White Devils and all

Rene Thornton, Jr. in The White Devil at ASC

Rene Thornton, Jr. in The White Devil at ASC

Tonight, hopefully, I will achieve a goal by seeing the fifth play in the American Shakespeare Center’s Renaissance Season, Daniel Webster’s The White Devil.  And if this play is as good as the season’s other offerings, it should prove to be a good time to be had by all.  By “all” I mean the audience AND the actors.  This particular troupe seems to have gelled quite well (on stage at least as I am incapable of guessing what the behind the scenes situation is) bringing a wonderful sense of fun to The Taming of the Shrew (big shout out to Allison Glenzer for being such a fabulous Kate), Aphra Behn’s The Rover (love, love, love the play and particularly Lauren Ballard and John Harrell’s performances in this show xoxoxoxo), Every Man in His Humor (Patrick Midgley- you are soooo funny when you want to be), and Mother Bombie (not my favorite of the season but they do a good job with it).  Michael Amendola who plays a bunch of parts throughout the season (as does everyone in the troupe), turns every part he “touches” into gold.  His sense of humor is impeccable and I think he is perhaps the best comedic actor I have yet to see tread the Blackfriars recreated boards. And Nathan Crocker goes down smooth as an aged Scotch in every role he depicts.

I was tardy in my report on this season and I apologize but you can still catch all the Ren Season over the next couple of weeks. Plus you will have your chance to catch the cable ASC Touring Company when they return home to roost on April 8th with Hamlet (taking a group of Tibetans with me to see that with me- should prove to be interesting), Doctor Faustus, Much Ado About Nothing and Wittenberg.

See you at the theatre!

The Culture Maven

Film, Food, MoFo’s and Ham


Charlottesville is a cool place to live because we some big city entertainment coupled with small town living.  Last week’s big city type entertainment was the Virginia Film Festival, an event that takes over our little village attracting people from all over the country to C-ville for 100 movies in 4 days.

I for one enjoy the people watching during this event usually more than the films themselves and somehow the VFF always falls on a weekend when I have fifty other obligations, limiting my ability to participate.  So this is how the weeks shook down in terms of my Arts & Culture experience:

On Wednesday I lunched at Farm as I waited to ambush Matthew Slatts, Executive Director of the Bridge Arts Center. Farm is a sandwichy/ salady type place that offers fresh food mostly locally sourced and a good selection of beers and wine.  It is charming and the noodle salad I pulled from the ready-mades cold case was delish.  A great place for a nice lunch and plenty of sunny outdoor seating.

Wednesday night I worked on my Bachata moves at Charlottesville Salsa Club’s Bachata night at club M&M.

Thursday was the first day of the VFF- good crowd watching on the Downtown Mall.  My daughter and I went to see the Lighthouse Films since she was a student over the summer.

Friday night was a family road trip to Staunton to the American Shakespeare Center with friends to see (for me a repeat viewing, I liked it so much the first time) RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET.  Every body LOVED it and I won a raffle ticket for answering a trivia question correctly. (yeah!)  The show is in its final weeks, closing at the end of November to make room for the three Christmas themed shows presented in December.

Saturday morning found me directing traffic at the Tandem Tag Sale which was a mother load of treasures.  If you missed it this year be sure to go next year because there is always some gooooood stuff for amazing prices.

Then a visit to the VFF Family day at UVA near the Culbreth theater.  All I am saying is work is needed on this event.

The next stop was one of my fav eateries – The Flat, behind the Jefferson Theater, for crepes al fresco then to Pearl’s Bake Shoppe for apple cider donuts. The Flat make fat savory or sweet crepes and is loved for the fresh local ingredients, ample portions and great prices.  It is fast food that is truly good for you. I had a veggie on buckwheat crepe – yummy.

Saturday night found me at the Downtown Grille for a quick drink and a sumptuous crab cake appetizer before popping over to Live Arts for closing night of MOTHER F**CKER WITH A HAT. The script itself was so-so with a superfluous final scene that watered down what might have been a spectacular ending but Ike Anderson as Jackie, the central character put in a dynamic performance.

Sunday was another VFF day which culminated for me and my daughter with the documentary, BIBLE QUIZ, about a bible quiz team and the personal dynamics of said team over the course of a critical competition.  Who even knew there was such a thing as Bible Quiz?  Somebody I guess…  We liked the film and were sad we missed so many other films due to scheduling or rating issues.

Sunday night we drove to Richmond for Hamaganza rehearsal in preparation for the last Hamaganza fundraiser for Feedmore ever.  Mark your calendars for December 13 & 14 to witness what is sure to be the most debauched, sophomoric and pathetic Hamaganza of all time – because some legends deserve to go down in flames.

Hopefully things will slow down a tad this week but you just never know what invitations might pop up!

Get out there and get Cultured, Ya’ll.


The Culture Maven

Local Road Tripping

I thought it had been a quiet week but when I checked my calendar to write this blog I realized why I am so behind on the book project.

But first, I must share that the Charlottesville location of Pearl’s Bake Shoppe has made three glorious additions to its gluten free menu: 1. sweet potato biscuits with real Virginia ham and …2. pumpkin doughnuts and apple cider doughnuts – these are cakey, tasty treats that I could eat every day. The apple cider doughnuts are particularly welcomed because Carter Mountain Orchard has really good glutenous apple cider doughnuts and now those of us who reject gluten can eat apple cider doughnuts with some level of abandon at Pearl’s.

Other than an update on deliciousness at Pearl’s, the only thing to write about before Friday is my lunch at the The Daily Kitchen on Wednesday while in Richmond on business for WNRN.  Yes, it looks as though it is my new Richmond fav but on the  pain of being boring I may have to take a break from TDK and try somewhere else when next in RVA.  My lunch of a vegetable panini was scrumptious but the side order of brussels sprouts upstaged the yummy sandwich to become the star of the afternoon.  Slightly crisp on the outside while slightly tender on the inside these mini-cabages come swimming in a sauce that reminds me of the stuff served with Vietnamese spring rolls – sort of yellow with flecks of hot red pepper, you know the one.  Anyway… that sauce sets of the tartness of the sprouts perfectly and seriously, I could eat a pound of them for lunch all by themselves.

On Friday morning I ventured to Staunton to see ROMEO AND JULIET at the American Shakespeare Center.  Well, I say I went to see the play but that is only partly true.  I went to see Gregory Jon Phelps play Mercutio as I had it from a reliable source that his performance was worth the effort.  And it was.  Mr. Phelps is blossoming into a great actor and he and the ever hilarious Benjamin Curns, who plays Juliet’s Nurse, mop up the stage!  In fact I wish I had left after Mercutio’s death as the play is mostly spent on Romeo and Juliet following which proved anti-climactic – not so good in a tragedy – but all teenagers should see this play.

Friday night was a Kizumba lesson taught by Edwin Roa at The Dance Spot.  I had never tried kizumba before and had a little trouble understanding the timing at first but Edwin is such a great teacher, I think I got it after a short while. The Latin-American theme continued through the evening at Firefish Gallery which was hosting a Dias de les Muertes Party for First Fridays Art Walk.  The fabulous Sigrid, Mistress of Firefish, served skull cookies and encouraged patrons to dress up for the occasion.  She leant me a fantastic lion mask she made and at the end of the evening we all marched through the streets to Bon following Chicho Lorenzo carrying a very large paper mache skull lit with glow sticks.  It was all great fun but BREAKING BAD was calling me and by 9:00pm I was in my jammies taking in three more episodes putting me at S:3, E9.

There is nothing like leaning on a whitewashed fence rail on a splendid autumn day in a fabulous hat watching horses fly over boxwood jumps- which is exactly what I did on Saturday at the Montpelier Races.  My dear friend, Howell Taylor, included me on his guest list to indulge in fine food and wine and good company on the rail at the last turn of the steeplechase course. It was a perfect day, warm sunny for the most part with the leaves on the surrounding forrest of trees ever so slightly on the back end of their peak colors. Howell then hosted a chili dinner and bonfire party on his beautiful farm.  A good time was had by all.  Of course I was home by 10:30 and squeezed in one episode of BB before hitting the hay.












Fox at Montpelier Races

Staunton called me back on Sunday for a breakfast burrito (with sausage from Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms – YUM!) at Cranberries and another show at ASC, this time to enjoy another Phelps performance (and pecks) as Troilus in TROILUS AND CRESSIDA. This time John Harrell came to the forefront in performance as Pandarus with Phelps again commanding the stage.  The play ends weirdly though leaving several loose ends which may explain its failure to be often produced.

Tonight my daughter and I will be plotting our course for the Virginia Film Festival next weekend, creating a schedule to best meet our film viewing needs including seeing her film screening at the Lighthouse showings on Saturday morning.

Take care, have a great week and get out there and get cultured, ya’ll.








Culture Maven last week recap: Forgiveness in Burundi and 2 plays


She Stoops To Conquer

She Stoops To Conquer

Some people fail to realize that though I spend quite a bit of time holed up in my apartment/writing cave for a good chunk of my life that I actually do get out and experience some of the things I write about for WNRN’s Culture Connection.  Last week, despite a full scale Mom duty,  I made it to Sunday night Salsa at R2 in Charlottesville, Bachata night (Wednesday) at club M&M (also in C-ville) to David Niyonzima’s Talk at Tandem and to two fantastic shows at The American Shakespeare Center and the season opener party.

Since Salsa and Bachata are weekly occurrences I will refrain from expanding upon how much fun Latin dance is, what a fantastic, fun, eclectic group of people go regularly to dance, what a wonderful, patient teacher Edwin Roa is or that lessons are from 8 – 9pm for both events with a dance party following and that it is only $5 for ladies and $8 for gents.  No, I shall go right into describing the other events…

David Niyonzima’s talk was powerfully moving.  He described some of the horrors he survived  during a massacre in 1993 in Burundi that was directed at him and a group of his Quaker students. The students were all brutally killed as was his brother.  This tragic incident began his incredible journey of advocating and working with forgiveness and reconciliation plus learning how to heal traumatized clients.  It was truly inspirational.   He is now the Director of  nonprofit THARS (Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Services) in Bujumbura, Burundi, where he developed a wide range of services including Listening Rooms, Support Groups and Community Mediation. His story is one of hope for healing a divided country.  To learn more click here.

The weekend offered much lighter fare – it is after all important to have a little yin with your yang.  I forayed across Afton Mountain to Staunton ( one of my favorite places on earth due to its unbounded charm, great restaurants, local chocolate, Kazzie’s Granola  and the American Shakespeare Center).  The first show I caught was the matinee showing of RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET a rollicking mocking homage to 50’s and 60’s Rock music, science fiction and Shakespeare. Shakespearian Drama Rock Star Jim Warren’s talent for camp and comedy are displayed to their best advantage in this play which seriously benefits from a jolt of  energy  to the ASC regular cast of actors (Allison Glenzer, Tracie Thompson, Rene Thornton, Jr., Benjamin Curns, Gregory Jon Phelps, John Harrell, Chris Johnston)  brought by new-to-ASC- main stage talents (Tim Sailer, Dylan Paul, Josh Innerst, Lee Fitzpatrick, Emily Brown).

“PLANET” is loosely based on THE TEMPEST but no less than 16 Shakespearian plays or sonnets are quoted or mock quoted in the script while Bob Carlton, who made the show a musical in 1985, adds great songs like, TEENAGER IN LOVE and GREAT BALLS OF FIRE.

The first act of this play is so funny and perfectly executed I laughed almost non-stop for an hour.  The casting is simply flawless.  Dylan Paul makes the quintessential Captain Tempest  with an Osmond worthy smile and Kirk-like swagger, a swoon-worthy love interest for Emily Brown’s, Miranda.  Brown obviously has a dance background and moves gracefully across the Blackfriars stage in all her numbers and is a skilled singer and actress – a joy to watch. Rene Thornton, Jr. surprises those of us who have seen him portray mostly serious rolls throughout the years as he loosens up to this version of  Dr. Prospero – who knew he could do a body wave? Gregory Joh Phelps is stupendously romantic as Cookie commanding “Awws” from the audience both purposefully and spontaneously.  But the best fun of all (and that is saying a lot due to the tough competition) was Lee Fitzpatrick’s Gloria, a wildly feminist Science Officer who now reigns as the Queen of the blues at ASC.

If you like science fiction, mid-20th Century Rock & Roll, Shakespeare or just plain old good fun you must go see RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET before it blasts off the ASC stage November 30th.

During the break between shows I went for some nibbles and a nip of bubbles at my dear friends’ M & J’s (no names mentioned to protect identities). They are the loveliest of hosts who always have great food, fabulous wine and interesting company to make my visits extra special.  (kisses to you guys!)

Then at 7:30pm Round II at ASC for the opening night performance of SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER.  If laughter is therapy then go see this play for a good dose of mental health.  Benjamin Curns’ and Allison Glenzer’s performances alone are well worth the  tripple the ticket price or the average cost of one visit to a psychiatrist. Curns, who won my highest esteem as THE BEST Richard III I have yet to witness (and I have seen quite a few) has flawless comedic timing, line delivery and body language as the confounded Mr. Hardcastle.  Glenzer, as seen scores of times on the ASC stage, makes a formidable spousal foil as the long suffering, Mrs. Hardcastle.  They have the chemistry of long term marrieds and they instinctively know how to bring out the best in each other as actors. The other shining couple where Lee Fitzpatrick’s Kate Hardcastle and Gregory Jon Phelps’ Young Charles Marlow. The accents Fitzpatrick whips up in her disguise as a barmaid were as hilarious as they were mixed up.  Phelps demonstrates his shapeshifter versatility as Young Marlow pulls sort of a Raj (as in BIG BANG THEORY) where he becomes tongue tied with the ladies of his station yet is a smooth operator when it comes to ladies of a lower class.

Both of these plays move at a fast clip, are light fare yet highly satisfactory.  And the costumes were FABULOUS thanks to the magic of Jenny McNee (STOOPS) and Erin M. West (PLANET).

Following the show, I headed to Redbeard Brewing Company to hobnob with the actors and other ASC celebs and taste the special beer Redbeard has created in honor of ASC’s 25th anniversary.  Cheers to a fantastic fall season, ASC.  And many more to come!

Return to the Forbidden Planet

Return to the Forbidden Planet

From wnrn Culture Connection Sept 16 – 22

It is important to take time to fill your spirit during the busy fall season and this week I have found some cool ways to do just that with some yoga, a lecture and a trip to a forbidden planet.

Get your OM on during a 36 hour Yogathon at nonprofit Project Yoga in Richmond starting at 6 am Wednesday through 6 pm on Thursday. This consciousness raiser features 24 class segments, 2 DJ’s and a class or two taught by local yoga rock star J. Miles. (I took a class with J. Miles at Floyd Yoga Jam a few weeks ago and let me tell you, it was totally fun.  He really knows how to combine his love for music and yoga into a true mind/body experience.)

Then dash to the Tandem Friends School in Charlottesville on Thursday night for    From Burundi with Love    a talk on forgiveness and reconciliation, by Burundi native and author, David Niyonzima. Sponsored by nonprofit African Peace Partners this event is free.

Now that your are full of peace love and understanding head to Staunton on SATURDAY  AFTERNOON (This is a correction from the actual spot broadcast on the radio. Check the ASC schedule to see what is actually playing Friday night. Apologies for any inconvenience.) to enjoy an evening of truly entertaining theatre at nonprofit American Shakespeare Center’s production of Return To the Forbidden Planet, a B-movie style Sci-fi musical loosely based on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest featuring rock-and-roll hits from the 50’s and 60’s.

If you have a cool event coming up shoot me an email at mary@rnwn.org .

See you out and about!


The Culture Maven

WNRN logo

A Weekend of Shakespeare



This past weekend was in a word, surprising.

I attended productions of two Shakespeare plays at completely different venues on either side of Charlottesville and found myself flummoxed by the quality of the shows vs my expectations.  Friday night prompted a foray to Barbouresville to Four County Players to see Taming of the Shrew, a  personal favorite of the Bard’s theatricals as I once played Katarinah in three scenes from the play as part of a seventh grade English class project. (I can still recall gleefully stomping on the cap and swishing about in an elegant Elizabethan costume.)

I admit, I had less than high hopes for the production as Four County is a dyed in the wool community theater which means it is a hit or miss proposition. However, the set, designed by Lauren Chilton, a recent UVA grad, hinted that I may be in for a better time than I thought. Indeed the simple set of a downstage center arched doorway flanked by varying levels and sizes of platforms and painted like stones worked quite well for Director, Kristen Franklin Heiderstadt’s blocking to keep the action moving and the actors on their toes. Once the play started, I was quite engaged.

Production elements were what one might expect from an established community theatre, neither fabulous nor a disaster. The costumes were simple yet effective though obviously culled from costume shops all over town. The lighting adequate.  The talent level of the cast was uneven and since the players perform out of love for the art, I shall refrain from calling them on the carpet for their faults and instead pat them all  on their proverbial backs for  putting in a valiant effort. It was obvious which actor’s were versed in the language and which were not.  One actor was so bad at interpreting the text that he may as well have been speaking Chinese for all I could understand.

Standout performances were the leads, Mendy St. Ours as Katarinah (Kate) and Martyn Kyle as Patruchio, along with Eamon Hyland as Tranio and John Cobb as a guitar wielding Hortensio.  For the most part Heiderstadt’s guidance served the play well but occaisionally she caved into the temptation to over block causing actors to move about the stage for no reason other than to move. But St. Ours and Kyle ((NAME)) were so thick with chemistry and practiced in their timing that they kept the audience laughing and focused to the fullest. The audience audibly “Awwwed” when the Kate and Patruchio shared a sumptuous kiss at the end.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an evening. I was happily surprised by the level of entertainment.

Sunday’s mini-road trip to the American Shakespeare Center to see it’s latest production of Twelfth Night was a surprise of a different kind. ASC’s productions are usually exceptional to the point that I have said many times they are one of the best Shakespeare Companies in the world.  But this version of Twelfth Night was as flat as a soda left out in the open overnight.  Rick Blunt, usually so engaging and funny, seemed to phone this one in, failing to distinguish his Sir Toby from any number of other comedic characters he has played on the Blackfriars’ stage. Most of the cast lacked energy which led me to believe there had been a wild party somewhere in Staunton the night before. Exceptions were Stephanie Holliday Earl, who made a regal Countess Olivia, Patrick Earl, the suffering love-sick Orsino, Patrick Midgley as Valentine/Antonio and Seth McNeill as a very silly and effective Sir Andrew Aguecheek.  Please understand that all the actors were professional  – just a bunch of them seemed like they were somewhere else other than on the stage.

I chatted with several people during intermission and post-show who felt the same way:  It was a good production but somehow missed the mark yet everyone failed at pin-pointing the problem.  The Costumes, designed by Erin M. West, were visually stunning and beautifully executed but like the rest of the production just somehow didn’t gel. There was audience interaction but it seemed plugged -in rather than part of the flow of the piece. John Basil’s direction, which according to the director’s notes in the program, is centered on the Madness  of love and the Elizabethan Tomfoolery indicative of the feast of Epiphany (the twelfth night of Christmas) where anything can happen. This concept of madness apparently seeped into his direction.  The result: too much business and not enough heart  like an over spiced dish which renders a muddle of flavors rather than a tasteful treat. Particularly annoying was the scene in which Malvolio (David Millstone) is supposed to be imprisoned in a dungeon and Feste (Andrew Goldwasser) is speaking with him through a an open hatch supposedly in the dungeon’s ceiling.  Basil staged it with Feste center stage speaking into a cube set on the floor with a hinged door on top.  Malvolio, who is supposed to be below, is posted in an alcove space behind a curtain back center stage – essentially behind Feste.  Each time the lid of the box was lifted the curtains were drawn to reveal a manacled Malvolio who spoke to the ceiling.  Towards the end, Feste plays with opening and closing the box lid as the curtains are closed and opened in tandem.  It was a mess made particularly confusing by the access to a trap door that lay directly underneath the box which was used to pleasing effect in the last production ASC did of the show.

I must add that  it was my first time seeing Andrew Goldwasser  at ASC and I enjoyed his performance.  He is a good find.  His voice is strong and sure.  His singing well- schooled and his acting chops honed. It will be interesting to see how his talents are utilized in the other two plays of the season.

On a side note: every theatre company has a less than stellar show every now and then so, dear readers, keep going to the Blackfriars and I promise you will be better pleased than I was with this production of Twelfth Night.

Overall bookending my weekend with the Bard was great and I highly recommend it.

Julius Caesar at ASC Reviewed by Brandon L. Walker

This is a well written review I came across this morning on the C-VILLE WEEKLY website.  Just thought I would share:

Masters of their fates: Julius Caesar at American Shakespeare Center

René Thornton, Sarah Fallon and Gregory Jon Phelps star in American Shakespeare Center's Julius Caesar. Image: Lauren D. Rogers and Tommy Thompson.René Thornton, Sarah Fallon and Gregory Jon Phelps star in American Shakespeare Center’s Julius Caesar. Image: Lauren D. Rogers and Tommy Thompson.

1/10/13 at 2:10 PM

When I moved to this area from New York City, the first thing I wanted to do was go see a show at the American Shakespeare Center. From the moment I learned of it, I was enamored of the dream it promised: a self-sustaining center of Shakespearean, Elizabethan, and early Modern drama in the heart of the Shenandoah, on a stage designed to the specs of the hallowed old Blackfriars Playhouse in London. Being an avid Shakespeare nerd while also despising big city life and seeking out mountainous terrain often set me at odds. The idea that great Shakespeare was happening in the Shenandoah Valley was enough to make me rethink the concept of a sentient universe. Part of me just couldn’t believe such a thing existed, and maybe I was protecting the fragile dream by not going, but otherwise I have little excuse as to why it’s been a year and a half and I’ve just seen my first show. I can happily report that the dream is not only alive, the reality has so o’erleaped the fragile dream that I’m ashamed I ever doubted it.

The play was Julius Caesar, my second favorite behind Richard III, so I was, as always, guarded. I’ve seen Caesar about a dozen times by this point and the range of quality is wide. It’s a tough play to not ruin; it’s so good on its own but it makes you want to make it into something more than it needs to be. Avid tactitioners that they are, ASC flanked that little hang up by approaching it with traditional Elizabethan rehearsal practices. I’m talking about three days rehearsal, no directors, no designers, no set, lights up, costume stock, boom: opening night. This is how it was done when Shakespeare was doing it and it could not have worked better. If you have smart actors who make bold choices, who know their parts, and are unflinching in the objectivity of their self-analysis and are freely constructive with criticism and notes for each other…who needs a director?  Who needs complicated, moody lighting or an immersive set?

The pre-show music was great, and featured all the actors in the show. There was no illusory fourth wall; all the house lights were up and the actors roamed about. I won’t give too much away, but the transition into the first act of the play was one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever experienced. Audience interaction was highly encouraged in a way that genuinely interacted with the show without putting an unwanted spotlight on anyone. The show flew by through the use of cuts that were, by and large, well informed (though they did cut my absolute favorite Brutus line).

The cast was a tight ensemble. Of particular note was Benjamin Curns’ Caesar. Until now, every single Caesar I’ve ever seen  has annoyed me. Maybe it’s because he’s always played as a supporting part in a play with his name in the title. This was not the case with Curns, whose Caesar was confident but not overblown, striding and hubristic, but likeable in the same vein. He was a leader and he led the show, without any self-awareness of his fate or the duration of his time in the play. And more than that, Curns himself is clearly one of those kinds of people who just knows what to do onstage, which goes a long way.

Brutus is my favorite character in Caesar and René Thornton, Jr. played him capably. His looming height and gravitas lent him authority, and he had the vocal delivery of a polished statesman. His choices were smart and his objectives were nimbly pursued. I would have liked to have seen a bigger transition from beginning to end, from the man who loved Caesar but loved Rome more, to the warlord who publicly brushes aside news of his wife’s death. Sarah Fallon’s Cassius was sharp and motivated, her delivery was focused, and she fit Caesar’s remark of her having a lean and hungry look. I was  greatly impressed by Gregory Jon Phelps’ Marc Antony. His character had the most engaging transition, from the Elizabethan equivalent of a frat guy to the deftly manipulative orator and conquering emperor at the end.

All told, this is great theater. It’s the kind that energizes you, makes you want to go out and do something inspired. The same reason we go home and pretend to be Batman after seeing a Batman movie.  For nothing more than the giddy appeal of witnessing something being done right, this show is worth seeing.

Julius Caesar/Blackfriars Playhouse at the American Shakespeare Centerthrough April 4

Looking forward to seeing this and  so happy Mr. Walker decided to stop by ASC as it is one of the BEST Shakespeare Theatre Companies on the planet.

See you at the theatre!

12 Dates of Rowdy Good Fun!


One of my new “grown-up” Holiday traditions is to venture over to Staunton and catch a Christmas show at American Shakespeare Center‘s Blackfriars theatre. There are three shows running in repertory during the season: the traditional and family friendly, “A Christmas Carol” (Bah Humbug! I am more in the anti-Christmas Camp this year.), the wickedly funny,modern classic, “Santaland Diaries” by David Sedaris and an original play by one the ASC’s alums, Ginna Hoben called, “The 12 Dates of Christmas“. The latter two plays are “adult only” shows and though, I adore “The Santaland Diaries” , this year, under my personal circumstances of being single and dating, I chose to invite a few female friends to laugh with me at Hoben’s saga of  a woman (ironically) named Mary’s year long dating recovery following a break-up of what she thought was a committed relationship.

The play begins with Mary (played by ASC regular,Allison Glenzer) happily engaged and watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade from the comfy environs of her family’s suburban Ohio home. After witnessing her fiancee sucking face with an office mate on national television, she embarks on a journey of  healing self discovery as reflected through dating encounters with 12 men.  Accompanied by the Doo Wop Girls, Bridget Rue and Molly Gilman, who accent various scenes with A Capella seasonally appropriate songs, Genzer bowls through the material like a bull in a china closet giving the audience a full range of emotional experience with her signature un-subtle style.

The ASC stage is Glenzer’s home. She is adept at engaging the audience and rolling with whatever comes her way and masterfully manipulates responses both planned and unplanned as is dictated by Hoben’s script.  At one point (as per the script) she invites patrons to help her (Mary) decide whether or not she should kiss her longtime- male -friend- turned- surprise-date on New Year’s Eve eliciting raucous opinions from the crowd causing a rousing reaction to her decision and the disastrous results thereof.  But one of the best moments of the evening was an unsolicited response when Mary was “slapped” by one of the Doo Wop Girls and a white haired, upper-middle-aged woman seated in a stage seat shouted rather gleefully, “Bitch Slap!”. The audience erupted leaving the Doo Wops and Glenzer frozen onstage trying hard not to burst out in gut bursting laughter as well. Glenzer, in the proper timing was able to recover and continue with aplomb, using the energy generated by the women’s surprising response to drive the scene.

I like this show because we watch as Mary goes from shell shocked to centered while covering a myriad of dating scenarios which are sadly, all too fresh in my mind.  There is the great guy too soon post break-up for whom she is not ready, the overly attentive planner, the non-planner, the  cougar moment, the stalker, the musician, the long suffering friend date, etc.  With each experience she becomes a little wiser, more self-aware.  Watching this parade of potential partners from a viewers perspective reminds me that when things don’t work out in a dating situation that it is often no one’s fault it just is the result of bad timing, incompatibility or some other innocuous factor. This message is helpful to the dater in search of a long-term committed relationship in terms of keeping a positive attitude in the face of what sometimes feels like daunting odds. In short, it gives hope.

And isn’t hope what Christmas is really all about?

So if you prefer to have your Christmas message wrapped in a show with a punch more like a vodka tonic than a sugary sweet candy cane, “12 Dates” is for you  – whether you are dating or not.

Snarky Holidays at ASC

Do the holidays make you want to deck somebody instead of the halls?  Join the club.  Back when I produced Christmas Shows at the Byrd Theatre in Richmond ( the mid- 1980’s) I was lovingly called, Mary Christmas. I adored Christmas and wanted to help all of my friends a family decorate trees, I shopped until I dropped, stunningly wrapped gifts for everyone I knew and sang my heart out at Christmas Eve service. Now that I am old and bitter people are more likely to call me Scrooge. I am more apt to hide in my fairly undecorated home than be seen in public and wince at the waste of cut trees, wrapping paper and over commercialism.

That is why my new favorite holiday tradition is to go to Staunton to see two adult only, rather unorthodox Christmas Plays:

David Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries – made famous by the annual broadcast  on This American Life, related by Sedaris himself


The Twelve Dates of Christmas, an original play by ASC actress, Ginna Hoben about a year of dating hell following a bad break-up (she saw her fiancé kissing another woman on national television during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade).

Both of these plays are so funny they will smack the  Holiday Ho Ho Humbug right out of you.

Information below.  But for even more information click here

See you at the theatre!

Mary “G- for -Grinch” Burruss

Soak in some Seasonal Snark
with our adults-only Holiday Shows
Take a break from the Hallmark side of the holidays with two shows
at the Blackfriars Playhouse that have a healthy dose of bitter with their sweet.
Allison Glenzer as Mary
in The 12 Dates of Christmas. 
Photo by Michael Bailey.
by Ginna Hoben
Mary spends a year being set up, hooked up, strung up, and fed up as she navigates her life “alone” as a New York actor in her thirties. It’s Sex and the City for real people, with no Mr. Big in sight. This year, Allison Glenzer performs Mary in the delicious seasonal show that reveals how much the holidays suck after your heart’s been crushed.
by David Sedaris, adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello
This year, Jake Mahler dons Crumpet’s striped tights for the first time in David Sedaris’s outrageously funny one-man play about taking a job as an elf at Macy’s in New York City. This delightfully tart tale takes a wry look as how the holiday season brings out the best – and the worst – in us all.

It’s the Dog’s Day


The American Shakespeare Center in Staunton is currently running five shows in repertory in its stunning Blackfriars Theatre through November 24th, one of them being an excellent production of Two Gentleman from Verona.  Deftly directed by ASC’s Director of Mission, Ralph Cohen the show is at once familiar and refreshingly different as elements of several other Shakespeare plays like women dressing up as men and hiding in the woods, an inconstant lover and a planned elopement.  And though Cohen is most gifted at working with actors to make music out of Shakespeare’s words and the regular company of players is very good, the scene stealer is the guest artist that plays Crab the dog.


Two Gents in many ways is a commentary about trust and loyalty between friends between lovers and also between masters and servants.  Launce and his relationship to his dog sort of summarize the message of the play.  The “dog”, a term used most often by Shakespeare’s characters in a derogatory way, (as Cohen points out in his director’s notes) is present to show that even a dog behaves better than most people.  Comic actor Benjamin Curns who plays Launce works brilliantly with his four legged scene mates who come from Augusta Dog Adoptions  a nonprofit organization that rescues dogs and finds foster homes for them until they are adopted. The challenge for him as actor is that the dog in the show will behave like a dog no matter what Curns says.  He must be able to adjust to whatever the dog is doing in a split second and make the language make sense in the moment while staying true to Cohen’s vision for the scene. I mean the dog, even if trained, is still a dog and therefore somewhat unpredictable.

I was so impressed by Curns ability to connect with the dog that was playing Crab the night I saw the show that I sent him a few questions to which he responded.  Here is what transpired:

MB: What is the biggest challenge that comes with working with four legged actors?

BC:The biggest challenge is the play itself.  What I mean is, the dogs are adorable and cute but Launce doesn’t talk about how they are adorable and cute, he talks about how heartless, unfeeling, and dangerous they are.  So an audience can feel genuine pity for the dog,rather than the dogs character and feel genuine ire for me the actor, rather than the character.  One must walk a fine line of playing the scene honestly while making sure the dog and the audience feel safe.

MB: Would you be willing to share a particularly funny story about working with one of the dogs in the show?

BC: The dogs have been very entertaining to both me and the audience.  They’ve cried out in the middle of scenes, laid down and refused to to leave the stage , and gotten surprisingly “amorous” at times.  Mostly it is great whenever they are sweet: we had a dog that as soon as I began to pet him, he collapsed to the stage and rolled to his back to expose his belly.  They all think it is all about them!

MB: Do you have a favorite dog that you worked with so far?

BC: I think my favorite dog is a hound dog mix named JR Ewing.  As soon as I saw him, I thought that this was look for Launce’s dog.  He is very sweet, funny, and he shakes hands on cue which we used to great effect!

MB: How many dogs have been adopted from being int the show?  How do you feel when they leave?

BC: I think 2 of the four have been adopted though I am not positive of those details. (ASC will host a dog adoption event in October.) The adoptions are, of course, bittersweet: it’s great these dogs find families and new homes but I do miss them when they go.  Just when you start to figure out how to deal with each individual dog, they’re off.  Believe me though, I would rather they all get homes.  If we run out of dogs, I’ll tell James Keegan to put his dog suit back on.

 Lastly, I hope your readers know that these shelter dogs are not mangy, violent, ugly, or beat up in the least.  I am not particularly adept with dogs myself but I have found these animals to be adorable, well behaved, hilarious, and easy to get along with.  Anyone looking for a great night at the theatre and a possible new pet should check out Two Gentlemen of Verona.


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