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."

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Carnival's 7-Day Southern Caribbean Cruise--Alluring Islands With A Connection to Charleston's Past

Petit Piton
Cruising south from Castries City, for a glimpse of the island's major attraction, the rugged cliff-lined coast of St Lucia was dotted here and there by stretches of secluded beaches overshadowed by thick droves of palm trees and dripping wet rainforest-covered mountains. Glistening in the equatorial sun, well positioned luxury resorts clung to the lush, rocky landscape for optimum views. We exchanged cutesy group poses and soaked in the natural beauty as the boat cut through the warm Caribbean waters and balmy breezes. Despite the rolling surf, I strategically positioned my bobbing camera to record each passing panorama.

After many snapshots and a couple of complimentary rum concoctions, the islands oldest town, Soufriere, came into view and not far beyond, the two volcanic spires of the Pitons--our first stop. From peak to surf, the steeper Petit Piton sharply descended from a dizzying height of 2,469 feet before disappearing into the surrounding arsenic blue waters to a depth of 3000 feet. Separated by Sugar Beach, the taller Gros Piton descended from a height of 2619 feet. The captain slowed the boat to a crawl. We humbly gazed upon its majesty and fantasized about diving from its rocky ledges. With first leg of our excursion accomplished, it was time to move on to our next stop--a sandy beach and a relaxing swim.

The preceding commentary described one of the memorable highlights of my first trip to the turquoise-wrapped islands of the Caribbean. An extra special trip because I spent it with my oldest daughter and a group of some thirty other spirited vacationers brought together by our cruise organizer and friend, Tony Colon of Tony's Travel Service. Initial destination was Old San Juan in Puerto Rico. Moored in its port, Carnival's 2974 passenger ship Liberty awaited our presence. For 7 days, we cruised around the sundrenched, rum soaked islands of the Southern Caribbean to five different ports-of-call: St. Thomas/St. John, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, and St. Maarten, respectively. We were nurtured by an abundance of sunshine, caressed by warm tropical breezes, gently rocked by calm seas, soothed by the rhythmic sounds of the steel drum, and treated to an abundance of food, drink, and entertainment.

After a 20 minute drive from the airport through the busy, narrow streets of Old San Juan, we arrived at the terminal around 4:30 pm, Puerto Rico time. Docked nearby Carnival's drop-off point was a fully outfitted replica of a pirate ship--a tantalizing preview of what was yet to come. We checked in, received our sail and sign cards, and made the exhilarating walk to the gangway where we crossed over and through Liberty’s teak-trimmed entryway into its beautifully decorated Main Lobby. We located our cabin on Main Deck 2, went to Lido Deck for our first buffet dinner, returned to cabin to unpack our suitcases, hung out with fellow travelers, attended the safety meeting, back to Lido Deck and the RedFrog Rum Bar for a celebratory drink, and at 10 pm, stood on Panorama Deck to view the historic sights of Old San Juan as the ship gracefully exited the port and entered the open sea. Destination--the cosmopolitan island of St. Thomas/St John.

Day 2: St. Thomas/St. John. The Liberty eased into the port of Charlotte Amalie around 7 am. I was up early on Panorama Deck to watch the 110,000 ton steel behemoth gently make contact with the pier bumpers for a picture perfect docking. Our plan was to spend the day at Cinnamon Bay on John's Island. We didn't purchase the excursion on the ship, Tony nimbly negotiated transportation. We would take a tour bus to Redhoook Bay for $16 round trip, board a ferry to Cruz Bay on St. John for $12 round trip, and then take another tour bus to Cinnamon Bay for $8 round trip. The beach was picturesque, the water pure Caribbean, and offered terrific snorkeling for the hearty swimmers. We tossed the football and drank Carib beers (reminded me of a Corona).

Day 3: Fun Day At Sea. We hung out at the pool, watched drink mixing contests, played corn hole, sat in the hot tubs, and ate awesome burgers from Guys Burger Joint on Lido Deck--Liberty's onboard activities.

Day 4: Barbados. On this day, the group went two different directions. Some went to Harrison's Cave, but the majority of us purchased the 4 hour Jolly Roger Pirate Party Cruise and Snorkel for $69.99--this was the only excursion purchased on ship. It was a short transfer from the ship to 110 foot Jolly Roger pirate ship--not exactly a tall ship, no sails, but it did have a big ship's wheel. We snorkeled around a sunken ship and cruised the coast to a location to snorkel with sea turtles. Though I personally did not see a sea turtle, I did have a blast walking the plank for a twelve foot plunge into the warm Barbados waters. We partied like pirates, drank rum and Banks beer, danced on the upper deck, and made one water rescue--an over-enthusiastic partier did a face-plant overboard while dancing on the boat’s rail--courtesy a little shove.

Day 5: St Lucia. By far my favorite island, the scenery was dramatic and strikingly impressive. After fellow cruiser, Dane, skillfully haggled for a $25 boat excursion, we piled into the tour bus ($18 round trip) to the boat where we traveled the rugged coastline of St. Lucia to the island's number one attraction--The Pitons. After taking in the splendor and grandeur of the Pitons, we spent the rest of the excursion on one of the island's secluded beaches. Rum concoctions were served on board and I learned how to blow into a conch shell like a fog horn.

Day 6: St. Kitts. The ride ($20 round trip) to Cockleshell Bay at Reggae Beach Bar and Grill was filled with winding, steep hills and picturesque vistas--expensive homes and beautiful, emerald bays. The beach was crowded. "There is nothing free on the beach," the local beach attendant said in a typical island accent. Negotiating for a chair and umbrella for a large group was tricky, but Dane did his best--two chairs and an umbrella for $10. The snorkeling wasn't the best and the beach was narrow, but the view of the volcanic mountain on Nevis was spectacular. We played beach volley ball and drank $2 Caribs.

Day 7: St. Maarten. A beautiful tropical breeze greeted us in port. We secured a tour bus ($18 round trip) that would take us to the Pinel Island ferry at Orient Bay on the French side of St. Maarten. It was a pleasant ride through the small towns of the interior. The ferry was $8 round trip, which was a short ride over shallow waters. The beaches on Pinel Island had soft sand and marked off swimming areas. Two chairs and an umbrella was $15 for the day. The snorkeling was decent near the rocky shorelines outside the swimming areas. On the beach, the Karibuni Restaurant served excellent food and selections were made from your chairs and brought to you by beach attendants. We soaked in the warm, tropical sun and drank Presidente beer and Pina Coladas.

I have always said, "I am happy doing anything, along as I am doing something," and my cruise to the Southern Caribbean on Carnival's Liberty was something. It was well worth the $625 per person fee for an Ocean View cabin. The Liberty was nicely presented and graciously represented. The dinners were satisfying, the buffet filling, the shows entertaining, and the dining service top notch.

It was a wonderful 8 days spent with my daughter, revisiting old acquaintances, and forming new friendships. The group of fellow cruisers I had the pleasure of hanging out with, mostly young couples, were refreshingly open and exceedingly entertaining. My late seating dinner group were a pleasure to break bread and tilt a glass with. I partied like a pirate, drank rum like Captain Jack Sparrow, busted a move with our head server, participated in a dance-off, and succeeded at not embarrassing my daughter. For everything else I did, blame it on the Malbec.

St. Thomas/St. John Excursions
Barbados Excursions
St. Lucia Excursions
St. Kitts Excursions
St. Maarten Excursions