our table in stitches all afternoon.

They spoke about the need for a "charm song," a "big end of Act 1 rock 'n roll number" and even explained what a metaphor is: "When you say one thing and mean something else, but you're not lying." That these two uber-talented men were able to play less-than-talented actors, singers and dancers only made it all the funnier.

Like when Chris Hester as Doug performed the Elvis Presley-like strains of "Glimmer in Schlimmer" complete with windmilling guitar arm nad sobbing voice. Or watching Bud, played by Paul Major, as Gutenberg's fictitious love interest, Helvetica, stomping grapes in a cardboard box labeled "barrel" and flipping her blond pig-tails.

And, yes, she was named after the font, making for some seriously nerdy graphic design humor.

As the duo went through all the scenes in their would-be play, Doug would set the scene, invariably mentioning a dirty, thatched roof and getting a bigger laugh every time he did it. Add in the brisk pacing and we were pretty much treated to a non-stop sense of amusement.

By using the character hats laid out on a table, sometimes stacked four or five deep atop their heads, the two played every character, including Dead Baby. In one case, hats were strung on a line for a crowd scene and Beau was chosen as one of two audience members asked to hold up one end while Bud and Doug moved underneath, fitting their heads into various hats to play different characters.

I think it's safe to say that I haven't laughed so much at a play in ages, but the beauty of it was the array of humor, which included everything from bad puns to dry asides to clever wordplay. And for Beau, a touch of corny. No matter what your cup of humorous tea was, these boys had you covered. It didn't hurt that they'd also step out of character to share a thought or observation.

Mel Brooks would have been proud.

And it wasn't just me, because my tablemates were cracking up right along with me. When, at the end, a backer stepped forward to offer them a contract, I stopped laughing for the first time in two hours.

The posse trooped over to Maya afterward, immediately running into a familiar server who hugged me first and welcomed us in. Seated at a large table with a view of the Carpenter Center, we spent the next few hours sipping (mine was Espolon), eating fiery mahi mahi tacos (Mr. Wright) and tamer shrimp tacos (me) while discussing Beau's upcoming trip to Seattle, hearing about Pru's manse repairs and enjoying Queen B's memories of the Plaka.

Improbably, Beau casually mentioned that time that he'd played a robot in a fashion show and we all laughed as hard as we had at Bud and Doug's exploits, which is really saying something.

Although I was seduced by neither flan nor tres leches cake for dessert, both arrived at the table along with a Belle Tango cocktail of Belle Isle Moonshine, tangerine concentrate and habanero syrup, a sweet/spicy sipper with appeal, but not as much as tequila on ice, if I'm honest.

I may be a complicated woman, but my needs are simple.

The Church Hill gang headed home, but Mr. Wright and I weren't finished yet. Our final stop was Gallery 5 for the Halloween edition of the Silent Music Revival with Kenneka Cook providing the improvised score. We had front row seats for the 1911 Italian film, "L'Inferno," considered the first full-length film (at one hour) and also the first blockbuster because it made $2 million in the U.S., which, as producer Jameson so eloquently put it, "was a whole lotta money back then."

Frankly, I still think two million is a whole lot of money, but that's just me.

I'd chatted with Jameson when we'd sat down and as we talked about how I'd been coming practically since the beginning of the Silent Music revival, the guy in front of me turned around, impressed. "You saw Mermaid Skeletons play that show?" he asked with awe in his voice. Yes, I did, son.

Meanwhile, Jameson grinned like a proud father, which is he is when it comes to introducing me (and Richmond) to the cult of silent films with live accompaniment.

He went on to tell us all kinds of interesting tidbits about the film we were about to see, some of which he mentioned when he took the stage to introduce it. In typical Silent Music Revival style - he has, after all been doing this for over 11 years now - he'd edited it some, taking out the most egregious examples of Catholic guilt as well as some political figures that would have been meaningless to 21st century audiences.

"Oh, and I sped it up ten percent," he said with a knowing smile. You don't need to tell me about today's audiences' shrinking attention spans.

Watching Virgil lead Dante through the circles of Hell meant watching early 20th century special effects, some of which were far more sophisticated than I would have thought for the time. That said, I also wondered during a scene with scattered fires and an actor in a nearby hole what kind of safety precautions were used in 1911. My guess? Not much.

Kenneka Cook's overlaid vocal looping was a strong accompaniment to the story, sometimes almost disturbing as her dulcet tones sang over scenes of human misery and bad bird costumes.

But let's get on to the real appeal of this film: major nudity. Clearly film censorship came about after "L'Inferno," because I've never seen so many naked and near naked men onscreen before. For fans of male buns, we're talking a veritable smorgasbord of good-looking Italian butts.

And who knows, maybe some of them went on to play robots in fashion shows. When you're part of the very first blockbuster movie, I bet you can write your own ticket.

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