Monday, June 28, 2010

Mockingbird

We finally were able to enjoy a sit-down meal at Mockingbird. We had previously been on a late night with a limited menu, but we had yet to experience the full menu. We arrived around 5:15 and were promptly seated. I had a hard time choosing between the Mac and Cheese with oysters, gruyere, and Kite's ham or the gnocchi with oyster mushrooms, shrimp, and pancetta. I went with the Mac and Cheese on my server's suggestion. My wife ordered a risotto with a fried goat cheese cake that was bursting with all kinds of flavors. My mac and cheese was really good with many types of complementary flavors: smoky, oyster liquor, country ham. Needless to say, it was very filling. Of course, not so filling that we skipped dessert. I ordered a  very good fruit cobbler and my wife had an amazing chocolate mousse s'more; one of the best desserts we've had. The marshmallow was torched just right to give it that campfire goodness. We had an excellent server as well who was quick to offer suggestions and owner Wade Luhn came by to deliver our food and later to make sure things were going well.

The great thing about Mockingbird is their commitment to the near exclusive use of local ingredients. My only quibble with the restaurant is the rather limited menu- not in variety so much, but in the number of available entrees. The entrees are certainly imaginative and artisan, but less adventurous eaters might have a hard time selecting. I'm not one of those people, however. Mockingbird is a solid choice in the great, burgeoning dining scene in Staunton. Also, be sure to check out live music and documentaries and other films at Mockingbird's music hall.

Music Hall at Mockingbird. Photo courtesy of Mockingbird's Website and photograph by Kevin Blackburn.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Othello

As with Shrew, I had not seen a stage performance of Othello. I knew I would be in for a treat. In the pre-show we were treated to some more excellent music from Johnston & Harrell (they should start a band), along with the great musical talents of Jeremiah Davis. I also want to thank Ben Curns for turning me on to The Devil Makes Three and he delivered again with their song "Do Wrong Right." You also get a nice rendition of "Helter Skelter" during one of the interludes. The pre-show funnies kicked off with James Keegan and apprentice Paul Jannise. Jannise was hilarious in this little skit (he was also quite good in both Shrew and Othello) that spoofs our over reliance on Wikipedia. 


Once the show started we get to see Curns work his magic as the evil Iago. I'm a huge fan of Ben, and I love seeing him play the bad guy. He does so with a delicious, mischievous grin. I've always been drawn to the bad guys, all the way back to Star Wars and pro wrestling as a kid, and Iago and Richard III are my two favorite characters. I've now seen Ben play both of them. Anyone that saw Curns as Mephistopheles in Doctor Faustus knew they would be in for a treat when seeing him as Iago. Curns succeeds in making you feel empathy for Iago as a wronged man, almost an anti-hero. Certainly, you never forget that he is evil to the core, but you can sympathize with him as a bitter, wronged man. His interactions with John Harrell's lovesick & seasick Roderigo are masterful. Harrell is terrific as Roderigo. Harrell can pretty much get a laugh out of the crowd by looking at them and his pained, sick expressions are great. He can sell just about anything and at one point he really looked like he was going to vomit from sea sickness. 


René Thornton, Jr. is always a powerful performer who puts his heart and soul into every performance. His descent into madness in Othello ranks with his awesome performance in Faustus and as the defiant Aaron in Titus Andronicus. Thornton is the most intense performer in the company and anytime he is cast in a role of such power you can rest assured you are in for a clinic. While it was hot outside and under the lights, René and Ben worked up such a sweat it made for an even more intense effect. There is no better combination in the company than Ben playing the foil to René. I've seen it in several productions and love it every time (sorry, René, I said I loved the bad guy). 


Sarah Fallon, of course, is excellent as the falsely accused Desdemona. Sarah really makes you feel sorry for Desdemona. Sarah is so good in every role it's almost hard to praise her. I've never seen her do anything that wasn't four star work. She and Thornton always have a great chemistry and play off each other exceptionally well. 


Allison Glenzer as Iago's scorned and betrayed wife Emilia is fantastic, perhaps the best performance from her that I've seen. Glenzer always turns in a top notch performance, but this one seemed so powerful, so emotive. She is a very versatile actor and it's great seeing her in a role like this.


Other standouts are Ginna Hoben as Bianca & The Clown. Of course, Ginna is excellent as a clown (she plays a mean wind instrument), but she's really great as the unrequited lover of newcomer Patrick Midgley's Cassio. Midgely is wonderful as Cassio and is quite the dramatic actor. James Keegan, a master of the stage, is great in any role. He does a tremendous job as Brabantio and you really feel for him in the opening act. 


I'll definitely be seeing Othello again and I encourage you to see it at least once. You'll be glad you did.  
Ben Curns, Sarah Fallon, and René Thornton, Jr. in Othello. Photo by Michael Bailey.

The Taming of the Shrew

Sarah Fallon as Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew. Photo by Michael Bailey

We saw the Saturday matinee performance of The Taming of the Shrew on June 26. The pre-show entertainment featured some wonderful banjo picking from Chris Johnston and John Harrell and a great rendition of Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker." We also got to hear the wonderful singing voice and flute playing of Jeremiah Davis. I thought we were going to get a Marshall Tucker Band song in there at some point with the flute. "Fire On The Mountain" for Henry IV, Part Two anyone?

Anyway, the pre-show speech off between Emily Gibson and Allison Glenzer segued into the rarely seen induction with a wonderful Tête à Tête between Gibson and Daniel Kennedy as the drunken sot Christopher Sly. The induction is hilarious and the highlight is seeing Rene Thornton, Jr. switch from formal wear with tails to full drag as the wife of the amnesiac Sly. For some reason, I've always loved seeing Rene play an old man too, and he delivers once again as Gremio.

On this day the stage belongs to Benjamin Curns. Curns, who plays Petruchio, is a top-rate stage actor and can play any type of role with aplomb. His interactions with the equally terrific James Keegan are wonderful. At one point Curns, who is a big pro wrestling fan, breaks out some moves from Ric Flair's playbook on Keegan! Curns and Sarah Fallon (Katherina) are always a delight together, and this performance was no exception. Fallon does a great job as the shrewish Kate and I loved how she looked disgustedly at me several times during the play for not sharing the "meat" that Keegan threw at me to keep away from her.

I also loved how Ginna Hoben played Bianca. The versions of Shrew that I have seen on film always portray her as an innocent, beautiful, perfect girl. Ginna plays up Bianca as a cunning, not quite innocent, bratish girl who constantly taunts the older Katherina. Some of Ginna's facial expressions during the play will have you in stitches. I've always said that Ginna is one of the best, if not the best, comedic performers in the company. Her comedic timing is terrific, her facial expressions hilarious, and her true strength is doing it with subtlety.

Other standout performers were Glenzer as Tranio ( sporting a strut right out of 1980s professional wrestling),  Keegan as Grumio, Kennedy as Sly & Hortensio, Johnston as the goofy, dopey Biondello, and Gibson as the sassy widow betrothed to Hortensio.

This is the first stage version of The Taming of the Shrew that I have seen. It was hilarious and I had a blast. I loved the language in this play. I must confess that I'm still a novice, but I am slowly becoming better able to understand the beauty of Shakespearean language. I highly recommend seeing this production more than once. I certainly will.

After the performance we were invited to a reception with ASC Co-Founder and director of most productions Jim Warren, Managing Director Amy Wratchford, ASC Director of Development Brenda Mead, Box Office manager Jennifer L. Jones, some of the Trustees and some actors. This company really makes you feel like a VIP and one of the family. There is no other theater company like it in the world and I can't stress how wonderful they are. To those of you from the ASC reading this I give my heartfelt thanks. As some of us agreed during the reception, Shakespeare at the ASC is a spiritual experience.

Benjamin Curns as Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. Photo by Michael Bailey.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Shenandoah Summer Blues Fest

My friend John Huggins of Shenandoah Pizza is promoting another blues concert called Shenandoah Summer Blues Fest. This all-day event will be held August 21 at the Steve B. Dod Amphitheater at the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton.

Artists performing include Bruce Katz, Eli Cook, Lascivious Deacons, Lisa Miller and the All Stars, The Nicholson Brothers, Pure Blind Luck, Karl Stoll & Friends, JD & The Shenandoahs, Elana Brody, The Judy Chops, Brian Elijah Smith & The Wild Hearts, Pure Blind Luck, Bad Luck Blues Band, and Profitt & Sandidge.

Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 the day of the event. Johnnie is also offering a package in conjunction with the Stonewall Jackson Hotel and Conference Center of one night's accommodations, breakfast buffet for two at the hotel, free overnight parking, two tickets to the festival, two slices of Shenandoah Pizza, redeemable at the festival or at the downtown location all for $168.00.