Friday, December 18, 2009

The Rehearsal and the Winter Season at the Blackfriars

My wife and I recently attended one of the few performances of George Villiers The Rehearsal at the American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse. The play was uproariously funny, if a bit disjointed and somewhat unknown (this is probably the first time it's been performed in the modern era). Essentially, it is a farce, poking fun at the works of Restoration dramatists such as those of John Dryden. Chris Seiler stars as Bayes, an arrogant ass of a playwright who happens upon a city gentleman (Johnson) and a country gentleman (Smith), played by Allison Glenzer and Luke Eddy (complete with affected country Southern twang) respectively. Bayes has his theatre company (the rest of the ASC Resident troupe, somewhat playing themselves) put on a rehearsal for Smith and Johnson. Seiler does a tremendous job as the leading man in this play. John Harrell & Chris Johnston are also hilarious as monarchs. The pre-show and interlude musical performances were fantastic, with Seiler again standing out, particularly in a cover of The Who's "The Seeker."
James Keegan as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol; Photo by Mike Bailey.

A couple of weeks later, we returned for performances of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and Joe Mantello's play version of David Sedaris's The Santaland Diaries. A Christmas Carol features the wonderful James Keegan in the role of Ebeneezer Scrooge, backed by the ASC on Tour troupe. Stand outs were Rick Blunt as the narrator, Josh Carpenter as Bob Cratchit, James Patrick Nelson as Jacob Marley, and Ginna Hoben as Christmas Past and Tiny Tim, Dennis Henry in various roles, and David Zimmerman as the Plump Sister. Keegan is amazing as the intimidating Scrooge, bullying his way through the crowd at times, casting out insults, and glaring at us with menacing scowls. Blunt, ever the comedian, delivers the narration with great effect, especially when Scrooge's bed breaks under Keegan's weight late in the play. Both actors were able to deftly and hilariously ad lib their way through. The only drawback to this play was a dull, lifeless crowd full of annoyed children who wanted to make sure others were as unhappy to be there as they were. We were also seated toward the back of the playhouse, and noticed every distraction. The musical interludes were essentially drowned out by the crowd, who only came to life during breaks. Needless to say, this was not a typical Blackfriars audience.

Later that day we saw The Santaland Diaries. John Harrell stars as Crumpet the Elf in this one man, decidedly adult show. We had our usual Lord's Seats for this show. Before the show, ASC resident actor Chris Johnston and ASC On Tour actors Aidan O'Reilly and Joseph Rende entertained the audience with some hilarious, if off-color, Christmas songs. Johnston always has a great sense of comedic timing and an overall sarcastic aura and he is one of my favorite ASC performers. Harrell then took the stage and donned the tights and uniform of Crumpet the Elf to the delight of the crowd. Harrell is the best comedic actor of the ASC veterans and he does not disappoint in this hilarious role. This was the funniest show I've seen at the ASC, and that's saying a lot. Unfortunately, this is Harrell's last turn as Crumpet as he feels he has "aged out" of the role. Next year he will take on the role of Scrooge and Rick Blunt will face the wrath of the Macy's shoppers.
John Harrell as Crumpet inThe Sataland Diaries; photo by Tommy Thompson.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Latest trip to PA

My wife and I took a trip up to Lancaster County last month. It was a very short trip, way too short. We left around 5 pm on a dark and rainy night and spent the night at a brand new Hampton Inn & Suites in Woodstock, VA. It was a wonderful hotel, and I believe we were the first guests to ever stay in our enormous room. The next day we headed north for Lancaster and stopped in to chat a while with my friend at the PA Dutch CVB. She is so nice and she gave me a gift card to Isaac's Restaurant & Deli (which is a great place, by the way).

We then checked in to our room at the Hilton Garden Inn. I was not overly impressed. We stayed here because it was much cheaper than the Hampton Inn we normally stay in and we were only in for the weekend. We checked in and seemed to wander over the entire hotel before we finally arrived at our room. Our room was right across from a bank of smoking rooms and the entire hallway reeked. We went back to the desk and asked to be moved to another room. The next room had a terrible smell, akin to burnt hair and the traffic noise from highway 283 was daunting. We were then moved to another room (at least the staff were accommodating), a so-called Garden view room. This room was fine and very quiet. The bathroom however, was tiny; the smallest I've ever seen. There was less than an inch clearance between the opening door and the front of the commode! I made the mistake of fully shutting the door and couldn't get it open. Thankfully my wife was in the room and was able to get me out. If someone were traveling alone they would have been in trouble. The bathroom did feature the wonderful Neutrogena/HGI soaps and shampoos. The TV was a big, old school CRT that desperately needs replacing. The bed was OK, but I only slept at tops 4 hours each night. The breakfast was great, best part of the stay and was free thanks to being a HHonors Gold VIP. Still, the negatives outweighed the positives and I wouldn't recommend staying there.

Anyway, back to the business at hand. We had lunch at Ye Olde English Tea Shoppe. Evidently it was British day while we were there because nearly everyone there was a Brit. I'm an Anglophile, so fine with me. I had the wonderful cinnamon plum tea, and a terrific shrimp and crab quiche. On the suggestion of a Shakespearean actor from the Aquila Theatre sitting next to me, I had an amazing Bakewell Tart. Awesome! I thanked him for his suggestion and chatted with he and his fellow actress about Shakespeare and plugged the American Shakespeare Center while I was at it. We then tooled around Intercourse and Bird-in-Hand saying hi to some friends at Kitchen Kettle and buying stuff to bring back to the poor, imprisoned wretches in North Carolina.

We next visited my Amish friends Ruth and Jake. They sadly lost a child in an accident this past summer and this is the first time I had seen them since. They were in good spirits, considering. We spent a long time chatting and catching up and talking genealogy. After visiting with them for a few hours we hit the outlets and then had dinner at Bird-in-Hand. I had the great smoked pork chops-- can't beat them.

The next day, we got up and had breakfast at Bird-in-Hand. I had my usual scrapple. One observation, there were a surprising number of people in town- actually, I have never seen the outlets so full. There were times we could not get in them due to there being no parking! Anyway, we spent the day going to our favorite places such as Gordonville Book Shop, the outlets, Kitchen Kettle, Lapp Valley, and the bakeries. We visited with my friend Leroy at his farm and talked organics & whatnot, then visited with Ruth again before having a final meal at Bird-in-Hand.

Unfortunately, the next day we had to leave. We had a great breakfast at the hotel, then stopped in Staunton for lunch at Shenandoah Pizza. Great pizza and a great owner. I wanted to see Henry IV, Part I again, but we were pretty tired, so we headed home.