Thursday, March 28, 2019

Celebrating My Sex

Man, the women killed it tonight.

I'd invited Mac to join me for a 1.8 mile progressive walk with multiple stops, both cultural and edible, and, trooper that she is (and despite having been up since daybreak), she signed on.

Our first stop was the VCU Depot where artist Hope Ginsberg was holding a preview of her new work, "Swirling." Walking in, I ran into an artist who hugged me and thanked me for the piece I'd written about her recent exhibit. When I pointed out that it had been a show worth calling attention to, she'd agreed, suggesting that was mostly because of its universal theme: f*cking.

Hard to argue with fact.

Further in, I spotted musician Josh Quarles, who's also Hope's husband and partner in art-making, and said hello. "It's been a while," he answered, echoing something I've been hearing from old friends for a while now.

But then again, I'm only one woman and I've only got so much time.

Mac and I made our way through the gabbing artsy crowd to the partitioned off room where Hope's video was showing on three walls of the room. Ultimately, it'll be presented on three two-sided screens arranged in a triangle formation that will allow viewers to "swirl," that is, move around them freely, to see the different videos about underwater coral farming, reef restoration and possible outcomes.

The only way to describe looking at the scuba divers in coral nurseries in St. Croix is fascinating (I can't be the only one who had no idea that such a thing went on), albeit thought-provoking because of the United Nations report predicting massive die-offs of coral reefs by 2040.

My point? If you're still using sunscreen with Oxybenzone or Octinoxate, you're part of the problem. End of story.

Watching the scenes unfold on the walls was accompanied by the sound of many voices having conversations at the preview reception just outside the cordoned-off space, but other than that, it was a compelling piece of art that raised some important question about ecological priorities.

After stopping to chat with Hope about her art and our repeated yet thwarted attempts at taking a walk together, Mac and I headed to Soul Taco for dinner because I was overdue to check out the new spot on Second Street. The way I see it, J-Ward could use more casual places to eat.

Soul Taco was small but happening, with a wall of colorful art, music loud enough to feel like you were someplace fun and a uniquely soulful menu of Mexican staples. I decided on cornmeal-crusted catfish tacos (crispy, with tomatillo and corn salsa) and low country shrimp tacos (Old Bay lending its distinctive flavor to the sauteed shrimp and the crema), while Mac went with pulled pork carnitas and Mississippi pot roast taquitos.

Housemade limeade washed it all down as we sat on stools in the front window wishing for a time when all the unoccupied storefronts across the street have eateries in them.

Since neither of us had counted on Soul Taco having desserts, we had a Plan B: to score a giant piece of cake at Mama J's Kitchen. In what can only be considered a personal tragedy, we arrived to find the cake rack empty. Empty. Years of going to Mama J's and neither of us had ever been faced with empty cake racks.

Sitting pitifully on the end of the bar were a half dozen individually boxed slices of pineapple coconut cake, the only remnants of the day's original cake offerings. It wasn't what we were in the mood for.

Rather than accept defeat, we moseyed over to Lucy's, only to find that the flourless chocolate cake we were counting on is no longer on the menu. But Mac and I aren't quitters, so we made do. She couldn't resist their fried oysters and once they were disptached, we shared a housemade ice cream sandwich of dark chocolate cookies with vanilla ice cream (all the while wishing it were mint chocolate chip).

All I can say is, it shouldn't be that hard for two chocolate-loving women to score some dessert in the Ward.

Only then, once our savory and sweet needs were met, were we ready to walk over to the Basement for opening night of the Women's Theatre Festival, featuring four different one act, one actor plays performed by women and directed by women. Tonight's offering was "Pretty Fire," a production of 5th Wall Theatre starring Haliya Roberts and directed by Carl Piersol.

Beautifully acted by Roberts and skillfully directed by Piersol using only a red bench as a prop, the story of a young black girl born prematurely, exposed to racist name-calling in the north and the Klan (the pretty fire of the title was when the girl saw a cross being burnt by the KKK) in the south, ends with the young girl getting her first taste of stardom as a soloist in the children's choir at church.

Playing all the parts - mother, father, sister, grandfather, grandmother, mean kid, choir director - Roberts was a marvel to behold. Whether singing Aretha's "Respect," being taught her ABCs by her father or being terrorized by a bully, she created believable voices and mannerisms for them all.

From her fearless Grandma, she learned never to let anybody have the last word if you know you're right. From her mother, she learned the components of the "breakfast of life:" grits with butter, scrambled eggs with onions and sometimes hamburger and homemade biscuits.

Talk about life-affirming. Who couldn't conquer the world after that breakfast?

When the play ended, Mac and I looked at each other in awe. No question, the play had been a masterful choice and Roberts had nailed every nuance of it. So. Much. Talent. Then she turned to the woman next to her to say as much, only to have the woman share that Roberts is her daughter.

When I asked when they'd known how incredibly talented she was, her mom said they knew by age two that she had something special. Truly, what we saw tonight won't soon be forgotten.

And that, I'm here to tell you, is how you kick off Richmond's first women's theatre festival. Leave it to the XX.

All I can say is, let the estrogen flow, but let's make sure there's chocolate available nearby. It is the food of life.

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