Saturday, May 26, 2018

You Will Roll In Your Seat Laughing--BOEING BOEING Now Showing At The James F. Dean Theatre

"Oh what tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive" is an old quotation by Sir Walter Scott. When you tell lies or act in a dishonest way you create problems and complications which ultimately end up out of your control. Tragic as that may be, as an observer of such manic mischief, the resulting implications can be almost comical to witness, and what a tangled web of comedic foolishness was woven on the stage of the James F. Dean Theatre in its opening night presentation of Marc Camoletti's high flying parody Boeing Boeing.

The play is set in the 1960s. It centers around a American bachelor by the name of Bernard who has a spacious flat in Paris outfitted with more emergency exits than a 737. For some time now, he has been having his cake and eating it too all with a little coffee, tea, or me times three. He is engaged to three attractive air hostesses who are totally clueless to his nefarious arrangements. With the assistance of his housekeeper, Berthe, it has been smooth flying so far. Everything has been taking off and landing as scheduled. Then, Bernard's flight pattern enters some unexpected major turbulence when his friend Robert comes to stay, and a new, speedier Boeing jet disrupts his careful planning. With all three air hostesses having landed on his doorstep on the same day, Bernard's web of deception begins to unravel with a not so innocent Robert stepping in as a beneficiary. What happens next? The fasten your seatbelt light has been turned on, so take your seat, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

Chrissy Eliason, a director who has a penchant for detail and an uncanny skill for matching real life personalities to their characters, added another winner to her list of triumphs. Boeing Boeing is a play whose success is based on the premise that timing is everything. Set designer Ernie Eliason provided Chrissy and crew with a beautifully drafted, functional set. Accented by 1960s style abstracts painted by his own hand and equipped with seven different doors spread across a curved stage furnished with a long bar outfitted with a ingeniously constructed motorized pop-up map, Chrissy masterfully directed the concerto of timely swinging doors from the numerous entrances and exits like an experienced air traffic controller with no noticeable blips. As for the cast, she had them fueled up and they were firing on all turbines.

With a devilish smile, black book in hand, and aided by a well planned pop-up map any respectable self made cad would envy, self assured Bernard (played by boyishly handsome Jonathan Quarles) was feeling pretty good about his arrangement as he explained it to a newly arrived and dumbfounded Robert. And then, the inescapable happens, his arrangements begin to spin out of control. Apprehensive Robert, now enlisted as his co-pilot, steps in to help steady the plane, but this is where the comedy begins and its fun to watch Robert go from being apprehensive to conspiring, the type of character that seems to suit Rusty Cooler just fine having just come off a spectacular showing as Beadle Banford in Sweeney Todd.

To say the least, the relationship between Berthe and Bernard is antagonistic. After all, trying to uphold her employer's demanding lifestyle and keep three young ladies of the airways with varying tastes happy is a tall order, and thespian Heather Jane Hogan as the French firecracker of a housekeeper uproariously juggles her duties and feelings with skillful simplicity.

Having engaged in conversations with all three leading ladies, I can rightly say they are perfectly matched to their characters. All three are as different as their hair color. Christiana Blun, a no-nonsense, straightforward individual, plays Gloria--a tall and leggy TWA dressed-in-red American who has a surprise of her own. Joy Springfield, a carefree and fun-loving sort, portrays Gretchen--the flirtatious German redhead of Lufthansa outfitted in yellow. Alex Shanko, a bubbly, sassy spirit, is cast as Gabriella--the voluptuous Italian dressed in the green of Alitalia. Newcomers Christiana and Joy, along with veteran Alex, were entertaining to watch as they seduced, flirted, and charmed their way from being the manipulated to being the manipulators after all was said and done.

The diverse cast handled their varying lingual accents and crucial cues well. The brightly colored 60s style costumes (costume designer Nicole Harrison) blended with the multi-colored set nicely. The props were era appropriate down to the smallest details. The lighting was complimentary and pleasant.

Yes, it is a play about a selfish cad who wants to have his cake and eat it too served with a little coffee, tea or me times three, but you can revel in the idea he reaps what he has sown and at the same time, smile at the irony of it all. The Flowertown Players presentation of Boeing Boeing accomplishes what the play's writer Marc Camoletti intended, to make you roll in your seat laughing.

Showing May 25, 26, 31, June 1, 2 at 8pm May 27 and June 3 at 3pm
Purchase tickets for Boeing Boeing.

Friday, May 4, 2018

A One Of A KInd Architectural Wonder--Farmers' And Exchange Bank

East Bay Street, from the Old City Market to Broad Street, is one of the busiest pedestrian
thoroughfares in Charleston aside from Meeting and King Street. Its walkways are the commercial lifeline of the famous French Quarter. Tourists and locals on any given day flood the many eateries, galleries, and shops housed in the numerous old buildings overlooking this concrete river. Among its numerous architectural wonders stands a one of a kind. You no doubt have walked past it many times just throwing it a passing glance and not giving it a second thought. But, if you were to stop, take an inquisitive gaze at it for a few moments, you will gain another perspective. It is a surviving reminder of the beautifully diverse history that makes Charleston what it is today.

Located on the west side of East Bay Street near the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, this peculiar two-story masonry building, built out of brick and varying shades of brownstone--one a solemn tone from Connecticut and the other a soft hue from New Jersey, is exceptionally different. Architecturally designed in the most flamboyant of the nineteenth-century exotic revivals, its motif was a radical departure from the traditionally favored styled buildings of similar institutions.

Its main facade is dominated by three distinct but identical sections with muqarnas features. Its three first floor entrances are trimmed by a trefoil arch with intricately carved double doors featuring decorative iron work and topped by large, circular windows with an inlaid daisy pattern. The second-floor has three large multi-pane fixed windows with the upper circular portion edged in a Moorish inspired scalloped design. The roof line is lined with a double rowed horseshoe-shaped entablature and topped off with a sheet metal roof and a Spanish and Moorish style muqarnas dome. The rear wing has the conventional Classical Revival style. There are two chimneys in the rear. On the interior, there is pine board flooring and a paved vestibule leading to the main banking room. This opulent space is twenty-one feet wide and nearly fifty feet in length and features arcade walls, elaborate plaster ornamentation, and a coffered ceiling and skylight.

Farmers' and Exchange Bank was chartered on December 16, 1852. The design of the building was the work of architects Edward C. Jones and Francis D. Lee. Its construction began in 1853 with its completion in 1854. Their design is thought to have been influenced by illustrations from Washington Irving's Tales of the Alhambra, a book about his three-month stay at a Moorish palace in 1829. It was published around the time the building was constructed.

Alhambra Castle--you can see the similarities in architecture.
The Farmers' and Exchange Bank's denominations ranged from $5 - $100. Both, the $5 and the $10 notes from this bank, depicted scenes of the antebellum South. In the 1860's, the Federal bombardment of Charleston forced the bank to move to Columbia. The Civil War took a toll on the bank and in time, it closed. Overtime, the building was used as a telegraph office by Western Union. U.S. Senator Ernest "Fritz" Hollings once owned the building and used it for office space. The structure was considered for demolition in the early 1970s due to deterioration, but Charleston banker Hugh Lane Sr. contributed $50,000 toward its restoration. It was declared a National Historic Landmark on November 7, 1973.

In the 1990's, it became home for the Saracen restaurant and a second floor drinking establishment called Little Charlie's Bar. In time, the restaurant closed, but the bar remained. The bar was rumored to be a den of drugs and money-laundering and described as being "smoky, full of slutty college chicks and horny frat guys. A place where the bartenders played favorites with the beautiful people, the music was all over the map," and a few other things I will leave unmentioned. Charlie's Little Bar closed in 2005.

The Balish Family purchased the building in that same year. They owned restaurants in Savannah called The Olde Pink House and Garibaldi and for three decades, Charleston's Garibaldi Cafe at 49 S. Market Street. It was renowned for serving crispy flounder to tourists and locals alike. The restaurant closed after 33 years because its lease had expired, so they were looking for a new space to locate their restaurant. They were considering two locations--a vacant waterfront lot they owned on Concord Street beside Dockside Condominiums or the recently purchased iconic Farmers' and Exchange building.

They chose the iconic building and planned on calling it Farmers and Exchange restaurant, which had a planned opening in late 2015. So far, it has not come to fruition and the building remains eerily quiet except for some spurious activity from time to time.

The Farmers' and Exchange building at 141 East Bay Street is one of the few surviving Moorish Revival structures in the United States, and Charleston has it.

Monday, April 9, 2018

SWEENEY TODD is mesmirizing to the point of being surreal--a bloody good show

Step aside Lavinia Fisher, you have been upstaged by a frazzle-haired, razor wielding barber named Sweeney Todd--a cut-throat proprietor who once upon a time had a shop on foggy London's famed Fleet Street and was known for his quick shaves. His provocative tale is unfolding on the stage of the James F. Dean Theatre April 6-22.

Inspired by a weekly fictional series published in the mid 1800's known as a "penny dreadful" and enthusiastically consumed by the British masses, the evolved tale of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street slashed its way onto Broadway in 1979 and won the Tony Award for Best Musical (music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler). Sondheim first conceived his musical version after seeing Christopher Bond's spooky melodrama of the story in 1973.

Sondheim's adaptation possesses an underlying theme that explores the darker impulses of the human condition. Impulses relating to lust, treachery, rape, cruelty, greed and revenge. Impulses that could drive a person to madness, sometimes unjustly. Although tragic in nature, Sondheim softens the impact with timely humor. It is a lyrical juggernaut performed to haunting music jam packed with surprises.

Director David McLaughlin, assisted by Kelsey Palmer, orchestrates a fine-tuned production that plays with Sondheim precision from prologue to climax. Possessing the uncanny ability to squeeze every bit of talent out of everyone around him, his unique trademark of musical excellence seen in all his works permeates every song and underlying musical number. A mix of both seasoned performers and first timers, his carefully selected actors, from main to supporting cast, are as sharp as Sweeney Todd's sterling silver straight edge razors.

Steve Tarnow's digital image speaks volumes. It is a picture that paints a thousand words. In full makeup and costume, he is the epitome of the character Hugh Wheeler calls for in his description of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. But, not only does Steve look the part, he owns it. With unbridled passion and explosive vocals, he brings the tragic story of Benjamin Barker, aka Sweeney Todd, to life in full bloody living color.

Kristin Cotton plays the outrageous and somewhat deranged Mrs. Lovett, who has a thing for Sweeney Todd and with whom she enters into a twisted partnership. Aside from serving up to die for meat pies filled with grade-A homo sapien courtesy Sweeney, Kristin serves up spot on vocals with a Cockney accent and bakes up the humorous flavor of the play with well-timed one-liners. After the demise of Fleet Street's flamboyant street huckster dressed in red, Pirelli (Tyler Reed), Mrs Lovett takes in his abused young assistant, Tobias.

Olivia Gainey, a natural talent at fourteen years young, knows how to pluck your heartstrings, which she does with spellbinding artistry as young Tobias. She is so compelling, she could sell you on a "miracle elixir" purported to make your hair grow faster even though Sweeney describes it to be "concocted of piss and ink"--a snippet from one of the Play's most entertaining scenes.

The contemptible Judge Turpin, a morally decadent beast of a man and the main reason for Sweeney's spiral into a mental abyss, is played by multi-talented Jamie Young. Rusty Cooler plays the Beadle, the Judge's henchman who takes pleasure in others pain. His icy demeanor comes full circle in the scene where he is playing on the harmonium.

Rounding out the cast with strong voices and pivotal portrayals are Charissa Word--the sweetly innocent Johanna, Larry Lewis as Anthony--friend to Sweeney Todd and a love-struck and devoted suitor of Johanna, Sara Armistead as the Beggar Woman, and Shaffer Ripley as Madam Fogg, owner of an insane asylum.

The Victorian costumes are eye-popping and beautifully crafted (Emma Scott and Kristen Bushey). The multi-scene rotating stage doubling as Mrs. Lovett's pie shop and Sweeney Todd's barber shop, ingeniously equipped with a mechanical sliding barber chair and revolving trap door engineered by Ernie Eliason, was visually eye-catching and was accentuated by a complimenting lighting design that set the necessary moods (Jean Gaston). Each of Sweeney's numerous victims slip into pie crusted oblivion in a bloody red glow.

The Flowertown Players presentation of Sweeney Todd is mesmerizing to the point of being surreal. Captivating, positively. Entertaining, guaranteed. Sinfully funny, thankfully. You would be hard pressed to spot a flaw in this deservedly 5-Star theatrical performance. A bloody good show you do not want to miss, it is one play I would return to see a second time, and maybe a third.

Tickets for Sweeney Todd.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Big Hearted Little Cottage Serving Tender Loving Care

A short stroll from Summerville's Hutchinson Square, nestled on the corner of East Doty Ave and South Magnolia Street, sits a cottage style house dating back to the town's Golden Era when inns reigned supreme and the railroad was sovereign.

Believed to have been built in 1875, the little residential cottage has been home to many businesses through its obscure history. It is on the National Historic Registry and according to recent real estate descriptions, it was moved to its present location from a neighboring property. When it was moved and from where is not clear.

The oldest Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Summerville of this area on record dating March 1912, shows a matching profile of the little cottage with a location closer to Railroad Avenue next to the Summerville Ice Light and Power Company, also called Crystal Ice House (Railroad Avenue was the name of the street before it became Doty Avenue after 1965). There is one differing feature in its profile--an extension off the back of the house, maybe a kitchen house, but this is only a guess. The move mentioned in the real estate records is possibly not from a neighboring property, but rather a removal of the extension and a repositioning of the house farther back on the property--today's location. In 1912, it was owned by someone with the last name of Lang. A Sanborn map dating 1928, showed no changes, so the move had to take place sometime later. As to neighboring properties, the Crystal Ice House was built in 1901 and the Water Department was built between the years 1923 and 1928, years after the 1875 dating of the little cottage.

The Summerville Chamber of Commerce setup operations there during the 1990's. An employee of the Chamber fondly reminisced sitting at her desk near the entrance door and recalled when a train would pass through, everything would rattle and the door would shake open.

Many of the homes in this area were used as boarding houses during the heyday of the railroad. It has been rumored the little cottage served as a brothel for military personnel during the two World Wars and many other gentlemen travelers passing in and out town. Its quiet location across from the railroad tracks near where the railroad station used to stand would have made it expedient for such activity. While this revelation could garner notoriety in of itself with history buffs, this dubious footnote in its narrative is not its claim to fame.

The old house was made famous by local author, Bruce Orr, in his book entitled "Haunted Summerville," which was released in 2011. A retired Summerville criminal investigator turned paranormal historian, Bruce has made various appearances in The Flower Town since the book's release, including a signing at the East Doty location and address of the then This Whole House Tea Room, Antiques and Gift Shop. After spending time interviewing the owner, Judy Thomas, and enjoying a spot of tea, Bruce stated, "I can understand why Mary Helen chose to stick around instead of moving on to the other side." He titled his story "The Ghost Who Stayed For Tea." It has been hypothesized Mary Helen perhaps was the proprietor of her own business of the entertaining sort at the location. Of course, all evidence is circumstantial and a person will use their own discretion as to what they choose to believe.

A popular Summerville venue that served a winning sweet tea, This Whole House Tea Room, Antiques and Gift Shop has since closed. The sprucely landscaped property has since been taken over by Richmond, Virginia transplants, Kathy and David Schuler. Two people with a mission in mind and a sensitivity for community, their search for the right town to carry out their plan ultimately brought them to Summerville. With an impassioned smile, Kathy related the fateful story. "Two jet trails formed an X in the sky directly above the little cottage," she said. With firm conviction, she continued, "It was a sign. X marked the spot."

Kathy and David named their new found business The Little Cottage Community Cafe. Their mission statement is outlined on their Facebook page and is as follows: "Our goal is to create an exceptional dining experience, in a comfortable, cozy, and inclusive environment. We recognize the need for health and well-being, as well as the need for human connection within our communities and TLC is dedicated to opening doors for the betterment of all community members. The Little Cottage (TLC) Community Cafe is a community-based social enterprise focused on offering educational, recreational, and social activities for individuals with additional needs, as well as healthy and delicious meals to members of our community."

The Little Cottage's location is marked by an old door fashioned into a sign hanging by chains between posts painted Charleston green with a lantern style light above it. The fully remodeled cottage utilized 98% of re-purposed materials. The two main counters outfitted with hinged tops, skillfully constructed by David with recovered sanded and polyurethaned planking from the house, can be raised into large tables for small groups to gather around for community projects. The upstairs loft has been fashioned into a larger version of the Little Free Library where you can take a book or leave a book. On the porch, a community pantry called the Blessing Box is displayed for anyone who wishes to share their kitchen surplus with other local residents who may have a need. At present, paintings from local artists are on exhibition throughout and there are plans to carry this through month after month.

The environment is welcoming and hospitable. The atmosphere is cozy and bright. There is plenty of seating throughout as well as outside on the cottage's wrap around porch. Specializing in lunch offerings prepared by in-house chef, Saraileigh Watson, TLC's menu is viewable at the entrance door consisting of starters, salads, and sandwiches ranging between $7.95 and $9.95 with names reminiscent of Summerville locations like the Square, The Doty Park, The Flowertown, Little Main and so on. A Kid's Menu is included. All offerings are prepared with locally sourced products from places like Juju's Gourmet, Rina's Kitchen, and Saffron Bakery.

The Little Cottage Community Cafe is a welcomed addition to the growing list of quaint cafes in Summerville. Plan a visit to this big hearted little cottage serving tender loving care. It is like sitting down and breaking bread with family and friends. Try the House Specialty Dessert--Dark Chocolate Pot au Cre'me, it is hauntingly decadent. A word to the wise, make sure you have an extra cup added to your table setting just in case you have an unexpected guest. When I asked Kathy about the story of the property's resident ghost, I would have to say, I got the impression she is not a disbeliever.

106 East Doty Avenue
Summerville, SC
Tuesday - Friday 11 am - 3 pm
Saturday - 10 am - 3 pm

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Soak In The Antiquity And Amenities At This Spectacular San Francisco Island Gem

It was a beguiling and surreal drive along the water after leaving the 5 1/2 mile long Richmond-San Rafael Bridge for Point San Pablo. Between Point Molate and Point Orient, hidden among the areas indigenous eucalyptus trees and beyond a run of secured fencing was a regiment of boarded-up, abandoned residents reminiscent of barracks. Surviving relics of the Winehaven Winery established in 1906, the grape processing facility employed over 400 people in its heyday. It was the largest winery in the United States until the Volstead Act of 1919 ushered in the Prohibition Era and shut it down. In 1941, the 400 acre site was purchased by the Navy and used as a fuel dump until being decommissioned in 1995.

Drawing closer to my planned destination, the singular road separated into two, one leading to a gated area and the other marked by a simple directional sign. The surrounding landscape had the appearance of having been surrendered to the elements. Rusty, forsaken structures and weather-beaten, neglected docks bordered the bay's craggy shoreline, now just a haunt for past shadows. From this vantage point, I could see the island and its famous landmark perched atop it--the reason that brought me to this place on the map.

The upward drive was narrow and winding. The enveloping vegetation consisted of scruffy grasses and low growing bushes with the occasional cluster of windswept trees. Upon reaching a summit, a panoramic view presented me a sneak peak of the mist shrouded bay beyond. The downward drive was more of the same, until a final circular turn brought me to sea level where I slowly pulled up to a set of old railroad tracks. Going somewhere, the rails disappeared into the bushy landscape. In front of me, a frozen-in-time sleepy harbor unfolded across the tranquil shoreline waters of San Pablo Bay. Point San Pablo Harbor is the pick-up point for the ferry to the legendary East Brother Light Station.

The East Brother Light Station quite literally sits on top of an island in the strait that separates San Francisco and San Pablo Bay. A gracious servant of the past, it is unique among its kind in history and design. It was designed in the Stick style architecture by Paul J. Pelz. The Stick style was a late 19th-century American architectural style, transitional between the Carpenter Gothic style of the mid-19th century and the Queen Anne style. The lighthouse plans called for a three-story tower attached to a two-story Victorian dwelling having three rooms per floor.

There were five other lighthouses built in this design, each located at various places on the United States coastline, but aside from East Brother, only two are still standing. Not far down the coast from San Francisco near Los Angeles, in the San Pedro Bay, is one of them, the Point Fermin Lighthouse. The other, called Hereford Light, is on the east coast in New Jersey. As to the other three, Mare Island Light, in Carquinez Strait, California, was demolished in the 1930s, Point Hueneme Light in Santa Barbara Channel, California, was replaced in 1940, and Point Adams Light in Washington State was burned down by the Lighthouse Service in 1912.

At one point in time, East Brother Light Station's future had become as foggy as the strait it protected. It survived because it is historically intrinsic and loved by many. Now 134 years old, it is a matchless California destination with a spectacular view.

The East Brother Light Station began operation in 1873. The original lens was illuminated by a wick filled with whale oil. Four years later, a new fourth-order lens was installed and the illuminant was changed to mineral oil. In 1912, the lens was replaced again along with an incandescent oil-vapor lamp. An underwater cable was laid between the island and San Pablo Point in 1934, providing electricity for the first time. The means of illumination was replaced by a fifth-order Fresnel lens powered by a 500-watt bulb. The San Francisco Bay area is one of the foggiest places on the coast, so the island lighthouse was also outfitted with a fog horn and a fog signal building. Overtime, a water tank, storage shed, and a domed cistern surrounded by a large rain catchment basin were eventually built on the island.

Shortly after the island acquired electricity, a series of unfortunate circumstances befell the island light station. The electric cable was disabled by a ship's anchor in 1939. Until repairs could be made, the light was powered by gasoline generators placed in the signal building and drums of gasoline were stored in the boathouse. In 1940, a fire incident caused by a mishandled kerosene lantern igniting a fifty gallon drum of gasoline and explosively spreading to other drums destroyed the island's wharf and boathouse. It is believed if the wind was blowing from the east that morning, the entire light station would have been vanquished.

The Coast Guard assumed responsibility for the nation's lighthouses, and in the late 1960s, announced plans to automate the station. The government wanted to tear it down and replace it with a light on a tower. Thanks to local residents who perceived value in the past and possessed the desire to preserve its heritage, an outcry arose protesting its demolition. In 1971, the station was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The light station was saved, but neither the Coast Guard nor other public agencies had funds for maintaining or restoring the buildings. The Victorian style house sat void of life and the neglect started to take its toll as the wood rotted, the paint peeled, and the iron rusted.

East Brother Light Station, Inc., a non-profit group, was formed in 1979. Through government grants, private donations, and countless hours of volunteer labor steps were taken to restore it, not just to its former glory, but into a cherished landmark where all who want to experience the wonder of a lighthouse with a beautiful vista for a magnificent backdrop could do so.

West Brother Room
$375 (Thur - Sat), $345 Sun
Two Sisters Room
$345 (Thur - Sat), $315 Sun

The East Brother Light Station is now a popular island bed and breakfast. There are five available rooms. Four of the rooms are in the lighthouse itself and the fifth is in the original Fog signal Building. The rooms are beautifully appointed and each has its own stunning view of the Bay area and surrounding landscape or seascape, whichever you prefer. Your stay includes champagne and hors d'oeuvres upon arrival, a multi-course dinner with wine and a full gourmet breakfast the next morning. If you would like the warmth and romantic atmosphere a fireplace provides, the Two Sisters Room would be your likely choice. If you seek more privacy, the Walter's Quarters in the Fog Signal Building 100 feet from the lighthouse is closest to the water.

Marin Room
$425 (Thur - Sat), $395 Sun
San Francisco Room
$425 (Thur - Sat), $395 Sun

Walter's Quarters
$375 (Thur - Sat), $345 Sun

Point San Pablo is 30 minutes from downtown San Francisco and a ten minute boat ride from the serene Point San Pablo Harbor. Once on the island, you will be treated to spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline, Mount Tamalpais, and the Marin coastline. Your senses will be immersed and soothed by the smell of the bay, the sound of the lapping water on the rocky outcrops, and your imagination can take flight or stay put, it’s all the same either way, nostalgic and reinvigorating. Reserve a room and you will discover why San Francisco has been a top rated destination for many years among travelers.

East Brother Light Station's Bed and Breakfast excellent reviews. Reservations 510-233-2385.