‘The Last Five Years’ at TheatreLab is Mesmerizing; Not To Be Missed

This weekend I had the pleasure of witnessing a bit of magic right here in town at Richmond’s TheatreLab Basement.

Production Photography by Tom Topinka

Christie Jackson and Alexander Sapp as Cathy and Jamie [Production Photography by Tom Topinka courtesy of TheatreLab’s Facebook page]

Jason Robert Brown’s musical ‘The Last Five Years’ is one of the most unique pieces of theatre to be produced in the last twenty years. Instead of lavish sets and a ‘cast of thousands,’ the play is simply a series of monologues-in-song, alternately performed by the play’s only two characters, Jamie and Cathy. In this production, which is a partnership between TheatreLab and Yes, And! Entertainment, ambitious young writer Jamie is portrayed by Alexander Sapp, while Christie Jackson is struggling actress Cathy.

 

What sets this work apart from your usual ‘boy meets girl’ musical is that the characters tell the story of their relationship from meeting to marriage to divorce, but they tell it from opposite ends. The very first number, ‘Still Hurting’ shows Cathy at the end of the relationship, in pain and in pieces. That Jackson is able to immediately grab the audience and hold them in her hand as she crumbles in front of them is awe inspiring. Lest you think it’s a complete downer, the very next song ‘Shiksa Goddess’ brings us Jamie just as he’s met Cathy. Sapp bounces along the minimal stage, smiling ear to ear, possessed with the youthful exuberance that the potential of a new relationship brings. Throughout the show, each person tells their story from their point of view with almost no interaction with the other performer.

The Basement performance space is very intimate: about 40 seats, a barren wood plank stage with two benches. Even though the space is sparse, the audience is captivated by a fantastic piano and string ensemble (directed by John-Stuart Faquet), a masterful score, nuanced stage direction from Chelsea Burke, expert lighting, and most importantly, two stupendous actors who move from joy and humor to heartbreak and sadness with a smooth effortlessness that is a wonder to witness.

I urge you to go see this show. You’ll be supporting great local theatre, you’ll see a truly mesmerizing performance, and, as you watch Jamie and Cathy on the carousel that is their relationship, you’ll undoubtedly see a bit of yourself in those two characters.

This engagement will sell out, so I advise you to purchase your seats before they’re all gone. The run resumes Thursday September 28 and plays every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night through October 14, Now EXTENDED thru Saturday October 28! All shows start at 8pm, seats are general admission and are $30.

 

Don’t miss it, because I assure you, this production will be talked about long after the final bows have been taken. It is that good, and it is that memorable, so go…be ‘a part of that.’

Adam Ant Reminds Us ‘Ridicule Is Nothing To Be Scared Of’

Wednesday night (09.20), Adam Ant brought his ‘ANTHEMS’ Tour to The National, and as promised, the evening was a wonderful flashback to the 80’s and the early days of MTV. More than that, though, the night was a testament to a performer who has survived the height of 80’s success (and excess), battled mental illness, and come out the other side. Perhaps he was surprised to find his fans were waiting for him when he returned to the recording studio after a 17 year hiatus in 2013? Whatever the reason, this tour is a celebratory nod to the past, and it’s also undeniable proof that Ant (real name Stuart Goddard) still has ‘It’; that star quality charisma that demands you watch him (and only him) as he commands the stage. 


Wearing a cowboy hat in lieu of his trademark pirate garb, and clad head to toe in black leather, Ant opened the show with a song originally only available on the cassette version of 1980’s ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’, the punk-tinged ‘Beat My Guest’, played at such a fast tempo that it was almost a thrash number, daring a mosh pit to materialize. For the first twenty minutes, each song came without a break for a breath; ‘Vive Le Rock’, ‘Dog Eat Dog’, ‘Friend of Foe.’ It wasn’t until about the sixth or seventh song in the set when Ant stopped to say ‘Hello Richmond’ and acknowledge the crowd, mainly so everyone onstage and in attendance could catch their breath.

 

The biggest cheers of the night came when the two biggest US singles were featured toward the end of the set, ‘Strip’ and ‘Goody Two Shoes’, which were both MTV staples throughout the early 80’s, and a blistering version of ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’; but as the opening number proved, Ant isn’t adverse to throwing in a deep cut (‘Greta X; ‘B-Side Baby’) to keep things interesting for the longtime diehard fans.

 

As Goddard approaches his sixty-third birthday, he appears the happiest and healthiest of his entire career, which is a wonderful triumph. I admit that I bought a ticket to this show only because the tour was called ‘Anthems’ and I knew I would hear ‘the old songs,’ but after seeing Adam Ant in concert one time, I will see him next time and every time he’s nearby, even if the setlist is full of songs I don’t know. In this age of carbon copy bands, it was a pleasure to witness a pop pioneer proving he’s still at the top of his game, a bit older and a lot wiser.

 

Set list (courtesy of Setlist.fm)

Beat My Guest

Vive Le Rock

Dog Eat Dog

Apollo 9

Friend or Foe

Antmusic

Room at the Top

Desperate But Not Serious

Cartrouble

Zerox

Young Parisians

Prince Charming

Gotta Be a Sin

Puss ‘n Boots

Can’t Set Rules About Love

Christian D’or

Strip

Kings of the Wild Frontier

Greta X

B-Side Baby

Stand and Deliver

(Encore)

Goody Two Shoes

Lady/Fall In

Red Scab

Physical (You’re So)

 

–Barry

‘Food, Clothing, & Shelter’ a Wonderful Surprise 

‘We know…it’s a show.’ 

Richmond writer Bo Wilson’s latest creation, ‘Food, Clothing, & Shelter’ is anything but the ‘typical theatre going experience.’ For starters, it’s staged at The Firehouse Theatre, a local space that I have always had a soft spot for because it is able to be funky, inviting and intimate all at once, which suits this production perfectly. As you enter the building and grab a program, you are greeted by ‘circus freaks’— A man with a boa constrictor around his neck, a woman doing hula hoop tricks and a man offering a game of three card monte. Within seconds, you know that this will not be a ‘typical’ evening. It’s an exercise in ‘Immersion Theatre’ where the audience and cast have the chance to interact. For some theatergoers, this may seem awkward or uncomfortable. Even if you fall into that category, don’t let that stop you from seeing this show while you can.   

It’s 1927 and as the play opens, The Yankee Doodle Circus Train has derailed and left its passengers stranded in the very small town of Vinton, Indiana. Over three scenes, the circus folk interact with the townspeople in hopes of obtaining food, clothing and shelter for the penniless troop.

The results are at times hilarious, sweet, and deeply moving.

The cast, which includes Kirk Morton, Frank Creasy, Foster Solomon, Keisha Wallace, Rebecca Turner and Donna Marie Miller along with many other ‘roustabouts’, is able to convey in three scenes how we are all more alike than we are different and, no matter if you’re from Small Town, America or a passenger on The Circus Train, all of us are, in our unique way, freaks, trying to find our way and gain acceptance.
I could write a lot more about this play, but I don’t want to give anything away and, more importantly, I want you to go see it! I will simply say that I did not have any idea what to expect as I walked in, and by the time of the final bows, I was deeply moved, knowing I had seen something that I will carry with me for a very long time.

 

You can see eveing shows at 7:30 on Wednesday, September 13 thru Friday, September 15 and then your last chance to catch it is a Sunday matinee at 3:00pm on the 17th. You might be hesitant, because it’s different, but trust me. Go see this show.

You can thank me later.

 

Happily, forever a freak….

–Barry

Old Friends

I have been lucky to have had a group of friends that I have kept in touch with for over 25 years. At some point in the mid-1990s, the group was named ‘The Hearts Club’ because a rotating group of us would meet at my house in Midlothian to play Hearts. That group always included Patrick, Kurt, Tony and myself. Sometimes Jenne and Becca would join in. I remember one all night Hearts contest where, instead of the usual ‘penny/nickel pot’,  we bet ‘care packages’ instead (since Kurt, Jenne, Becca and Tony were in their freshman year of college; I think I still owe Becca about a dozen or so care packages from that evening!). 
When Patrick announced in the spring that he was getting married, I was thrilled – happy for him and his bride Cecelia, but equally happy at the prospect of seeing friends I had not seen for far too long. It seemed the last few times members of ‘The Hearts Club’ had gathered, it was for a funeral, so I could not wait to be able to gather, drink and laugh.

 

The bride was beautiful. The groom was handsome. The preacher quoted Jackie Wilson (!) and compared the groom to an ‘erotic leaping gazelle.’ The transportation was free. The bar was open (!), the food outstanding…but most of all, being able to catch up with the people that I count as my dearest friends, who have come to my rescue on more than one occasion, and with whom I have spent many an hour lost in conversation over thousands of cups of diner coffee, that was what made this weekend one that will be remembered for a very long time.

 

Here are some pictures. To Tony, Jesi, Josh and Justin, who were not able to attend: You were missed and thought of throughout the evening.

The Happy Couple: Cecelia & Patrick

 

Mother of the groom, Pauline, and Patrick

Kurt and Patrick

The author

Matty K. and John P. A seating snafu combined them into one ‘person’: Matt Powers

Having a free night with little to do, Obama showed up, pictured here with Kurt and Valeria

Ethan, 44, Kerry, Sean and myself

All smiles: Matty, Becca and me

The Gang: Front (L to R): Valeria, Becca, Jenne, Kerry; Back (L to R): Sean, Me, Kurt, Patrick, John, Matty, Ethan

 

All of those pictures were taken at the reception, which took place at the very cool and funky antique store Material Culture. As the clock struck 11pm, the entire group, all at varying levels of inebriation, boarded a trolley back to the hotel and then within thirty minutes, the After Party began in Becca and Matty’s hotel room. The pictures below were taken there. Please note all were (at least somewhat) Intoxicated. Including the photographer.  

Kerry, in, as Ethan described, ‘full sleepover mode.’

Patrick and Jenne, holding a blurry bag of chips

I think at this point, Patrick had no idea where he was or what he was saying.

On three, everyone LEAN!!!

It was a wonderful, memorable weekend. Here’s hoping it’s not too long before we all gather again, to smile, drink and laugh. 
Love always,  Barry

Charlottesville 


Today feels like Day One, A.C. Or, After Charlottesville.

I sat down at this same computer on Saturday evening with every intention of writing something about what happened. I stared at my blank digital page for a good five minutes, not even typing one letter, let alone a complete sentence, then I gave up. 

Well, now today I am at least past that.

I already know that anything I say here will mean almost nothing and any words I muster won’t change the fact that a woman died on Saturday, in my home state, while protesting Nazis.

Protesting fucking NAZIS!

I avoided the news after the true horror of the events came to light, and I escaped reality by watching movies from my couch. I am usually a very ‘plugged in’ person, always following political news and current events, but Saturday I was in shock. By chance I did turn the news on around 6pm so a friend who was visiting could hear the latest, and I did hear our governor speak and rebuke hate explicitly. But Saturday I just could not fathom how a protest rally under the guise of the removal of a statue – a fucking statue!! – ended with the deaths of three citizens and dozens injured.

Saturday I was shocked and saddened. Today that has given way to anger. But, I really don’t know what to do with that anger or how to channel it into something positive. That’s why I am attempting to write something. Just to get it out.

Quote bluntly, how the fuck did we get here?!

 

I don’t have the answer to that question, and the only comparisons I can draw between history and what happened Saturday [the Civil Rights Movement; The Summer of ‘68] seem to not quite fit.

Here is the internal dialogue that I kept having over and over late Friday night (when I first saw the ‘Tiki Torches’ photo online) into Saturday as events began to spiral toward an unfathomable Hell on Earth: If the Nazis/Alt Right held a protest in [your city here] and no one showed up to counter protest, to engage them in a fight, no one bothered to pay them any attention, wouldn’t our silence toward them and the fact that we paid them no heed speak volumes?

I am truly conflicted about this because, on the one hand, I understand the want, the necessity to make your voice heard in the face of hate, so I understand the urge to meet the enemy where they stand, and stand your ground.

There’s a part of me though that believes this ‘Alt-Right/Nazi’ minority isn’t worth my time or the energy to mount a protest. No one is going to have their mind changed by someone shouting in the street, no matter how many signs we carry or how many slogans we chant. If anyone is committed enough to wear Nazi swastikas in public, nothing I say or write is going to make them see the light of day, or the error in their ways.

That’s the internal dialogue merry-go-round I have been on since very early Saturday morning, and, as I write this on Monday night, I don’t know which stance is the correct one, or if they’re both right, or both wrong. That’s why I haven’t posted much about this on social media, apart from links to news stories.

I have read today that this same group is planning to have a rally in Richmond. That doesn’t surprise me, even though Richmond City Council has made no decision on what to do with the statues of Lee, Davis and Jackson. If they do decide to come to Richmond, I sincerely hope the horrors of Charlottesville are not repeated, but I know it would be wishful thinking on my part to hope the rally is completely ignored by the public and the press, so that the shouting of hate gets drowned out not by protests, but by its own echo chamber.

With a very heavy heart, tonight I am thinking of Heather Heyer, Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M. M. Bates, their families and friends.

 

If tomorrow has to be better, then hurry up tomorrow. We need you now.

 

Thank you for reading,

Barry

Your History Is Waiting To Smack You In The Face

In 2003, at a time when I was changing Primary Care Physicians, I sat down to type out a medical event history, basically a dot point listing of every surgery, major procedure and extended hospital stay from 1977 until 2003. I also sent a copy of the document to my internist, who had known me since 1992. I make updates to my copy, but haven’t sent it to any providers since I started seeing my latest PCP which was in 2014.

Thursday this week, as I lay prone on a hospital bed awaiting an IV nurse to prep the anesthesia for an outpatient procedure, the Admitting Nurse who asks all the relevant questions (When was the last time you ate? When did you last take your meds?) started to ask about my medical history and then before I could answer, she began to tick off a slew of events from the late-70’s. I was a little out of it since I had not eaten for the last 27 hours, so it didn’t immediately register that she was reading off of my old list, which meant that my typed medical history had successfully made the move to the Electronic Medical Records ‘vault.’

At the same moment I thought, ‘Cool, they still have my sheet so I don’t need to tell them about all of this ancient history,’ I listened as she continued to read off the list. I confirmed that yes, all of those things happened to me and added two more events that happened from 2015-2017.

After she left, I stared up at the celling, head on a very flat pillow, and thought ‘Goddamn, I’ve been through a lot of shit!’

I know I have faced a lot of challenges in my 40+ years, but to hear them all read off in succession, it took me aback. I really do live one day to the next, looking forward to upcoming events like concerts, and do my best not to dwell on things that hold me back. Those of you who know me well know that every single day I deal with chronic pain that’s not severe enough to debilitate, but not minor enough to ignore. Some days it’s just something to deal with, and some days it’s a feat to get out of bed and function. More often than not, though, I manage to get moving. My attitude though is that everyone is dealing with their own challenges, so what I deal with is nothing really unique or special.

I’m facing another medical adventure/challenge in the very near future, and I will write about it at length once I know more info, but I wanted to scribble this here because I knew it was far too long for a Facebook post. (That’s why I have a blog, right?)

In the meantime, thank you for reading and have a great weekend!

–Barry 

The Great (Annual) Escape

“July, July, July! Never seemed so strange”–“July, July!” The Decemberists

 

More than any other month, July has been, throughout my life, full of milestones; there’ve been memorable events, wonderful evenings I will never forget and days I wish never happened.

 

July 17 is one of the few days I wish could be deleted from the calendar, or at least my memory. Sometimes it really sucks to have such a good memory where dates are concerned, because every year, July 17 shows up and, no matter what else is going on, for that day, or at least a large portion of it, I am an emotional wreck.

 

On Tuesday July 17, 2001 my father was killed in a single vehicle car accident in his neighborhood as he drove home from work. He had a diabetic attack behind the wheel and became disoriented, passing by his own home and driving the car to a dead end, where he lost consciousness with his foot still on the gas pedal. No one knows how long it took for the engine to overheat, catch fire and engulf the car, but I would guess the fire burned for an hour or more before the fire department was contacted. When I got a phone call that night from his second wife Kathy, I immediately thought she was calling to tell me that my grandfather had passed, as he had been in ill health. When she told me she had to tell me something about my dad, I knew it wasn’t good news; we barely spoke unless forced to in social situations, so I knew it had to be something cataclysmic for her to reach out to me.

And, cataclysmic it was.

It’s funny how I don’t remember the rest of that conversation beyond her telling me my dad was dead, agreeing to meet her in the morning to start ‘making arrangements’ and then getting off the phone. I don’t remember if I called my brother or if Kathy told me she was going to do that. What I do remember about that night as my mom made phone calls to her friends and family is that Greg Maddux pitched a complete game shutout for Atlanta against Tampa Bay. Even though I loathed interleague play (and I still do), I was thankful for baseball like never before because, in that moment, I could truly escape. I always loved baseball from a very young age, but that night, I understood how important and necessary it was as a means of escaping ‘real life.’

Every July 17 since, on that day, for those 24 hours, I am a man looking for an escape.

My relationship with my father was complicated, but it’s not an exaggeration to say every day something makes me think to myself, ‘I wonder what dad would’ve thought of that?’ That trigger is usually music or sports related, and it usually makes me smile. There is still a lot about that relationship that will forever remain unresolved, and that’s okay. He had his demons and his faults, and he handled things the best he knew how to at the time. It took me a long time to come to that realization and be at peace with it. 

I have written here before about how I didn’t speak to my father from April 12, 1996 until sometime in June of 1999. I was working in radio and he heard me on air and called me one night literally just as I was walking into my apartment, and I picked up without checking Caller ID.

That ‘chilly’ conversation broke the ice, and we eventually met for dinner a few times a year up until his death. I chose to forgive but not forget the reasons for our estrangement, so we were able to mend things as best we could. I spoke to him for the last time the Friday before his death and we agreed to meet for dinner the following Friday (July 20). Instead, that day was his wake, which meant my brother and I, along with his first wife Tara met dozens of people who knew my dad. Some I knew, some I only knew the names from conversation, but they all knew me. If you have ever been in that situation, I don’t have to tell you that it is exhausting.

That summer of 2001 was also the summer I became very well acquainted with vodka. Working in radio, coupled with emotional trauma I couldn’t really process meant I was drinking on a nightly basis for the first time in my life. It was something I knew I shouldn’t be doing, but I really didn’t care. Remember, this is before 9/11. Once that happened, it’s no wonder I quit my job in radio and when New Year’s Eve 2001 arrived, I quite unapologetically drank myself into oblivion.

I leaned on old friends and new friends to ‘get me through’ that time. Some of those friends I still talk to often, some I haven’t seen in years, but they all played a part in helping me, and I thank them for all they did.

Many years later on a July 17th afternoon, while I was in my annual emotional funk, I received news that a dear friend had passed away. That was when I began to wish that the calendar would just skip July 17th every year. As I mark the day, remembering my father and that dear friend, I know that no matter how much time passes, some wounds never heal, they simply scab over.

Whatever your own ‘July 17’ is, I hope you have an army of friends to help you through it, I hope you have an escape hatch nearby that you can use, however briefly, and I hope you know that the next day will be better.

Thank you for reading,

Barry