Letters to Holly

Tuesday, August 15

Back from Virginia

The mini-moon was a humdinger for a Shakespeare nut like me. Staunton's American Shakespeare Center knows how to put on a show. With eleven actors in residence this season, they will run four plays -- As You Like It, Othello, Macbeth, and Tempest -- on alternating days, with two different plays on Saturdays. The trip looked like this:

We arrive after a seven-hour drive and find our bed and breakfast inn is made up of at least three different buildings. We have a roomy room on the top floor of one building a half block up from the main lodge where breakfast is served. Staunton, while a lovely town to stroll, is dead. It's built like Asheville but functions like Brevard; it's designed for weekend, daylight retail business and sightseeing. For dinner, we try a place open only a week earlier, The Clocktower Tavern. Fantastic steaks. We find a gaming store and buy a travel chess set to kill the time when we're not in the theatre. In this town, you can catch a play, catch a movie, or eat dinner. That's all your evening options.

We head to the Frontier Culture Museum. A series of functioning historic farms allows us to wander country by country and through a century or two. Your Sis gets to carry water from a well in Germany, churn butter in Ireland, and milk a cow in America. The humid weather made for slow going at times, but at least we weren't wearing woven layers while working in a small house with a lit fireplace. The museum workers must love their jobs. We left before 2 p.m. to catch a tour of the theatre. One of the actors walked us through the rehearsal space and dressing rooms and allowed us to get on the stage. The latter, of course, sparked my acting jones. We watched a rehearsal of Othello, and after the tour, we two snuck back in to watch them rehearse some more. They cooked up a nice choreography for the Desdemona death scene that makes a lot of sense. That's what this theatre does so well: They take sensible approaches, using the textual directions and logical movements. For dinner, we eat at The Beverly, a country diner, and I enjoy a sublime open roast-beef sandwich drowned in brown gravy. We then catch Macbeth, a show I've waited 17 years to see live. We take seats onstage, as was the tradition way back when. I also sat onstage for Twelth Night when the theatre trouring troupe visited Brevard. This is my favorite play because it tackles so many themes (free will vs. destiny, magic vs. nature, sincerity vs. falsehoods), and I think it qualifies as the first pulp thriller.

We visit Monticello, Jefferson's home. That's pronounced 'monta-chello', not 'monta-sello.' It was an all-day tour. The house is quite small, but the grounds are huge. It's a fantastic vista to stroll. I learn that Jefferson wrote a state statute on religious freedom. It's as sensible an argument as one can find, yet I never heard it mentioned in the foam-mouthed radio rants on church and state. Also, I have my notion of a child-free days at parks affirmed by the horrible behavior of kids from ages 3 to 15. I would pay extra to be free of them at a museum, movie, or pretty much any public space. After Monticello, we eat at The Wharf, a casual restaurant along the river and train tracks in Staunton. They have an eponymous sandwich there with roast beef and chipotle mayonaise. Wonderful. We then see Tempest done right, a vast improvement on the Montford Park production from last month. This was Shakespeare's last play, and he says goodbye a few times directly. It also has a great comedy subplot with two drunken shipwreck survivors meeting a manbeast enslaved to the island's ruler. I can't say the theatre does comedy better than drama, but they swing both directions equally well. Before the show, a high-school intern group presents short skits showcasing their various camps (clowning, pantomime, stage combat, dance, etc.). It's a mixed bag of quality, but the standout is an Elizabethan dance performance set to Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean. " It works and works well, and then the kids break out into Jackson choreography. But this bit also has the saddest moment as I spy the vocalists reading the lyrics off a print-out. Everyone my age knows the song by heart; it was an inescapable tune for about two years in the early '80s. We hit the corner cafe after and talk to some of the actors and kids. The store has a "frozen hot chocolate" that's mindblowing.

We stroll through Staunton's shops, noting the vast Jolly Roger Haggle antique shop, a few good art galleries, and specialty restaurants out the wazoo. Staunton boasts the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, but the man doesn't register high enough on my radar for a visit. We eat lunch at the Pampered Palette, a bustling Southern cafe where all the tourists have flocked to eat. I have a gyro. We then see As You Like It from which the theatre wrings all the potential laughs. They add a lot of movement and interpretation distinct from the script, but it works to make a stronger show. This is obviously the show they have invested the most time, and it's the perfect note with which to end our stay. By strange coincidence, Kathy and Travis call me right before the show to ask me details of my syndicated wrestling column. As You Like It also happens to feature a wrestling match in the first act. I'm crying from laughter at this part. Even though we've walked everywhere for four days, we're aching for some exercise and play some tennis in the local park. For dinner, Your Sis chooses The Pullman, a swank business on the train track, right next to the station in fact, and a train whizzes by about 20 minutes after we sit down. I have chicken alfredo. We make an early evening of it and watch some "Good Eats" before calling it a night.

We drive home Sunday and play some more tennis after unpacking. We play at Silvermont where we had the formal wedding. Monday, Your Mom helps Your Sis prepare the classroom while I empty my email of all the accumulated spam. Travis and Kathy come over for wings and wrestling (and Monday Night Football, thank God), and they hand me autographed pictures of a wrestlker they saw Saturday. This is when they called me. The pictures are signed to "Matt Tracker," my old column pen name. I'm floored.

Picture of the Day
After taking about 1,000 photos the week before in Orlando, I took none in Virginia. So here's what Kathy and Travis got me. This is Dusty Rhodes, The American Dream. I grew up watching him fight Ric Flair and evil Russians.

In the News
The UK/US airplane plot arrests occured while we were in Virginia. It set off my cynic alarms, and new information out of Britain supports my notions. It sounds much like the Miami arrests where a gang of utter losers were accused of targeting Chicago despite a lack of funds, weapons, and a clear idea of jihad.

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