A performance of a lifetime: Cyrano at American Shakespeare Center


                                         John Harrell as Cyrano de Bergerac- photo by Lindsey Walters

I have stopped reviewing plays because I want to simply encourage artists of all levels to make art for the love of it if not for any other reason and so this is not a review. I am writing this post because last night I witnessed a performance so rare in the world that this morning I awoke crying from the honest beauty of it and knew I would not rest unless I shared my thoughts. 

I am referring to John Harrell’s performance as Cyrano in the Edmond Rostand version of Cyrano de Bergerac (translated by anthony Burgess) at the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriar’s playhouse.

I adore the American Shakespeare Theatre.  I think it is one of the best Shakespeare companies on this planet and most likely the Universe. I love how this company performs Shakespeare in the purest manner – without lighting effects, without electronic sound, with the house lights up to afford maximum audience participation, without scenery and with very few props- because it allows the focus to be on the words which was how Shakespeare’s plays were intended to be produced. It is like how movies from the 40’s and 50’s were filmed to be presented on a big screen and when one is able to see Casablanca or The Wizard of Oz at say, The Byrd Theatre in Richmond or some other un-altered movie palace, it is experienced completely differently than on a smaller screen.  But I digress…

When ASC produces plays from later era’s it can be challenging to interpret them as magically as Shakespearian one’s because the shows were written to be presented differently.  But this version of Cyrano works, no, thrives in these staging conditions largely due to Harrell’s brilliant interpretation of the character and flawless delivery of the text.

What I mean is: I usually like every show I see at ASC. Some are merely good, most are great and a few are spectacular but only twice have I witnessed hallmark performances.* The first was Benjamin Curns’ delivery of the best portrayal of Richard III I have yet to see and now Harrell’s definition of Cyrano played as though the part were written for him alone.

Part of the joy of this production is Jim Warren’s direction which seems to have matured from what sometimes is heavy handed goofiness to a more subtle and effective comedic touch.  There is just enough goofiness to keep the audience laughing without distracting from the beauty of the love story – for example: Chris Johnston’s fat actor (Montfleury) rolling about the stage aka Madonna’s Like a Virgin MTV Music Awards moment  (BTW: Johnston was fabulous in the role), Gregory Jon Phelps foppishness as Viconte de Valvert and Alison Glenzer’s whiney Sister Martha along with other bits with other roles.

But back to Harrell…

The audience was riveted. Harrell is always good in his roles.  He is a longtime veteran of ASC and knows his stuff. But he just IS Cyrano. A master of his craft and yet giving to his fellow players. Every pang of Cyrano’s insecurity, rush of exuberance, twinge of jealousy, glow of bravado, heartstring pluck of self- sacrifice and warm ray of hope of winning Roxanne for his own was clearly felt by all in attendance. To be present for his performance was glorious from his quick delivery of quips to Montfleury at the show’s start to the last gasp of “panache” at the end.  

My one regret is that I waited this long to see the show otherwise I would be back again and again. This is the kind of thing that happens RARELY so check the ASC schedule and get to this show before it is merely theatre legend. 

*Please note that I have not seen every show at ASC and there may have been other performances as fabulous unknown to me.

PS: McBeth and Comedy of Errors are also exceptional productions so you might just want to make a weekend of it and see all three shows.  MB 

More from Wintergreen Performing Arts after a stellar summer series Amazonia

Wintergreen Performing Arts
Tomorrow . . . 
The 9th Annual
Blue Ridge Mountain Music Fest
Sierra Hull - Tell Me Tomorrow
Sierra Hull sings Tell Me Tomorrow
Saturday, August 16
Noon-7:00 pm
Dunlop Pavilion
Wintergreen Resort
Wintergreen Resort, Virginia
Featuring . . .
Nothin’ Fancy
Sierra Hull
The Virginia Ramblers
Kim & Jimbo Cary and Pete & Ellen Vigour

Ticketing will be by wristband purchase 

on the day of the Fest at the Dunlop Pavilion Ticket Booth.


Ticket prices:

ADULTS – $25

STUDENTS (6-17) – $10



Click here for details!


Click here for the complete schedule!



Wintergreen Performing Arts
P.O. Box 816
Wintergreen, Virginia 22958

Rockbridge Community Festival

So excited about this Community Festival for one of my favorite parts of the world.

This just in from the festival’s marketing team:

The 38th annual Rockbridge Community Festival will be held in Historic Downtown Lexington, Virginia on Saturday, August 23rd from 9am-3pm. The picturesque streets will be closed to feature arts & crafts booths, community organizations, live music, and some wonderful food vendors. Held each year, the Rockbridge Community Festival highlights the best of American communities; the City of Lexington assisting along with Washington & Lee University, while volunteer leaders from the Lexington-Rockbridge Jaycees, Lexington Kiwanis, and Lexington, VA Rotary Clubs all meet, plan, and execute the Festival. Admission is free, attendance is encouraged, and fun is to be had by all. 


WNRN Culture Connection for August 11 – 17

Oh my, what a week!  There is improv, a foodie tour of Shockoe Slip and a performance of the children’s classic introduction to classical music, Peter and the Wolf. To listen to this week’s Culture Connection via podcast click on the podcast triangle below.  To learn more about the featured events, click on the links provided under each.

Peter and the Wolf:


Bent Hunger Games Improv:



Capital of Cuisine food tour of Shockoe Slip:



I will be going to ASC this weekend to see Cyrano on Saturday then heading to Richmond on Sunday for Old Crow Medicine Show at Maymont. Let me know what you did this week to get Cultured.


The Culture Maven


Remembering a Moment with Robin Williams

I have been fortunate enough to have many brushes with fame over the years and one of the most memorable is a split second moment I had with Robin Williams.  It seems fitting to share that moment at this sad time of his departure from this life, seemingly by his own hand which makes the story of his comedic life a tragedy in the end. Many people who make us laugh are troubled.  This dynamic seems to make them larger than life, somehow bigger than the rest of us so that a split second of connection can be a brilliant experience like when Bill Murray walks into a McDonald’s and casually plucks a french fry off of some random person’s tray and eats it uttering the words, “No one will ever believe you,” while chewing up the evidence of his theft. Tell me the person whose fries were consumed will not remember that moment for the rest of this lifetime.


Here is my story:

I was in my senior year of college and involved in a romantic relationship with a brilliant painter, Ben Schlessinger.  Ben had decided to move to San Francisco rather than finish his degree at VCU where we had met as students and been dating for about a year.  So on the first of November of 1995, I hopped on a plane to visit him and discuss plans for our future.  On the second or third night I was there we went to Berkley to visit his cousin for dinner.  As we walked across the Berkley University campus we came to a large quad. We started to walk across the quad at the corner where the school’s theater is located.  I fail to recall the play that was showing- Othello comes to mind but I could be mistaken.  Anyway, we began walking towards the opposite corner of this big flat empty space just as a man began walking from the other end so that we were walking directly towards each other.  It was about five minutes to eight so it was logical to assume this person was headed to the theater to see the show.  The man was short, slightly stocky and had a familiar gait though I could hardly imagine why.  At about twenty feet’s distance I was able to sort out from the dusky light the features of the man’s face and discern that it was Robin Williams. As I am not star struck, I simply watched with curiosity and slight amusement at the circumstance as we drew closer. At about three feet’s distance, he looked up.  As we passed each other I caught the gaze of his eye’s which twinkled as he smiled as we passed as if he recognized me too- which is of course impossible in the normal sense but more of a recognition of spirit.  Maybe he just was amused that it was likely we knew who he was or that a pretty young woman (and I do flatter myself that at 22 I was fairly hot) was checking him out despite being with another man.  Who knows.  It was a moment all the same and I was touched by it.

About five paces after we passed, Ben squeezed my arm and squealed with astonishment, “Do you know who that was?! That was Robin Williams!”  “Yes,” I replied in a soft tone though my smile.  “I know.”

Rest in peace, Robin.

The world is a better place because you were here.


WNRN Culture Connection for Aug 4 – 11

This week I picked a hodge podge of activities to share on WNRN’s Culture Connections including a fast poetry writing contest, some jazz from the Richmond Jazz Festival and an interesting play about a pregnant woman and a mentally disturbed man. To hear this week’s Culture Connection click on the podcast triangle below.  To learn more about the featured events click on the links provided.

Milli Joe Gelato poetry contest:


Kiss the Moon, Kiss the Sun:


Jazz at the Hippodrome:



Sean Jones coming to the Hippodrome with his Quartet

Have a great week and remember to get out there and get cultured.


The Culture Maven

PS:  I saw two shows this past weekend that I thought were great: The Comedy of Errors at the American Shakespeare Center and Ash Lawn Opera’s production of Fiddler on the Roof.  I am looking forward to catching ASC’s production Cyrano in the near future. caio, M


Click here for link to wnrn web page and podcast.

WNRN Culture Connection for July 28 – August 3

The second show of Ash Lawn Opera’s season and the Dragon Boat Festival at Rockett’s Landing are hallmarks of summer rolling right along.  Plus a tribute to Patsy Cline rounds out this week’s WNRN Culture Connection.

For information on these events, click on the links below.  To hear a podcast of this week’s Culture Connection click here.

Always Patsy Cline in Lynchburg:


Fiddler on The Roof in Charlottesville:


Dragon Boat Races in Richmond:


FYI:  I saw Avenue Q (part of the Heritage Theatre Festival) over the weekend at it was very good.  If you like irreverent musicals you might want to check it out.

Have a great week and get out there and get cultured.


The Culture Maven



Walgreens Richmond International Dragon Boat Race

Shakespearian Summer

Here in Central Virginia summer paints the land an emerald green and soft nights to entice the human population out of doors.  One of my favorite activities is to see plays and concerts al fresco during the long summer evenings and recently I did just that- I went to Agecroft Hall in Richmond to see Henley Street/Richmond Shakespeare’s production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM.  In past years I have grumbled about the quality of Richmond Shakespeare’s shows.  To wit, one particular production of ROMEO AND JULIET in which the actors were far too old for the parts of the star-crossed lovers and the sets were literally fashioned from 2 x 4’s and cardboard (the “structure” used for the balcony scene wobbled so terribly I feared for the actor’s safety – that was quite distracting).  At any rate, the merger with Henley Street Theatre Company has apparently been a good move because the show was wonderful!

Of particular note is the set, a jungle gym of crepe myrtle branches created by Agecroft’s multi-talented Executive Director, Richard Moxley sits center stage and is expertly put to use by director, Jan Powell.  The players weave in and out and onto this thing like threads on a loom.   And when the lights are dimmed, a rich indigo lights the structure to create a beautiful jewel quality.  It is simply brilliant!

The sound is also spectacular. Little bug hums and chirps speckle the evening, some human made and others recorded with whispery bits of music and dialog mixed in to add to the dream like quality of the show.

But best of all were the group of four fairies.  Three young woman and one young man whom I would be honored to name here if I could only find my program (or if their names were mentioned in a cast list on the website).  They moved so beautifully and affected such perfect natural mischief it is as if they just jumped out of an Art Nouveau painting to join in the romantic fun.

Also on the must mention list is the lovely VCU student who plays Puck.  Quite simply put she is  the best Puck I have yet to see. Playful and fun, confident and whimsical, she gambles and spins about the show like a kid (meaning an actual baby goat) amongst clover.

There is other good stuff too but time prohibits my expanding on them.  My advice is to click here and get your tickets now and experience this play as it ultimately should be experienced- outdoors on a midsummer night.





Activity Report for last weekend (5-16 & 17-14)

Yeah, I know I have been totally slacking on this blog but I have committed to getting my financial house in order with my new job at WNRN and so I have been working, working, working.  It is time consuming but fun.

So what about some arts and culture already?


I spent some time in Richmond this past weekend and saw a play and a photography exhibit.

The play:

DETROIT by Lisa D’Amour at the theatre formerly called the Empire (now Va Rep Center) in the Theatre Gym.

This play is about the deconstruction of the American Dream as viewed through the story of two couples living in a suburb of Detroit.  I love the message of how false attachment to image, escape and material things wrecks havoc on our lives.  Plus pyro’s will appreciate all the fire references and, well, I don’t want to give anything away.  Just go see it for some engaging, thought provoking theatre. Not one single fidget moment for me and my 14 year old was riveted.

Click here for details if you want to go see it.

On Saturday I went with daughter in tow to see POSING BEAUTY IN AFRICAN AMERICAN CULTURE an exhibit of African American portrait photography from the  1890’s to the present.  I know what you are thinking… If you are white you are thinking that this exhibit is for African Americans and if you are African American you may be thinking that this is a ploy to get you to go to the museum. Both viewpoints are both correct and incorrect. I suggest checking it out as the photography is beautiful and the exploration of what is “beauty in terms of aesthetics, race, class, and gender within art, popular culture. and politics”. I think after seeing the exhibit it will be apparent that this exhibit is for anyone who appreciates art, beauty and/or photography and what is wrong  with the museum wanting to attract people anyway?

As a special bonus the VMFA has a tandem exhibit of items from its own collection called IDENTITY SHIFTS.

For info click here.

Something to see in Charlottesville (which I have yet to attend myself but it looks so interesting I just had to mention it) is


This project involves two of my favorite talented people in Cville: Julie Hamberg and Peter DeMartino so it is sure to be fabulous.

Here is the description pirated from the website:

based on the novel by MIKHAIL BULGAKOV
original text adapted for the theater by JULIE HAMBERG & PETER DeMARTINO
directed by JULIE HAMBERG

The Devil has come to Moscow with a hitman and a talking cat, and will stop at nothing to ensure the perfection of his annual Ball. Mischief, magic, beheadings, and the surprisingly touching biography of Pontius Pilate permeate this unlikely love story that proves that stars can sometimes be un-crossed with enough determination.

Click here for info.


Sadly I will miss the Village People at the Paramount on Thursday night. :-( But that is the way of the world, sometimes.

Keep prodding me and I will keep writing.

And be sure to check out WNRN Culture Connection on Sunday June 1st at 11am on WNRN  (just stream it from wnrn.org or the App on you smart phone, it is so much easier than me typing out all seven signal numbers thank you very much) when Matthew Slaats and I and two local artists actually do the first “Art Assignment” from the online PBS show of that same name.

Enjoy the amazing weather and get out there and get cultured already.



The Culture Maven

Yoga Summer Camp for teenaged women

OMG!  I had no idea so much time had passed since I last blogged on Culture Nuts.  So much culture has happened since then but I am not even going to talk about that because my friend, Jen Waine, has this cool yoga camp for teenaged women this summer and I wanted to get the word out ASAP.


Here is the 411:

Create memories .. Play .. Friendly .. Calm, Comfortable, Confident .. Power .. No drama .. Freedom to go my own way .. Indestructible .. No judgement .. A clean slate.

YEW: a 2 week summer program for “Young Empowered Women” ages 14-18. YOGA for all levels and all bodies including beginners. Time to discuss life. Topics offered by participants.

June 16-27. 9am-noon. Divine Play. $225. Space is limited. Enroll now.

For more information go to www.jenwaine.com. To register contact Jen Waine at jwaine@comcast.net.


If you know any teenaged women please pass this along.



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