Friday, August 8, 2008

Getting to and Going to One of My Favorite Theaters in America

I wanted to call this post "W3lc0m3 2 Fx1ng V1rg1n1a," but the one I used sounds nicer.

It took me over 36 hours to get to Staunton, Virginia, home of the American Shakespeare Center at and Blackfriars Playhouse, one of my favorite places to see plays. I have been there twice now, and I like doing it with the lights on, the slogan they paste on things reminding people that they are part of the action.
I was booked on five planes, two of which I actually boarded before being instructed to "deplane" after they found mechanical failures. I arrived in DC where it was pouring rain and 80º out. Hertz said they only had Mustangs and SUVs, and since it is against my religion to drive an SUV, I chose the Mustang. I started walking toward the space on the ticket hoping it wasn't a red one. Hot and wet like Vietnam in the summer. "People live like this?" It was a red one. It was a red convertible. The license plate was from New Hampshire. It said "LIVE FREE OR DIE!!!!!"

A state trooper gave me a speeding ticket as I looked at her with red eyes that had not closed for 35 hours. My voice cracked speaking with her, nourished only by recycled air and having not really been used for a long time.

But the sun came up and lit up what an amazingly beautiful state Virginia is, and I was not too tired to be thrilled by the blueness of the blue ridge and how it all looked like paper shadow puppets in Japan or like a talented child's panorama in a boundless shoe box. The names along the highway all remind you of stories you heard as a kid. Places that they talk about in "John Adams" on HBO. The rain had cleared and the view was simply stunning.

It was like that, ephemeral and stumbling, that I arrived in the early, early morning at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel. I've stayed in Hotels all over the world. The Stonewall Jackson is one of the ones I enjoy particularly. I had seven hours. I am used to staying awake for long periods of time. But I had ten hours to sleep and shower and eat and get my head before the first play and dinner with people who are smarter than I am. "This is going to suck," I said to the hotel mirror, the red eyes, the black bags, the greasy airplane hair.

But the ASC production of "Twelfth Night" did not suck. It was an all around pretty strong production, I thought. Before curtain, they played songs like "Boys Don't Cry" and others that are appropriate if you listen to the lyrics. I liked that very much, and I am seriously surprised that there are so many talented musicians in the company. They cut some things out of the play I rolled my eyes about, but my condition didn't allow me to take as accurate notes as I wanted to, and I don't remember what they cut now. But John Harrell, who played a wonderful and original Malvolio , should never get a line cut—NEVER! And if anyone cuts any of his lines in any character that he's playing, that director should lose sleep over it for the rest of his/her life. In this case, Rob Clare is the director who should be losing sleep, riddled with perplex guilt and existential doubt.

Sasha Olinick was a good Feste, and Alyssa Wilmoth was a cute and sweet Viola/Cesario. Sarah Fallon was a nice Olivia, too. Gregory Jon Phelps was phenomenal as Andrew. Last time I was in Staunton, he played Romeo (the last good one I saw) and I was glad he was still in the company. He's hilarious.
I was tired and annoyed easily by René Thorton, Jr. because he seemed not to like any of the women in the play or something. There was no chemistry between him and the women. Usually I like him.

After the play I had dinner with Stephen Booth and Ralph Cohen and a woman named Freddie. I was a bit brain dead at dinner, and I felt bad about being so tired. I hope they couldn't tell or think I was being a jerk or something. I was trying to think about the play, but I couldn't, which is why this post is all about getting to the show. Hunter S. Thompson would have reviewed it like that. But there would have been drugs. All I had was Tanqueray and tonic and some wine at Zynadoa. Zynadoa kind of makes me want to live in Staunton.

The bartender there remembered me from my last visit. That's nice. I go there as much as possible when I'm in town I guess.

I am going to write about all the productions I saw while I was in Staunton last week.


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