Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Step Aboard A Spanish Galleon And Touch History--El Galeon's Visit To Charleston

I walked passed Liberty Square to the waterfront where spotting it was unmistakable. Contrasted with the clear blue skies and glistening waters, the 170-foot dark silhouette overshadowed the bay's surroundings from its resting place at the end of the long pier adjacent to the Charleston Maritime Center. Laced with an intricate configuration of rigging, sails furled tightly around the cross beams, its trio of tall masts rose 125 feet into the sky at the tallest point.

From a distance, the irresistible allure of the massive wooden monarch from the Age of Sail aroused one's curiosity. Up close, it inspired one's imagination. Representative of a greatly romanticized era of exploration and pirates, the El Galeon is a replica of the 16th century Spanish galleon. Step aboard onto its main deck and you are transported back to a time when new worlds were being discovered and the tall tales of the seamen who manned these wind-driven vessels were recorded in the ship's log.

Circumnavigating earth's vast oceans to the far side of the world in the 1600's was a risky venture on a wind and a sail, although more likely on a wind and a prayer. Storms, leaks, shipwrecks, disease, starvation, and pirate attacks constantly put the life of the crew in jeopardy. The daunting task demanded of its recruitments substance, skill, savoir-faire and a stout ship. The galleon was one of those ships.

Ship's wheel and Captain's quarters
The galleon was a new type of sailing ship built in early 16th century. It differed from the older types primarily by being longer, lower and narrower, with a square tuck stern instead of a round tuck, and by having a head projecting forward from the bow below the level of the forecastle (The bow being the forward part of the hull of a ship and the forecastle refers to the upper deck of a sailing ship forward of the foremast with the sailors living quarters).

Main mast
Spanish galleons were designed primarily as transports for treasure and merchandise, but also used in military applications--average capacity was 500 tons. They showed great endurance in battles and in great storms. They were stronger, faster, more maneuverable, more heavily armed, and also cheaper to build than the Spanish carrack. They were so versatile that a single vessel may have been refitted for wartime and peacetime roles several times during its lifespan.

Gun deck
The captains of these ships kept rigid discipline and had full powers to punish all offenses. Sanctions ranged from loss of wages to whippings and sometimes executions. Playing music, chatting, and reading was the only entertainment allowed on board. Gambling, playing cards, and dart throwing were completely forbidden. Other offenses included swearing, cursing, undressing, and extramarital sex.

As I strolled the five of the six decks of the El Galeon (the deck with the crew’s quarters was not open to the tour), crew members were available to answer any and all of the questions I desired to ask. Visual aids, interactives, and videos were located throughout the gun deck sharing information about 16th century European sailing techniques and technology, as well as important Florida history exhibits, and the 500 year story since the arrival of Juan Ponce de León on the eastern shore of Florida.

Sleeping quarters
Crews quarters

Since the El Galeon’s completion in 2009, the ship has sailed the world. St. Augustine has since been named its home American port for the foreseeable future. It was in Charleston for the weekend and left on Monday, May 9th, to embark on a journey that will eventually take it to the fresh waters of the Great Lakes.

If you missed it, I am sure it will return to Charleston in the future--perhaps, next year if not before. The tour affords you an opportunity to personally touch history and envision life on the high seas aboard a Spanish galleon. In the meantime, enjoy the pictures I took during my visit on Sunday to this remarkable replica of the Spanish galleons.

For more information on the ship and its schedule, go to El Galeon.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Restoration Of A Summerville Icon From The Golden Age--White Gables

Splendidly tucked away in the protective shadows of the iconic property's massive magnolia tree, one of the oldest in the area, the empty but not forgotten white gabled mistress from the Golden Age of Summerville has survived a great earthquake and a category three hurricane during its possible 185 not-so-odd years--built by the Peake Family somewhere between the 1830's and early 1850's. Her massive eighteen inch thick walls have served her well, but the winds of change and passing time regrettably have taken its toll through its twilight years.

On its front door, a metal, oval rosette doorknocker with a "W" imprinted on it recalls the last name of a famous former owner--The Woodruffs. Next to the door, a metal plaque from The National Register of Historic Places authenticated its antiquity.

Inside, in its center hall, which ran the full length of the house from the front door to the back entrance, the atmosphere was tinged with the ashy odor of creosote. Its aged fireplaces in the adjoining rooms flanking the breezeway on both sides had just undergone a smoke test. The center hall and flanking rooms were a classic design for old southern homes and reminiscent of the old "mosquito houses" built in Summerville's infancy. The layout was duplicated on the second floor as well. Before the restoration began, a carved mirror hung in the second floor center hall--also presently being restored.

In different areas throughout the first and second floor, the exposed bones of the house's skeleton bore witness to its heavily built structure and by-gone construction techniques. The unmistakable signs of human incursion were even more apparent on the third floor, where a cedar shack roof was exposed--a wooden jigsaw puzzle meticulously cut and fitted by its original workmen. All of this is the preliminary steps to what will be a long and thorough restoration of a Summerville icon called White Gables.

There is a world of difference between a restoration and a remodeling. By definition, remodeling means to change the structure or form of something, to fashion differently, whereas restoration means the action of returning something to a former owner, place, or condition. Returning the Classic Greek Revival house to its original glory is the noble mission of its new owners, and they are committed and passionate.

From San Diego, California, the new owner, Denise, has developed a strong love for Southern heritage and its history through the years. She is fulfilling a longtime dream. A dream that started many years ago in her early youth. Her enthusiasm was unmistakably perceived by me as she related her own unique story. A story that will no doubt be integrated into the house's future narratives.

With a sparkle in her eyes and a broad smile, Denise more than willingly gave me a tour of the house and talked about her knowledge of White Gables' distinctive story coupled with her objectives and strong commitment to its future. It was an enlightening conversation capped-off with a story of her own that went as follows:

She was nine years old. Her mother had made plans to take her to the movies. There were two theaters in the town in which she lived. One theater was showing "The Towering Inferno" and the other "Gone with the Wind." Her mother's choice between the two movies did not favor hers. Her mother wanted to take her to see "Gone with the Wind." She was less than thrilled. So, to ease the pain of disappointment, her mother offered her an incentive. The incentive: "If you do not fall in love with the movie, I will let you see whatever you want for the next year." It was obviously a win-win situation. They took their seats and the movie began. Within ten minutes of watching the movie, she was awe struck by the splendor of Tara and the colorful culture of the antebellum South as portrayed by its larger than life characters in the opening scenes.

From that moment on, she fell in love with everything "Gone with the Wind." She searched books, magazines, and traveled to various places to learn everything she could about the antebellum South. In time and with her husband's blessings, she struck out on the search for her own Tara, which would lead her to a place in Georgia. The house had many similarities to the Tara of Scarlett O'Hara fame, but it would not be the one. It needed too much work. As fate would have it, all roads in time led to Summerville, where on a chance happening and a misdirection her husband and her turned a street corner and happily beheld for the first time the legendary house that was once an inn, and to her delight, serendipitously for sale. While doing a walk-through, their eagerness was hard to contain as they irresistibly fell in love with the house. Its purchase was now just a formality.

After the renovations are completed, Denise plans on having a full-dress Southern antebellum party. The anticipated celebration will be refreshing good news. White Gables is fondly remembered by many of Summerville's older residents. Sara Woodruff, whom I named "The Scarlett O'Hara of Summerville," would be overjoyed her Tara will be a Grande Dame of Summerville once again.

You can read about the story of White Gables, Sara Woodruff, and the man that lived on the third floor for years without Mr. Woodruff ever knowing about the arrangement made by Sara:
The Scarlett O'Hara of Summerville Past And Her Tara--An Epic Story.

Monday, April 18, 2016

'I Hate Hamlet' Opened April 15th At The James F. Dean Theatre--A Ghostly Great Play With Gregarious Implications

Unlike some of the older surviving buildings in and around the town of Summerville, the James F. Dean Theatre is not known to have any spectral inhabitants. That is, not until recently and more specifically, April 15th, opening night for Paul Rudnick's 1991 wacky play I Hate Hamlet--and its arrival unleashed a stage load of laughs.

With his doublet all unbraced, no hat upon his head, his stockings fouled, ungarter'd, and down-gyvèd to his ankle, and parading all the faux pas amassed through his life, but clothing can be, and often is misleading, this specter has come back for a noble reason. This specter is the onetime famous actor John Barrymore (JC Conway).

TV-star Andrew Rally's (Tyler Van Lott) hit medical series has been cancelled. His glamorous elderly agent, Lilian Troy (Arlena Withers), has encouraged him to give the stage a try and casts him as Hamlet at Shakespeare in the Park--a role for which John Barrymore was famous. He makes the move from L.A. to New York where his kooky real-estate broker, Felicia Dantine (Heather Jane Logan), convinces him to acquire an old brownstone ironically once owned by the famous actor. Andrew hates the idea of playing Hamlet, but his longtime girlfriend, Dierdre McDavy (Melissa Frierson) loves it. Adding to Andrew's frustrations is the fact Dierdre has been tenaciously holding onto her virginity, not thoroughly convinced he is the one she wants to marry, but hints his acceptance of the role is seductive and the very thing that could end their long celibacy.

With Andrew, Dierdre, Felicia, and Lilian all together at the brownstone, Lilian reminisces about her brief romance with John Barrymore many years ago and Felicia, who claims to talk to her deceased mother, suggests they have a seance to summon the ghost of John Barrymore.

After everyone leaves and Dierdre retires to an upstairs bedroom, with blinking lights and a rumble of thunder, a slightly inebriated John Barrymore appears toting a bottle of champagne and spouting an ego even more pretentious than his black tights. He presses Andrew to accept the role and fulfill his destiny. Compounding things further, fast-talking Gary Lefkowitz (Robert Venne) arrives trying to lure Andrew back to L.A. with a high-paying contract for the pilot of a lame new sitcom. With all the necessary components now in place, Andrew clashes with his conscience and Barrymore's sword. Will the summoned ghost of John Barrymore succeed at helping Andrew appreciate the art of the curtain call, not to leave out life and love? Will Andrew fill his pocket book or nourish his soul?

Under the watchful eye of Director Julie Hammond, all-in all it was a triumphant opening. With a staircase and upper balcony allowing for various height levels and free movement, the beautifully appointed stage furnishings evolve much like Andrew Rally, from the modern drab to the Victorian, setting the appropriate mood after he begins to embrace the inevitable and dawn the necessary black tights. Key to the success of the play, the diverse cast did an able job at timely delivering the plays witty zingers and comical absurdities, which was confirmed by the opening night audiences responsive laughter and applause. Nicole Harrison dressed the cast for success.

In her inaugural role as Lillian Troy, Arlena Withers illustrious theatrical experience shined through. From the moment she appeared draped in a fur coat and puffing on a cigarette, she filled the stage with a flamboyant German accent and stylish grace. Rightfully deserved of an honorable mention, the touching scene where Lilian reconnects with John Barrymore and the two of them playfully spar with one another about their brief romance was graciously executed by Arlena.

Playing the incarnation of the legendary actor, JC Conway confirmed John Barrymore's black tights, though liberating, is not a preferred look for most men, but when it came to his shoes, he filled them nicely. When he wasn't juggling glasses of booze and wooing the women, he showcased his sword skills and how to bow to an audience. JC's shining moment came when he passionately delivered John Barrymore's deeply moving and tragic monologue in defense of his decadently tainted and esteemed acting career. You would've heard a pin drop.

Robert Venne was a good choice for the role of Gary Lefkowitz and decently delivered some of the more thought provoking dialogue of the play when he declared television as the most evolved art form because the audience can talk, eat and enjoy commercial breaks, while theater is all about figuring out whose armrest is whose, and as for Shakespeare he said, "You can't even tell when it's good." Not to leave unmentioned, "You don't do art, you buy it."

Heather Jane Hogan's crazy exuberance once again served her well as Felicia. Her what-I-call New York Valley girl accent cracked me up. Oozing with innocence and romantic idealism, Melissa Frierson, turned in a respectable performance as Andrew's beautiful girlfriend and Tyler Van Lott's Paul Newman-like persona, boyish smirk and casual demeanor, was a suitable match for the frustrated and befuddled Hamlet consideration--qualities he aptly portrayed in his character's pity me looks.

To quote John Barrymore's ghost, don't stay at home and watch television like an American. I Hate Hamlet is lighthearted, goofy fun. It is at times deeply moving, but most of all hilarious.

Purchase your ticket at Flowertown Players April 15th to the 24th.

Director Julie Hammond and Friends

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The 2016 Sea And Sand Festival On Folly Beach--Fun Was Had By All

The word folly is most commonly recognized as meaning a foolish idea or act, such as in the case of the purchase of Alaska, which some thought at the time was a mistake and called it Seward's Folly, named for then Secretary of State, William H. Seward. But in the case of Charleston's southern barrier island once-upon-a-time named Folly, home of today's Folly Beach, the word takes on a whole different meaning. Truthfully, Folly was named for its coastline, which was once densely packed with trees and undergrowth, as the Old English name for such an area was "Folly."

I only mention this because before I became aware of this point of fact and I mean this with no disrespect to the wonderful residents of Folly, I wondered why an island would be called a place of foolishness. But then, it made perfect sense to me. Folly Beach is where people go to escape reality and engage in music, dance, and spirits, which are often equated with foolishness, and so, Folly Beach. Alas, truth is stranger than fiction and between me and you, I still like my original misguided take because I go to Folly Beach to have fun. And that is what everybody had at this years Sea and Sand Festival.

The Sea and Sand Festival is Folly Beach's longest running and biggest street party. If I was to make a comparison, the Sea and Sand Festival is to Folly Beach what the Flowertown Festival is to Summerville. In its 26th year, it is a family friendly event with live music, art vendors, food and drink specials from participating restaurants, fun activities for the kids and a host of other entertainment.

In all, it is a two day event. Festivities kicked off on Friday with the Annual Miss Sea and Sand Pageant at the Folly River Park. Then on Saturday, the festival began at 8:30 am with the 6th Annual Coffin Island 5k Race at the Folly Beach Pier where the runners were encouraged to dress as a pirate (Pirates were known to sail along the South Carolina coast and the many inlets, sounds, bays formed by barrier islands and sea islands like Folly Island. Two of the most memorable were Edward Teach, known as Black Beard, and Stede Bonnet). Then at 11 am, four blocks from Huron Street to Ashley Avenue on Center Street were closed to car traffic and the actual festival began.

Thousands of locals and visitors from California to South Carolina were in attendance and foolishness was had by everyone. There was two stages of live music featuring James Justin and Co., Sunflowers and Sin, Shakin' Martinis, Don't Mess with the Tiger, Island Trio, and Folly Bluegrass Society with a third set up at Huron Street. Other activities included a mechanical bull ride and a kid's activity zone with a four-station bungee jump trampoline, carnival games, face painting, and more. There was also a silent auction, a sand castle contest, a photo booth and a book signing. And of course, there was the beautiful beach to take a relaxing walk on.

The Sea and Sand Festival is a great way to soak in the eclectic beach flavor and easy island vibe that is Folly Beach. The music, food, and drink specials all combined together to give everyone that let's hang out and stay awhile feeling. Like Folly Beach's famous Lost Dog Cafe, the festival is also dog friendly. So, if you missed this year's fun, make it a point to attend next year's festivities. Enjoy the pictures and video.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Extraordinary Ashley River Corridor--22 miles of Antebellum history

Beginning at Slands Bridge in Summerville and extending 22 winding miles through thick stands of moss covered oaks and dense marshes to the site of Charleston's first settlement in 1670, its brackish waters and pluff mud shoreline is saturated with early Antebellum history. Including the Colonial Dorchester settlement and the Ashley Barony site, it was both a thoroughfare and a lifeline in the hand of early Charleston for its dependent downstream settlements and expansive plantations.

Relatively undisturbed by the passing of time, it is unparalleled in its historic significance and natural value. People by the droves come from all over the United States to its shores to drink in its tranquility and wonder at its one-time opulence. Middleton Place, Magnolia Plantation, Drayton Hall, and the lesser known Runnymede Plantation are poetic names enduringly written on its adjoining signposts that welcome visitors to its riverside gardens and reflective ponds. Rich with a wide variety of fish and wildlife, these scenic vistas are all a part of the extraordinary tidal river named after the 1675 Chief Lord Proprietor of the Carolina Colony, Anthony Ashley Cooper.

With 26 separate sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places and designated a State Scenic River, this was and is the Ashley River Corridor. Enjoy the pictures of the Ashley River.

Runnymede Plantation Ashley River
Runnymede Plantation Ashley River
Runnymede Plantation
Middleton Place
Middleton Place Ashley River
Middleton Place Ashley River
Middleton Place Ashley River
Middleton Place Ashley River
Colonial Dorchester Ashley River
Colonial Dorchester Ashley River
Colonial Dorchester Ashley River
Colonial Dorchester
Drayton Hall
Drayton Hall Ashley River

Sunday, February 7, 2016

"Barefoot In The Park" Now Showing At The James F. Dean Theatre--An Evening Full Of Laughs

What is it with women wanting their guys to consider the idea of taking off their shoes and running barefoot in the park? Do you know what knichi is? Have you ever heard of Ouzo? Interested in finding out the answers to these seemingly superfluous questions? Then, grab your shoes, on or off, makes no difference one way or the other, and head on over to the James F. Dean Theatre in Summerville from February 5th through the 14th to become enlightened and enriched on these subjects and more by the Flowertown Player's presentation of Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park.

I went into this play an open book. I had not seen the 1963 Broadway production starring Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley, and as far as I can recall, I had not seen the 1967 movie adaptation with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. After 1,530 performances, the 1963 play was nominated for three 1964 Tony Awards, and Mike Nichols won the award for Best Director. A revival opened on Broadway at the Cort Theater in February, 2006 and closed on May, 2006 after only 109 performances.

Barefoot in the Park is a romantic comedy by Neil Simon about looking at the humorous side of the complexities and unknowns of newly-wed life. Conservative Paul Bratter is a young attorney with high ambitions and a meticulous capacity for doing things by the book, which are qualities totally uncharacteristic of his new wife, who is free-spirited, idealistic, and irresponsibly fun-loving. As they end their whirlwind honeymoon fantasy of six days to enter the real world of everyday life, they are in the beginning process of setting up house in a fifth floor apartment of a New York brownstone that Paul has not really seen as of yet. This is her first time away from home and her mother. So, she is inexperienced and concerned about what her mother may think of her new apartment.

It opens with Corie dancing and painting while awaiting the delivery of her furniture and things, which is late, and a phone to be installed. Needless to say, straight-lace Paul will be in for a few surprises on his arrival that will ultimately test their compatibility and convictions. "Six days does not make a week," lamented Corie.

In this Neil Simon work, the hilarity builds incrementally in intensity as each character successively emerges on scene. With just a few laughs here and there in the beginning, once the play got past the mushy kissing and the participants were all in place, the laughter explodes. With an artfully designed and crafted set to work with, Director JC Conway skillfully pulled together a capable group of actors, who were able to build upon their characters in a way where the audience could connect with them.

Lovable Marissa Rocco as happy-go-lucky Corie was full of youthful enthusiasm and imparted to me the feeling that what I was seeing on stage was a genuine reflection of her own personality. As for Joseph Demerly playing Paul Bratter, you can see the growing frustration on his face as he tries to adjust to his problematic living conditions--bathroom without a bathtub, drafty apartment, hole in the skylight, tiny bedroom, and the craziest tenants in the city, and of course, his madcap wife.

Ernie Eliason, not new to portraying zany characters, amusingly played the part of Victor Velasco, the flirtatious and flamboyant 58 year old tenant that lives in the attic of Corie and Paul's New York brownstone, who shamelessly mooches his way into their delicate marital lives and then takes them on a crazy, riotous ride, including Corie's mother, Ethyl Banks--brilliantly played by Susan J. Vinick. Susan, new to the Flowertown Players but not to the stage, from fur coat to kimono, was a delight to watch and nimbly appropriated a generous portion of the evening's laughs.

J. Barry Gordon, a veteran Flowertown Player, put aside his duties as a tour guide and put on the digs of a telephone repairman. He added to the laughs and had a few words of wisdom for the harried couple. To round out the cast, Dustin Lack played the part of the delivery man.

Although, written many years ago and on the cusp of a social revolution, Barefoot in the Park is a love story with a timeless lesson interwoven within its script. While life styles have drastically changed since, the human condition when it comes to relationships remains basically the same. Falling in love can be easy, but staying in love requires hard work and sacrifice, and despite the elating ups and agonizing downs of married life, there is a humorous side to it all and Neil Simon drew on this.

You just might see a bit of yourself portrayed in this play. Served up on a platter of knichi and in a glass of Ouzu, you are guaranteed an evening full of laughs.

Purchase tickets for "Barefoot in the Park."