We made yet another visit to beautiful and charming Staunton, VA last weekend, celebrating my wife's graduation. We attended all three productions of the Spring Season at the American Shakespeare Center and ate at a few new places and some old standbys.
Upon arrival, we stopped by and visited our friends Katie and Brian at George Bowers Grocery. Katie and Brian are great folks who sell some great local/regional products. They gave us some Polyface Farm hamburgers on mini Martin's Potato Rolls (best bread you can get from a commercial baker). We bought some of their awesome blueberry and blackberry preserves. They are the best I've had. After visiting with them, we headed over to Shenandoah Pizza to eat. I had a slice of pepperoni, a slice of the Shakespearean (artichoke hearts, tomatoes, pesto, mozzarella, on wheat-wonderful), and some of the "Adrian Wings." Unfortunately, Johnnie wasn't there when we first got there, so he didn't make the wings and they were a bit too saucy for me, but they were still good. I ate them all, so that says something. Anyway, Johnnie showed up and he gave both of us t-shirts from the Shenandoah Blues Festival since we didn't get to attend it. We talked with Johnnie and his wife Cheryl for a bit before we headed over to Cranberry's and picked up some of the great Newtown Baking multigrain wheat bread.
After all that we headed to the Blackfriars to see Romeo and Juliet. We chatted with the Infamous Chris Johnston, Sarah Schultz, and Eric Klingbeil for a bit before the house opened, then we were greeted with Rick Blunt & James Patrick Nelson's friendly faces when the house opened. Blunt plays Capulet in R&J and does a fantastic job. Nelson is great as the regal Prince and the downtrodden Peter. This performance was very good, maybe a tad stronger than the one we saw earlier, but not by much. R&J is hard to do, as people have so many expectations for it from all the movie and stage adaptations, but this production is great. The comedic and bawdy aspects of the play are emphasized and everything goes off well. On second viewing, I was very impressed with Dennis Henry as Friar Lawrence, David Zimmerman as Tybalt, Curt Foy as Mercutio, and Joseph Rende as Benvolio. After the play we went to The Darjeeling Cafe to chat with our friends Jack Morgan and Mary Beth Harris. They are moving the cafe down a block into the downtown area on the same block with Staunton Grocery and Mockingbird. We had a delightful Berber Whiskey iced tea and peanut butter chocolate cake (gluten free & great). I wish we'd had more time to chat, but we had to run back to the playhouse to see The Knight of the Burning Pestle.
OK, in my review of The Knight a few weeks ago, I was a bit more critical than normal. I chalked it up to not being all that familiar with the play (I had read it, but was confused by it), and having a dead crowd. Well, the crowd was not a problem this time: there was a large group of enthusiastic, rowdy high school girls in the audience. That made a big difference, even if they were sometimes a bit disruptive. It also helped for me to speak to Ginna Hoben about the play, and to listen to two excellent ASC podcasts on the play. I thoroughly enjoyed the play the second time. It really is hilarious. Hoben as Nell, Blunt as Rafe, Foy as Curt the Grocer, Nelson as The London Merchant and Aidan O'Reilly as Mr. Merrythought are excellent. Zimmerman, Rende, Kelly McKinnon and Henry were also standouts in their roles.
After the play we went to a late dinner with Rick Blunt and Ginna Hoben at Mockingbird. This was our first time at Mockingbird. They were on a very limited menu since it was so late, but I had some good oysters (not Mill Street good, but excellent nonetheless). Most of the cast were also at the bar and we spoke with a few of them. We also met Sarah Enloe, the Director of Education at the ASC. After we closed the place down we headed back to our hotel for the night.
On Sunday we visited Thornrose Cemetery to visit the mass Confederate grave where I believe my 3rd great-grandfather is buried. He was mortally wounded at the Wilderness and died in the hospital in Staunton. We then headed over to MugShots and I had a great iced chai tea latte and a blueberry scone. We came back later and had a cranberry orange scone before seeing All's Well That Ends Well. The play was great, again. After the play we had dinner at Baja Bean. This was our first time at Baja Bean and we both had excellent chimichangas. The price was definitely right, too. You can get stuffed for not much money and the taste was great! We then headed to Martin's at picked up some stuff to take home and headed south.