The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

February 17, 2010

Cabaret Comes to Trustus Wednesday night with Marjorie Barnes & Wideman/Davis Dance

If you can tear yourself away from the Olympics on Wednesday night, (did somebody say Tivo?), race on down to TRUSTUS Theatre on Lady Street for a taste of New York City, Columbia Style.  The brain child of former Broadway star – now Columbia arts supporter, Gillian Albrecht, TRUSTUS Theatre presents an innovative series of monthly cabaret events starting Wednesday night with Thaddeus Davis and Tanya Wideman-Davis of Wideman/Davis Dance Company and featuring the huge voice of the beautiful Marjorie Barnes.

Marjorie Barnes may be best known for her work with the musical group The Fifth Dimension (can you suuuuuurry, can you picnic? wo-o-o-ah) — Marjorie replaced Marilyn McCoo in the mid-seventies — but she has also enjoyed a stellar career as a jazz vocalist both on Broadway and throughout Europe.  Among the shows she has starred in are Hair, Dream Girls, Bubbling Brown Sugar, and Pal Joey.

The fund raising event starts at 7:30 and tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door, with student rush tickets available at 7 pm at the door. But don’t dally — there were just a few seats left by Tuesday night — and seating is general admission. For tickets call 254-9732.

Watch this space for more info on the upcoming shows.

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January 17, 2010

Rent surprises, criticizing/supporting/being discriminating about the arts, & this awesome young chick at Trustus named Katie Leitner

Who doesn’t love a surprise?  But when the Beer Doc and I scooted down Lady Street on Friday night to finally get a seat to see Rent, I wasn’t really expecting anything surprising.  Having seen it on Broadway several times before, then watching the film a couple of times with the wunderkind, I entered the theatre with a lot of the lyrics already buzzing in my head.  I was just looking for a fun evening to bask in what I thoroughly expected to be some outstanding performances — Dewey Scott Wiley rarely disappoints — and I was prepared for the requisite weaknesses that usually accompany community theatre.  Plus, I had already heard from some reliable sources who know their way around the stage and the audience (aka Larry & Coralee), that the show out-right rocked.

(Disclaimer here — I’ve had the honor of recently taking a seat on the board of directors of Trustus Theatre. What this basically means is that I have agreed to give the theatre some of  my time and my ideas — what this doesn’t mean is that I now have to think or say that everything that comes off the stage is excellent.  I’ve a been a long time supporter of Trustus, along with Workshop, Town, and USC theatre companies, and I will continue to support these companies along with all the artists, arts venues, and arts organizations in town who are brave and generous enough to share their gifts with our community.  Everyone already knows how I feel about negative competition between arts organizations in a city our size.  Way too much energy is wasted on one dance company nay-saying another, or one theatre company patron refusing to attend a perfectly lovely show at a venue different from the company they typically support.  Artists and arts supporters should band together to create a unified front against the ignorant amongst us who believe the arts and arts funding is a waste of time.  Nasty internal criticism within the arts community is tantamount to aiding and abetting any enemy of the arts — and believe me, they are out there.  Discriminating taste is needed and important — but helpful criticism takes a deft and acquired hand.  There is a role for the informed critic — to raise the barre, keep things honest, and piss people off — but that role is not mine. That said, I always have been and will remain a simple supporter of the arts and not a critic, and I will also continue to abide by the good manners I taught my own children:  If you don’t have anything good to say about something, then don’t say anything at all.)

Back to Rent and surprises —

The show started out wonderfully with the full cast opening up the classic Seasons of Love — you know, the five-hundred-twenty-five-thousand-six-hundred-minutes song — with full and melodic vocals — filling up the theatre and putting all of us on notice that this show was being taken seriously by its cast and director.  I had already heard that this was the case so, no surprise here, but still, a sense of pride and pleasure all the same.  And that was pretty much the way it went through the night — Kevin Bush was so professional, as always, reminding me how lucky we are that he is ours.  Lanny Spires knocked Angel out of the park and made me smile that a sweet southern boy from Chapin could pull off a part like that so adeptly.  Terrence Henderson’s voice sounded like warm butter oozing through stacks of steamy sweet pancakes, and I hated it when he stopped singing.  Even the less challenging parts were executed well and I wouldn’t call them weak at all.  In fact, the one weakness in my humble view was one of the night’s two surprises for me and I’m not even sure how it came to be.  Could have been a bad night, could have been poor casting, could have been an actor slipping precariously over the top with her/his performance — who knows. (Again, not my place to say.)

The other surprise is what I want to talk about — her name is Katie Leitner and her role was that of Mimi.  I know from reading my program that Katie is a freshman music ed student at USC, and that she has performed at Town Theatre in Grease, Guys and Dolls, and Beauty and the Beast. I know from Facebook stalking her that she graduated from Brooklyn Cayce High School, that her family is pretty cute, and that she has a sister who looks really familiar — former student maybe?  But I know from sitting in the first row Friday night that this girl has a future in the arts and I hope it’s not just in teaching little children how to play the piano.  Katie’s stage presence reflected great maturity — her vocals were controlled and balanced — beautiful, but never over the top, the way she could have taken them with such an audacious part as Mimi.  She displayed the kind of maturity that allows an actor to both own the stage and share it at the same time — lovely to see this in local theatre, especially in an actor so young.  For these reasons, Katie stole the show.

Kudos to Dewey Scott Wiley — who I have actually never met — and to the cast of Rent.  And best of luck to the young Katie Leitner — I’m looking forward to seeing more of this child on our city’s stages.


January 14, 2010

Be true to your school, I do, they dance, no day but today, & Beer! Beer! Beer! — + strings & jeans

It seems that life is getting back to normal these days — the parties are over, the garland is down (most of it, anyway), and the routine is starting to set in — if you believe in routines, that is.  I’ve never been one to dig into the rut — too claustrophobic for me.  I can see why some folks find the rut functional –it’s safe and can be comforting, I guess.  But if the rut gets too deep, it becomes harder and harder to see out of it and the next thing you know, it becomes a maze — and then — you’re trapped.

I’ve always been a fan of second and third careers, changing majors mid-stream, and letting the flow take you where it may.  Life never gets dull — it’s a sin to be boring.  That said, this is what we’re doing this weekend, starting tonight.

On Thursday at 7, my eldest and her beloved are going with me to see the Women Gamecocks play some mighty bball at the Colonial Center.  The Beer Doc drags me to as many of his little sporty events as he can, but never seems to be going in the direction of the arena when the Big Girls play.  Yesterday, after mentioning that the guys were playing LSU last night and that we should all Go Cocks and the like, one of my new students, the amazing Ms. Ebony Wilson who happens to play guard for the Women Gamecocks — and no, don’t give me any of that “lady” Gamecock crap until you’re ready to call the boys the “Gentlemen” Gamecocks when they play ball — asked me if I was going to their game tonight.  Zap!  What kind of Women’s Studies instructor am I if I don’t go out and support some of the toughest and most talented women of the university?  So, I’ll be there waving the garnet foam finger that Annie gave me for Christmas — Gamecock women are #1, in my book now, and Ms. Ebony Wilson happens to wear a #1 on her jersey.  Tonight’s game will be preceded by the best chee-boogie & brew in town at my beloved Hunter Gatherer.

And then there’s Friday night.  If you read my last blog & review of the film, you know that I’ll be attending the 5:30 showing of La Danse at the Nick, which will be preceded by some used-to-be surprise nuptials of two dear friends.  For all intents and purposes, the I dos are still a surprise if you haven’t been formally invited to the wedding or if you aren’t friends with the folks — of friends with their friends — on Facebook.  So, everything that I wrote yesterday still stands if you find yourself still in the dark — and I hope to see you there. In the light, before the film starts.

But for me and the Beer Doc, we’ll be darting out the back door of the theatre about half way through so we can grab some snacks and libation before we head down to TRUSTUS to see Rent.  This will only be like my umpteenth time of seeing this play, all other times on Broadway, but I am just so excited about seeing Kevin Bush play Mark — a role that both he and Doogie Howser were made for.  It only runs through next weekend and tickets are slim pickin’s, so if you have your heart set on going, as well you should, call the theatre at 254-9732, and beg Joe for a ticket.

After Rent we hope to make it down to CMFA at 914 Pulaski Street to take part in my friend Aaron Pelzek et. al.’s artist-driven extravaganza, Playing After Dark #4 — Free Form.  Aaron and buddies have brought together an awesome group of artists who will bring you everything from art-in-the-making via my friend Karen Storay, to Sherry Warren’s choreography (also my bud), a local band called The Noise, puppetry, poetry by Charlene Spearen (yes, a bud), scenes from Jaques Brel is Alive and Well — a play I was just writing about in the Beer Book, oddly enough, and, hell, I don’t remember — a bunch of stuff.  My friend Jeffrey wrote a nice little ditty on this event on his blog at http://carolinaculturebyjeffreyday.blogspot.com/.  The shenanigans start at 7:30 — which is why we’ll be coming in at the tail end, but never fail — the whole shebang is going to crank itself back up again Saturday night at the same time, same station.  Tickets are like $5, so seriously, head out to this event and show some love to local artist driven arts.  It’s the way it should be.

Which brings me to Saturday — the day of the second annual Columbia hosting of the World Beer Festival at the Columbia Convention Center.  There are two sessions, afternoon and evening.  Having made the mistake of attending as many sessions of beer events as offered before (read about this in Bob, Beer, and Me, coming out this spring/summer, by god!), we will only be attending the afternoon session — after which we will promptly crawl to our hotel room in the Vista and snooze until the evening festivities commence with yet another freaking basketball game — the Gentlemen Cocks, this time.  Is it possible to OD on sports?  Is that something that happens to the hard-core — read Beer Doc — or has he developed an immunity or a tolerance — built it up in his system, as it were, leaving him protected while his neophyte woman remains susceptible to sports poisoning and may just have to sneak out at half time, already clad in her blue jeans, to the Koger Center for some strings?  It is time for the Philharmonic’s Beethoven and Blue Jeans, after all.

After running in and dropping off a coat closet of old coats at the Art Bar last night — thanks to Chris Bickel for his generous offer of collecting a scad or two of coats for the cold during karaoke — I felt the yearning for the good Art Bar people in my soul, so the night should finish us up, just a few blocks from our hotel, at the best place to be in the city after 1 am.  We are so lucky to have that place.  Really, take a minute and thank your maker for the Art Bar.

Whatever your drug of choice, get drunk on the goodies going on in our beloved city this weekend.  I’ll see you around town.

Cheers, Y’all.

November 10, 2009

Here’s to a seat at the Nick, The Cellar on Greene, the TRUSTUS Tasting, birthdays, family and food — cheers Y’all!

As some of you may be aware, this time last year I had just celebrated the inauguration of the Year of Wine — or the year of wining and whining as the Beer Doctor is so fond of saying.  I had chosen the occasion of my humphth birthday to embark on an intense study and appreciation of all things wine, having known just enough about wine initially to know that there was oh-so-much more to learn.  Well, much to my dismay, the months on the calendar whisked right away in the wind, and before I knew it, the same date rolled around once again, sadly bringing the year of wine to a close.

I’ve learned quite a bit.  My travels have taken me to several of France’s wine destinations where I’ve wondered through the Champagne district’s chalky caves, gotten lost in Burgundy’s enumerate vineyards, and immersed myself in Alsace’s spicy Gewurtz’s, Rieslings, and Pinot Gris’s.  We’ve traveled twice to California’s beautiful rolling hills and, happily, I only broke my nose there once.  I even gave the wines of Virginia a shot and found that, though inconsistent, they did present a brand new quality of delicacy to my palate — which shouldn’t be dismissed just because it is so different from most other wines.  We had hoped to also travel to Argentina, as well as back to Italy — just for the wine — but just as it did with the Bob’s Year of Beer, time got away from us — so these countries, and more, are still on our to-do list.  Our cellar is far fatter than it ever was and has taken over our fairly large walk-in pantry — there is literally nothing edible in there at all anymore — and will soon be spreading to the closet under the stairs — thanks for that idea to my friend, who will remain anonymous because she is having her closet converted into a cellar for her beloved as a birthday surprise — hmmm … wonder if I could score a little trompe l’oeil on my closet door, too? The one casualty of the Year of Wine, other than my nose, is the reality that bad wine is far more difficult to stomach than it ever was — and in many ways I have Ricky Mollohan, Kaitlin Ohlinger, and the rest of the good people at the Cellar on Greene to thank for that.  There is no such thing as bad wine at the Cellar, and my palate has effectively been spoiled.  Thanks guys, thanks a lot.

I celebrated my birthday on Sunday this year, and rather than the fairly immense blow-out wine tasting party that we enjoyed last year, I was more in the mood for a quiet family gathering at Muddy Ford.  It was a decision deliciously well made.  The Beer Doc created for me a beautiful Chateaubriand with bernaise sauce, my second favorite liquid — next to vino — in the world.  Annie put together a phenomenally rich potatoes dauphinoise and her lovely signature sauted vegetables.  Bonnie even got into the kitchen (she found it on her own and all!) and whipped up a scrumptious asparagus and mushroom saute — a dish of which she and I share a love.

If you’ve ever been to a meal at the Ford, you know how long it takes us to cook.  But that’s ok, because we have to also take the necessary time to fully enjoy the wines we are drinking in the process.  We started our Sunday in the kitchen off with a Clicquot Yellow Lable bubbly, followed by a 2003 Schramsburg Brut, which we much preferred.  With dinner we vertically tasted one of Helen Turley’s 2001 Magnificats — which was glorious — alongside an amazing 2006 Darioush cab — easily one of the best wines I’ve tasted this year.  Presents were served with red velvet cake — and I’m happy to say that everyone shopped locally this year, with an emphasis on jewelry and assorted creations by local artists.  My favorite (and most highly requested) gift, however, was my very own seat in the Nick’s new theatre on Main Street.  So, Larry, if  you’re listening, I’d like to take my seat as soon as possible, dear.

Even though the Year of Wine is officially over, I can promise you that the wining and whining is not.  Just for one example, I will  happily be attending the TRUSTUS wine tasting benefit at City Art in the Vista on Tuesday night, killing two very important birds — the drinking of good wine & the support of TRUSTUS Theatre, one of the most important arts institutions our city can claim — with one only slightly tipsy stone.  You can be there, too.  We’ll be tasting 8 wines — two bubblies, 2 whites, 2 reds, and 2 ports — for a cost of only $45 in advance, or $50 at the door.  I hope you’ll join me for a taste and a toast — to all good things – wine, family, food, friends, and art.

Cheers, Y’all!

September 27, 2009

TRUSTUS always tells the Most Fabulous Stories

Kristine Hartvigsen and I went out last night to have a little early celebration of her birthday, which is coming up this Tuesday.  I’ll be out-of-town on her official day, but I did NOT want to miss celebrating the birth of such a fine human being as Kristine.  So we made a night of it with dinner, drinks, a show and crashing the party at Jodi Barnes’ house afterward.  Of the three local productions going on now, we chose to see The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told at TRUSTUS.  It was, in a word, fabulous.

First of all — I absolutely love the fact that TRUSTUS exists.  For 25 years Jim and Kay Thigpen have been sticking it out in this town — giving us the kind of thought provoking productions that not only create discourse, but demonstrate a faith in their audiences that we will rise to their expectations and, essentially, evolve — socially, emotionally, and intellectually.  Sometimes they do it dramatically — I’m thinking Angels in America, The Laramie Project, and Gross Indecency here; and sometimes they do it with humor.  This is one of those times.

The Most Fabulous Story caught me at a good time — a period I am calling the agony of my agnosticism.  As a recovering Southern Baptist, I long ago rejected the easy-way-out of expecting a gridlocked organized religion to push me toward enlightenment (which I believe to be one of the three reasons we exist.)  However, as a human being, I can’t help but ponder the same questions we all (should) think about — an understanding of the sacred and the profane.  I’m not a nihilist — I believe there is a point to it all.  I think of myself as more of a noetics-curious Deist.  I believe there is a god who made all this happen, but then I think s/he probably figured the rest was up to us. In any case, my agony is generated from the sadness I feel at giving up the comfort of delusions and the inability to out-grow my superstitious angst that the boogeyman is going to get me in my sleep and punish me for the audacity of my ruminations.  We can find God, signs, and Satan wherever we want to see them — a reality that is both sad and beautiful.

Which brings me back to The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, directed by Dewey Scott Wiley, a play which tells the story of creation from a non-heteronormative perspective.  I love it when I find myself laughing so hard that I have trouble writing on my program the profound line I just heard from the stage.  This was the case Saturday night.  Silliness, sure, but interspersed with those brilliant stabs to ones psyche that widen the eyes and nudge us in our ribs.  And the execution?  Glorious.   Elena Martinez-Vidal pulls off the bemused God character with the ease of a woman who has seen idiocy in action before.  Robin Gottlieb is the idealistic, metaphysician Mabel in the bunch, proving once again that, at the core, the flower children of the sixties were right.  And Paul Kaufman?  Well, the boy can still flat out wear a thong.  (Which, by-the-way, the feminist in me loved the reversal of fortune that the guys were almost nude and the chicks were fully clothed.  Take that, male gaze.) 

So once again, TRUSTUS has delivered — unfortunately to a very small audience last night.  Lucky for you, the play continues through next weekend. So, go see USC’s dance performance on Friday or Saturday night, but on the other night or Wednesday, Thursday or Sunday afternoon, go out and support this fine cutting-edge arts organization.  Do not take for granted the gift to our community that is TRUSTUS Theatre.  We would have much to lose if they ever went away. 

www.trustus.org

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