This Week’s WNRN Culture Connection: The Symphony, Cyrano and grape stomping

Vacations are over and the calendar is beginning to fill up but this is a great week to get cultured in Central Virginia with a little Symphony, Cyrano and a grape harvest festival.

To learn more about these events, click on the links provided.  To hear this week’s Culture Connection, click here.

Harvest Festival:


Richmond Symphony Evening Concert:


Cyrano de Bergerac:


John Harrell as Cyrano in ASC's Cyrano de Bergerac

John Harrell as Cyrano in ASC’s Cyrano de Bergerac

Read my Culturenuts blog post about Cyrano by clicking here.

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



The Culture Maven

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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


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