Monday, May 22, 2017

"No Sex Please--We're British" Equals "Yes Please, Go See It"

With a stiff upper lip and all that, according to a 2014 questionnaire conducted by the British Council, British people are most recognized for their good manners, sense of humor, love of alcohol, pride in their country and unappetizing cuisine. And when it comes to "How's your Father," it is definitely not simply a person's gender and most Britons take more than a hot-water bottle with them when they say "I'm Off To Bedfordshire!" So, we can pretty much slam the door on the farcical idea implicated by the play's title, "No Sex Please--We're British"--Now riotously showing at the James F. Dean Theatre.

Written by Anthony Marriott and Alistair Foot, the play starts with blissful newlyweds Peter and Frances Hunter returning from their honeymoon to start their life together. Peter works as an assistant bank manager and the happy couple is allowed the benefit of living in a flat above the bank. The craziness begins when Frances innocently orders what she believes to be Scandinavian glassware, but the delivered package turns out to be pornographic photos. Peter could lose his job if Mr. Bromhead, the bank director, was to find out, but even worse, it is an offense that could lead to "Her Majesty's Pleasure" (British slang for being incarcerated).

Complicating things even more, Peter's mother, Eleanor, arrives with an imperiled bouquet of flowers in hand to stay for a few days. The conservative couple is hard pressed to get rid of the pornography in the least unobtrusive way possible, but their ensuing efforts turn out otherwise. Peter's colleague, Brian Runnicles, hesitantly accepts the task to get rid of the unwanted paraphernalia and botches things up royally. Again, Peter and Frances must deal with another delivery, this time pornographic films along with trying to retrieve a bank check mistakenly sent to the company. Then, Mr. Bromhead shows up and shortly after, the police superintendent, but the parade of visitors doesn't end there. A soon to be drugged bank inspector named Mr. Needum arrives asking to be put up for the night, who then was followed up by two call girls sent by the Scandinavian company, and the real shambolics begin right in full view of Her Majesty's castle.

No stranger to the play, JC Conway worked the show years ago with a professional theater company in Sanford, N.C. JC worked his magic once again with the assistance of Courtney Daniel, Executive Director, for this Flowertown production. The cast was well picked with some rarely seen faces as well as a first-timer on the Summerville stage. The well suited cast was stoked up on opening night and put in a great performance.

In the play, Peter Hunter insanely transforms from a proper English gentleman into a person seriously in need of a Xanax once the cat is out of the box or more bluntly, the unwanted pornography is unboxed, and Steve Tarnow does a superb job conveying his characters ballooning anxiety Monty Python style to the delight of his approving audience. Frances seems to take things in stride, most of the time, but her discomfort with Eleanor's presence is quite clear and Victoria Hartshorn adeptly communicates that angst with relevant body language and facial expressions. As a couple, they were spot on believable.

Susie Hallatt as Eleanor Hunter was enchanting. Her muddled accent reminded me of Jean Adair and Josephine Hull in the 1944 film "Arsenic and Old Lace." Hallatt's timing at the most inappropriate time was impeccable to the dismay of the snookered couple. I've got a secret Leslie Bromhead, Eleanor's potential love interest, was astutely performed by Fred Maidment. Veteran Barry Gordon, an actor who has played again and again many roles through his years with the Flowertown Players, filled the role of nosey and undeterred Superintendent Paul and Mr. Needum was portrayed by David Hallatt. David, who looked and sounded more like the Santa Claus from "Miracle on 34th Street," was quite amusing in some of the plays more sexually sticky situations initiated upon the arrival of Susan (Jacey Pruitt) and Barbara (Nicole Harrison)--the call girls sent to Frances and Peter's flat above the bank who provided the eye candy and revealed one of the plays most telling and scandalous surprises.


And, then there was Eddie Duncan as Brian Runnicles--a character whose name fits the part because he does a lot of running around from place to place and through slamming door after slamming door. From the moment he entered the play to the moment he attempted a crashing exit, Duncan was outstanding, although, and this is probably difficult for Eddie who has been blessed with a perpetual boyish grin, he should display less of a smirk and more of a stressed expression to the problematic tasks he hesitantly volunteers for and experiences. I give him a ten for his perfect vault through...well, I will leave it there on that incomplete bit of revelation. It is a scene you do not want to miss.

The set was well done and functional to the action with two stories, steps, multiple doors, and a pivotal pull down wall that separated the kitchen from the living room. No pageantry in this one, the costumes were suitable threads applicable to the plays time and storyline.

There is a lot more to the title "No Sex Please--We're British" than meets the eye. The British reputation for being reserved is not without merit, but throw a spattering of sexuality into the mix and the lines get somewhat blurred, of which the cast competently through all of Anthony Marriott and Alistair Foot's crescendo of chaotic scenes hilariously shed some light on. It's a show that would make Benny Hill proud and will leave you gobsmacked.

133 S Main St, Summerville, SC
(843) 875-9251
May 19, 20, 25, 26 and 27, 2017 at 8PM, May 21 and 28, 2017 at 3PM
Buy Tickets

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Famous Early Charleston Tavern--Gone But Not Forgotten

You can bet your shrimp and grits, there is no mistaking where this famous Charleston casualty of the wrecking ball once upon a time stood. Its striking replacement, the South State Bank of Charleston, has plaques plastered all along its Church Street side documenting its significant role in the city's early history. For nearly two hundred years, it had been known by many names, but it was best known by its first, Shepheard's Tavern.

Charles Shepheard built his tavern somewhere around 1720 on Broad Street. As it turned out, the tavern was advantageously located between the city's center of government conducted at the State House, also built on Broad Street, and the city's commercial heart with its bustling wharfs on East Bay Street. It was a four-story oblong building with a long room stretching down its Church Street side.

According to one source, Shepheard's Tavern burned down in 1740 and 1796 and another source only mentions 1796. Both could be true since great fires occurred in Charleston in each of those years around Broad Street and Church Street. In 1740, it was rebuilt using as many materials as could be salvaged from the original building. At the time of its burning in 1796, the building was used as a retail and wholesale store. Again, it was rebuilt. An artist's depiction of the tavern is etched on a granite stone located at the Church Street corner of the present Southern Bank of Charleston. Swallow's Tavern, The City Tavern and The Corner Tavern were its other known names.

To comprehend the importance Shepheard's Tavern played in early Charleston society is to understand the role of the tavern to early Colonial America. In "The Tavern in Colonial America," "The Gettysburg Historical Journal": Vol. 1, Article 7, Steven Struzinski stated, "Samuel Cole in Boston opened the first tavern on March 4, 1634. It was not long before the demand and necessity for taverns in New England, and throughout the colonies, was overwhelming. In 1656, the General Court of Massachusetts held towns accountable with fines if they did not sustain an ordinary...The tavern served a multitude of purposes in colonial towns and countrysides. They were means of direction for travelers, as well as settings where they could eat, drink, be entertained, and spend the night. Along with alcoholic beverages, colonists could play games, enjoy entertainment, participate in discussion, and receive the latest news and debate of the time. Along with being popular locations of social congress, taverns were significant for their function in town culture and society. Taverns were utilized as meeting place for assemblies and courts, destinations for refreshment and entertainment, and, most importantly, democratic venues of debate and discussion. The interiors of taverns were designed with different rooms, the largest room being the taproom with furnishings such as chairs, desks, the bar, and a fireplace. Certain upper-class taverns had parlors that were attached to the taproom. The taverns located in towns usually had special rooms designated for meetings of groups or, the more likely case, assemblies and court proceedings."

Compared to all the public houses and taverns in early Charles Towne, Shepheard's Tavern stood out at showcasing all the various facets mentioned in Struzinski's article. Prior to 1738, the tavern's room stretching down Church Street was rented to the provincial government for court meetings and as a result, acquired the nickname "the courtroom." The St. Andrew's Society held their dinners and meetings in the tavern, as did the newly formed "Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons." Henry Holt, a dancer turned thespian, gave a ball there in December of 1734.

In 1935, the tavern's "long room" was rented to a group of strolling players and local musicians who launched the town's first theatrical season with the presentation of Thomas Otway's "The Orphan, or the Unhappy Marriage." At a cost of 40 shillings per ticket, Charlestonians crowded into the tavern on January 24, 1935 for the plays opening performance, which was repeated on January 28th and twice in February.

On February 18th, the first advertised opera in America was performed by the same players. It was called "Flora or Hob in the Well" written by Colley Cibber. Charles Towne's first theatrical season at Shepheard's Tavern was such an impressive success, a subscription drive was undertaken to raise money to build a permanent playhouse. Not long after, enough funds were accumulated to begin construction of the theatre on Dock Street in 1736--recognized as the first theater in the English colonies, but disputed by some who say a theater built in Williamsburg predated it by two decades.

In 1743, it served as a post office. In 1773, when the establishment was known as Swallow's Tavern, the first Chamber of Commerce in America was formed on the site. During the Revolutionary period, the tavern was among those that hosted meetings of the Sons of Liberty. On August 29, 1783, when it was called The City Tavern, 43 Continental Army officers residing in South Carolina met at the calling of Major General William Moultrie to establish the South Carolina Society of the Cincinnati. After the tavern burned down in 1796 and was rebuilt, in May 31, 1801 the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry was founded. Later, in the 19th century, it became a grocery store called Klinck, Wickenburg and Company. The building was demolished in 1928 to make way for the construction of the classic style bank faced with Indiana limestone at a cost of $280,000. Salvaged bricks from the demolition were used in the construction of the outbuildings behind one of Charleston's oldest double tenements at 143 1nd 145 Church Street.

Even though Shepheard's Tavern has gone the way of other Charleston icons such as the Charleston Hotel, the Argyle Hotel, Bennett Rice Mill, and Institute Hall, to name a few, its prominence in early Charleston is forever burned into the city's historical archives. Take a walk to the corner of busy Broad and Church Street and pause for a few moments. Try to envision the four story building that strategically stood there once upon a time and recall its impressive history. If you need a little assistance in nudging your imagination, stop at the Market Pavilion Hotel and indulge in one of its Nitrotinis before embarking on your trip to the past. The patrons of the old tavern would be envious.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Charleston's Pirate House--A Place Where The Reality Morphed Into The Legend

Charleston's antiquity runs as deep as its harbor waters and its tales are as tall as the steeple of St. Phillips on Church Street. As one of the oldest cities in America, it is a place where reality and legend walk the same streets declaring a timeless story about the lives of its progeny and their hallowed structures. A place where fact and fiction have been skillfully blurred to the delight of those who come to bask in its charm and grace. This is true of one of Charleston's oldest townhouses located at 143 and 145 Church Street.

It was built by Huguenot merchant, Alexander Peronneau, as a double tenement around 1740--likely after Charleston's great fire of 1740. The material used in its construction was Bermuda stone placed on a brick foundation--Bermuda stone was widely used in the construction of early Charleston. The city's old fortification wall was made from Bermuda stone as well as the 1769 seawall that was probably destroyed in the 1800s by a hurricane.

American scholar, Justin Schwebler, stated in an interview printed in The Royal Gazette, "The archives here have a very good history of how the stone got here. It appears that the stone would be cut in quarries in Bermuda, before being taken down to the Turks and Caicos, where large quantities of salt would also be loaded on to the ship. Then both materials would be brought up to Charleston, where the stone would be used for buildings and walls, and the salt for food preservation."

In the late eighteenth century, the double tenement was owned by craftsman and planter, Paul Smiser. Next, Mrs. Goodwyn Rhett took possession of the property. In 1928, Mrs. Rhett restored the home to a single residence with the help of Thomas Pinckney, a local African-American builder. At this time, the outbuildings located behind the primary residence were constructed using salvaged brick from the former Shepheard's Tavern on Broad Street, also called The Corner Tavern, which was demolished in that same year.

It is believed after the restoration of the house rumors began to circulate claiming pirates lived there in its early days and used an underground tunnel system located in its basement that was connected to the waterfront of the Battery. The rumors stated the tunnels were the primary means of smuggling and escape for the pirate visitors and at the historic Dock Street Theatre, two blocks down Church Street, evidence of the tunnel's existence can be found underneath its stage--an opening into a sand-filled passageway. During extensive renovations and the redirection of Charleston's sewage systems in the 1930's, the tunnel was filled with sand, as the story tells. One rumor claims Blackbeard's legendary cache of gold is buried somewhere within the tunnel or in the basement of the house.

The name Pirate House became attached to the address as a result of these stories, but search as you may, no legitimate evidence can be found supporting such claims. The Dock Street Theatre is peculiarly silent as to the rumored opening underneath its stage leading to a sand-filled tunnel. None-the-less, there is a plausible explanation as to how the truth, by way of a slight variation, gave birth to the rumor that grew into the legend.

Extensive renovations, including heavy disturbances to the grounds, were performed on the property of the Dock Street Theatre in the 1930's. In a report presented to the city of Charleston called "The Dock Street Theatre: Archeological Discovery and Exploration," evidence of an opening being discovered is corroborated. It states, "Visible in the northwest corner of the interior courtyard, adjacent to the exterior wall of the theater building and a brick property wall, was an opening in the concrete flooring of the courtyard, excavated to a depth of approximately 3' below the concrete surface. A rectangular brick foundation, roughly 6' north/south by 8' east/west, was exposed in the 10' x 10' opening." Construction workers reported that three courses of brick were removed from the foundation to complete the pit excavation. The foundation, visible in remnant yellow sand fill, was a single header (brick laid with the narrow end exposed) wide. The size, configuration, and location of the foundation suggested a privy."

As to the privy's dating, the piece goes on to say, "Moreover, the location and possible association with the standing structure suggested the building could be associated with the early 19th century. However, the artifacts recovered during the pit excavation included five green glass bottles typical of the mid-18th century. Additional artifacts collected during the pit excavation and during the archaeologist's visit date to the 18th century. No early 19th century materials were recovered." The 18th century puts it during the pirate years of Charleston. So--and this is my own assumption, change one word of the summary, tunnel for privy, and you have the legend to captivate the masses. You have to admit, it does make for better story telling.

As to Blackbeard's treasure being buried in the basement of the house or in the tunnels, there is no concrete evidence to be found anywhere in the archives of Charleston to support such a presumption. In fact, it is more likely Blackbeard never set foot on the city's cobbled streets nor drank at its taverns, although, their paths did cross in May of 1718, when Blackbeard's flotilla of ships blockaded the port of Charles Town, stopped and ransacked nine vessels, took Samuel Wragg--a member of the Council of the Province of Carolina--along with other prominent Charles Town citizens hostage, and at one point near the end of the ordeal, entered the harbor of Charleston and threatened the city. Blackbeard was in need of medical supplies. The affair from start to finish lasted many days.

As the story goes, a Mr. Marks and two pirates were put into a boat and sent into Charleston to collect the drugs. While in Charleston, the two pirates and Mr. Marks became separated. The two pirates went on a drinking binge with friends, but not likely at the infamous Pirate House. It didn't exist until 1740, although some say it was built in 1704, which then would have made it possible. After days had passed, the pirates were found drunk and returned to the ships with Mr. Marks carrying the demanded drugs. The hostages were released and Blackbeard sailed away with whatever treasure he possessed. Through the whole affair, Blackbeard remained on the ships.

With a history stretching back to 1740, it is hard to say with any surety who visited or what happened at the double tenement at 143 and 145 Church Street. The fact it has survived fire, hurricane, earthquake, and change all these many years is a testimony to its resilience. Despite contrary facts, it will forever be known as the Pirate House and the rumor will prevail with those who choose to believe. And to those who choose otherwise, in Charleston, even the truth is legendary.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Morris Island Lighthouse--The Shifting Sands Upon Which It Was Built

Like the ocean tides, history has flowed in and out of Charleston Harbor since its inception. An inlet formed by the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers and a maze of wild-life-rich barrier islands, it was the perfect location to start a colony and establish what has become the charming and hospitable city of Charleston. From Oyster Point on the peninsula to Fort Sumter at the entrance and back, its coastline offers roughly 10 miles of scenic beauty and rich history. Yet, those same ocean tides reinforced by the power of the natural and unnatural order of things have now and again whipped up its shifting sands of time and rearranged the harbor's protective estuary islands, three in particular.

The phrase "shifting sands of time" is an old saying usually associated with an hour glass. Its meaning forebodes a change in circumstances. A famous lighthouse outside of Charleston Harbor, once a proud guardian of the coastline, now a vanquished sentinel, was victimized by the shifting sands of time, literally. The lighthouse residents and visitors see today was constructed beginning in 1873 and completed 1876. It was named the Morris Island Lighthouse because that is where it once upon a time stood. Sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale, but this is no fairy tale.

The Morris Island Lighthouse no longer stands on Morris Island. The sands upon which it was built have been altered and this is where our story has a twist. Once upon a time Morris Island was actually three islands that stretched from Folly Beach to Sullivan's Island, and the lighthouse you see today was not the first Charleston lighthouse. The three islands were named Middle Bay Island, Morrison Island, and Cummings Point.

The first Charleston lighthouse was built on the 565 acre Middle Bay Island in 1767. The tower rose forty-three feet and served well, until it was darkened for a period during the Revolutionary War. After the war, the federal government took control of the island and various improvements were subsequently made to increase the range of the light. During 1801 and 1802, the tower was heightened, and in 1812 an Aragand lamp-reflector system was installed.

In time, changing tidal currents altered the channel leading into Charleston and the three islands slowly merged into one and became just Morrison Island, later shortened to Morris. In the 1830s, the Lighthouse Service built a new, 102-foot tower to replace the 1767 tower. In 1854, a hurricane struck the lighthouse. The keeper's dwelling was destroyed and the tower was damaged. When the lighthouse was repaired, a revolving new first-order lens light with a range of 12 miles was installed in the tower on January 1, 1858. The tower had survived the battle with the hurricane, but the Civil War came and the lighthouse suffered an explosive ending. Fleeing Confederate troops blew up the lighthouse so Union troops couldn't benefit from it.

The lighthouse we see today was the replacement for the destroyed lighthouse. Completed in 1876, the lighthouse was built 400 yards away from the original one standing 161-feet tall with a pattern based off the Bodie Light off the Outer Banks in North Carolina. A first-order Fresnel lens was installed. In 1884 the illuminating apparatus was changed for the use of mineral oil instead of lard oil. Morris Island now contained 15 buildings, including the keeper's quarters, various outbuildings, and a one-room schoolhouse.

This is where the story takes a twist. The channel shifted once again. This time threatening Charleston Harbor, which could not be allowed to happen. Jetties were built--saving the harbor, but the result caused severe erosion on Morris Island. The island shrunk. Many of the buildings, which included the keeper's house and a school house, were destroyed by other powerful natural forces or moved.

The 1886 earthquake cracked the tower extensively in two places, but not so as to endanger its stability. The cracks were repaired. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo struck Charleston, destroying the remaining buildings around the lighthouse, only leaving the actual tower standing. Slowly, the shifting sands retreated from around the lighthouse. The light was automated in 1938 and the Fresnel lens was removed. It continued to operate until it was eventually decommissioned in 1962.

The lens installed at Morris Island was a first-order Fresnel lens--the largest, most powerful and expensive lens with an illuminating apparatus fueled by mineral oil. A Fresnel lens is a multi-part lens developed by French physicist and engineer Augustin-Jean Fresnel. When compared to a conventional lens it is much thinner, larger, and flatter, and captures more oblique light from a light source, thus allowing lighthouses to be visible over much greater distances.

The lighthouse address is now several hundred feet in the ocean. Yes, literally surrounded by the deep blue sea. The Coast Guard planned on destroying it, but local residents came to the rescue. It is now privately owned and efforts have been ongoing to preserve it.

The Morris Island Lighthouse is just one of many in a system of lighthouses built up and down the East Coast--standing as protectors and guides. Some of them are still active, some of them are not. Some of them are open to the public, some are not. They are great subjects for photographs and their history is fascinating. To see what life was like for the caretakers and keepers of the lighthouses, visit one and take on the experience of climbing the hundreds of stairs to the top. The view is spectacular.

The Morris Island Lighthouse, for obvious reasons, is not open to the public. You can view it from the shores of Folly Beach or up close and personal on the Morris Island Lighthouse Eco Tour. Another historical site on the island affected by the erosion was Fort Wagner--the famous Confederate fort featured in the movie "Glory." Although the jetties caused the erosion of Morris Island, it saved Charleston Harbor.

Interested in other lighthouses nearby:

To the north of Morris island Lighthouse and beyond Bull's Island, in the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, resides Lighthouse Island where you can tour two lighthouses--one conical in shape rising to a height of 65 feet and the other octagonal standing 150 feet from sand to top. The 1827 lighthouse is the oldest of its kind still standing in the United States. They are a part of the Cape Romain Lighthouses Tour only scheduled four times a year.

Another lies just south, on Hunting Island. The 132 foot, 167 step Hunting Island historic lighthouse is the only lighthouse open to the public to climb in the state. From the top platform, you can get a breathtaking view of the ocean, beach and the marshland.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Two Famous Ships Will Be Visiting Charleston Starting April 28th--One Of Them Inspired A Unique Restaurant

"In nineteen hundred ten plus two, Bernstein opened San Francisco's Fish Grotto." I admittedly confess this intended poetic verse is not an exact rhyme, but for a rationale about to be revealed, it will suffice. Now, as to the anomalous opening and its relevance, you will shortly comprehend my forgivable attempt to employ a humorous play on the opening words of a very famous poem, but first I will answer the glaring question: Who was Bernstein and what was the Fish Grotto?

Maurice Bernstein was an Oakland fish merchant who ran a number of eateries in the Bay Area and the Fish Grotto at 123 Powell Street was one of them. Called "The Ship That Never Goes To Sea," the restaurant was a popular and unique tourist attraction from 1912 to 1981. Serving dishes found nowhere else in the city, such as abalone steaks, mussels bordelaise and coo-coo clams from Coo-Coo Cove, one could unequivocally argue its menu was what made it unique, but historically, its claim to fame was its one-of-a-kind street entrance.

Intended to be a reproduction of Christopher Columbus' ship Niña, the restaurant was built with a ship's bow jutting out into the sidewalk. Inside, the marine theme continued. Bernstein's had seven dining rooms styled to look like ship's cabins: the Fisherman's Cave, the Pilot Room, the Sun Deck, the Main Salon, the Cabin Nooks, the Upper Deck, and the Porthole Counter. The eatery was also known for a wooden mermaid, which was positioned at its entrance.

Although, I do not recall a mermaid being mentioned in the famous poem written about Columbus' first voyage into the unknown, I do clearly remember its opening words, "In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." Now, that is a better rhyme. The poem continues, "He had three ships and left from Spain; He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain." Niña, the inspiration for Bernstein's restaurant, was one of the three Spanish ships (the other two were Pinta and Santa Maria).

Niña, also called Santa Clara, was a standard caravel-type vessel built in the Ribera de Moguer estuary of the Rio Tinto--a river in southwestern Spain. Commissioned to sail the Mediterranean Sea and originally rigged with triangular sails, she was re-rigged as a caravela redonda at Las Palmas in the Canary Islands with square sails for ocean sailing. Niña and the other two ships left Palos de la Frontera on August 3rd and made landfall in the Bahamas at dawn on October 12 ,1492.

Niña made the entire First Voyage, bringing Columbus safely home from the Bahamas. She accompanied the grand fleet of the Second Voyage to Hispaniola and Columbus selected her out of seventeen ships for his flagship on an exploratory voyage to Cuba, and purchased a half share in her. She was the only vessel of the seventeen in West Indian waters to survive the hurricane of 1495, and then brought back the Admiral and 120 passengers to Spain in 1496.

Niña was then chartered for an unauthorized voyage to Rome, and was captured by a corsair when leaving the port of Cagliari, and brought to an anchor at Cape Pula, Sardinia where she was stripped of her arms and crew. The Captain, Alonso Medel, escaped with a few men, stole a boat, rowed back to Niña, cut her cables and made sail.

Niña returned to Cadiz in time to sail for Hispaniola early in 1498, as advance guard of Columbus' Third Voyage. She was lying in Santo Domingo in 1500, and last heard of making a trading voyage to the Pearl Coast in 1501. No further log of her is found in historic archives. The Niña logged a extraordinary 25,000 miles under Columbus' command.

Replicas of the three ships were built in 1893 by the Spanish government for the Columbian Naval Review, but the most well-known 4-masted replica of Niña was built by American engineer and maritime historian, John Patrick Sarsfield, beginning 1988 in Valenca, Brazil. And, it will be visiting Charleston, joined by a replica of the Pinta, beginning April 28th.

Considered the most historically correct replica, Sarsfield and a group of master shipbuilders from Bahia, Brazil, who were still using design and construction techniques dating back to the 15th Century, constructed the replica Niña out of naturally-shaped timbers taken from local forests using only adzes, axes, hand saws, and chisels.

In December 1991, the Niña left Brazil and sailed to Costa Rica on a 4000 mile unescorted maiden voyage to take part in the filming of 1492: Conquest of Paradise. Since then, the ship has visited over 300 ports in the U.S. The caravels are operated by the Columbus Foundation of the British Virgin Islands--an educational group.

The Niña and Pinta will be moored at the Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina in Mount Pleasant until a morning departure on May 9th. Walk-aboard guided tours will be available 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Fees are $8 adults, $7 senior citizens and $6 for students to age 16. Children under age 4 are free. Pinta is available for private parties and charters.

As you walk Niña's deck, let your imagination take sail. Picture yourself a crew member on that fateful voyage and reflect on what life would have been like with only a compass to guide you, working while others slept, sleeping while others worked, day after day watching for land, dreaming of trees and rocks and sand, and slurping on coo-coo clams from Coo-Coo Cove.

Unfortunately, coo-coo clams is a west coast thing--not on any Charleston menu that I am aware of. After your tour of the Niña, if you want the best clams in Charleston, try The Fig on Meeting Street. Its Razor Clam Ceviche is considered by many to be the best.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Timeless Drayton Hall Mysteries--The Surreal And The Real

Originally a fruit orchard, Drayton Hall was built somewhere around 1738, thus making it over 265 years old. Considered one of the earliest and finest examples of Georgian-Palladian architecture in the United States, it is part of the most significant, undisturbed historic landscapes in America--of course use of the word undisturbed is dissolved in a glass of salty brine and consumed with a grain of rice. Inside, the amazing and timeless wood and plaster carvings are a testimony to the artful skills of the master craftsmen of the day and the soul of its owners. To us, the house is a surviving relic to look at in curiosity and wonderment, but to the people of the era, every nuance incorporated into its design had a very special meaning.

With a history reaching back hundreds of years and filled with the lives of many generations, some visitors have presumptuously asked whether Drayton Hall is haunted. Unlike many old landmarks in and around Charleston, ghostly sightings are found no where in the solitary Ashley River estate's narrative. In my overactive imagination, viewing the darkening house from under one of its old oaks near dusk reminds me of Edgar Allan Poe's commentary when coming upon the House of Usher. Lending validation to my optic, if you were to ask prior visitors and staff members that haunting question, they will say with firm conviction, "Absolutely yes." In 2003, Drayton Hall was featured on an episode of America's Most Haunted Places that aired on The Travel Channel with the claim "original family members are said to still walk" through the house supported by interviews it had with staff members. Still, with equal conviction, there are others who will say otherwise.

Drayton Hall is unquestionably not without its mysteries, both surreal and real. The most recent and famous occurred in 2007 when one of its staff members received an anonymous package containing the photograph of a watercolor painting of Drayton Hall purported to be date back to 1765. The envelope it arrived in was simply postmarked 22602-6754 with the words ATT: Back in The Day. The numbers were found to be a Winchester, VA zip code.

Up to that moment, no 18th-century image of Drayton Hall had ever been found. The earliest dated to c. 1845. The mystery was deepened further by what they saw depicted in the watercolor. It presented an image of Drayton Hall never seen before. It showed the Palladian brick building surrounded by low colonnades. Inspired by this revelation, archaeologists dug into the museum's lawn, where 18th-century foundation marks were found, suggesting the 1765 drawing of a U-shaped colonnade was an accurate portrayal. The question still remained as to the authenticity of the watercolor's dating. Now, locating the sender to examine the original became critical.

A staff member called the post office in Winchester to ask if they could identify the exact location of the 9-digit zip code, but do to privacy policies, they politely refused. A Drayton family member became involved and soon after, a friend found that the "6754" referred to Bedford Drive in Winchester. Names of the Bedford Drive residents were acquired through research and a trip to Winchester was made. Handing out Drayton Hall brochures and copies of the watercolor, several residents were contacted and given the material, but some were not at home and the owner was not found. A few days later, one neighbor showed the paperwork to a heating and cooling contractor who turned out to be the watercolor's owner.

In an interview with the New York Times, the contractor explained he had been surfing for Web information about a dozen watercolors he had inherited from his grandparents. He typed in the handwritten caption from one image, "Drayton Hall," and realized that the plantation still stood. He called Drayton Hall on a Sunday afternoon to tell them about his discovery, but a volunteer answering the phone refused to believe him--a decision that would eventually come back to haunt the receiver. So, he sent the package anonymously, just on a whim, which is where the mystery began.

The contractor did finally meet with staff members of Drayton Hall and the watercolor was authenticated. The mystery was solved. It was part of a collection of 18th-century watercolors depicting American and Caribbean landscapes and buildings. The Swiss-born painter, Pierre Eugène Du Simitière, traveled in the West Indies and settled in Philadelphia just before the American Revolution. As to how they ended up in the hand's of the contractor's grandparents was not discussed and still remains a mystery.

Time unrelentingly changes things, both virtuous and unpleasant. With that being said, something virtuous is coming to Drayton Hall. A Visitor Center is presently in the works and due to open in 2018. At present, all of the plantation's original artifacts—including furniture, are in storage. The new Sally Reahard Visitor Center will include an orientation hall, education center, and exhibition galleries.

Whoever may still be walking the empty rooms of the grand old house will find this news uplifting, if a place to sit is what they are looking for. All the original artifacts will be moved from storage and displayed in the Visitor Center's exhibition gallery where visitors will be able to view them for the first time since Drayton Hall first opened to the public.

There will also be a area called the Interpretive Gardens, which will feature historically accurate botanical plantings evoking the Drayton family's scientific and international connections during the 18th and 19th centuries. The visitors center will be screened off from the house by the stand of mature trees to the left of the house with a few new ones added. Another important design element is a new pathway mapped out by landscape architect Sheila Wertimer. The path will give visitors a more dramatic first glimpse of the house.

If you are looking for the complete southern experience, from the moment you enter the gate and drive up the narrow causeway toward the columned portico's of the front entrance, you sense a change in time, a transference of today into yesterday. And when you climb the stone stairs facing the Ashley River and step through the door, the sudden rush of air carries you back to the era of English gardens, rice fields and plantation living. You will treasure the tour and the pictures. Be careful not to bump into anything, real or unreal.

For more tour information and pictures go to A Day At Majestic Drayton Hall By The Ashley River--Preservation At Its Best
For the complete story of the watercolor go to Drayton Hall: Watercolor Mystery Solved! (So Far.)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

"Legally Blonde The Musical" Now showing At James F. Dean Theatre--It Is Walkaway Feel Good Entertaining

In 2001, the film Legally Blonde, starring Reese Witherspoon, was released. For the most part, the consensus from the critics was positive based not on material, but performance, stating "though the material is predictable and formulaic, Reese Witherspoon's funny, nuanced performance makes this movie better than it would have been otherwise." Despite receiving positive reviews, I would not have paid the price of a ticket to see it at the theater, and my reason is a simple one, it just isn't my genre of movie.

Then, in 2007, Legally Blonde moved to the stage and opened on Broadway as Legally Blonde The Musical. Now, we have a curtain of a different color. As an avid theater goer, my interest was stirred. By the way, the color is Elle Woods' signature color, pink, and it will be splashed all over the stage of the James F. Dean Theatre in Summerville for the next three weekends.

In 2007, the original release of Legally Blonde The Musical, music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, received seven Tony nominations and ten Drama Desk nominations but did not win any. In 2010, it moved to the Savoy Theatre and The West End production was nominated for five Laurence Olivier Awards and won three, including the Best New Musical award. In drawing a comparison between the movie and the musical, one critic wrote, "It is, of course, preposterous: an LA fashion student conquers Harvard law school and becomes a courtroom star. But, for all its absurdity, I found this Broadway musical infinitely more enjoyable than the 2001 Hollywood movie on which it is based."

The opening night presentation of Legally Blonde The Musical at the James F. Dean Theatre was everything I expected from a Chrissy Eliason and David McLaughlin collaboration, even exceeding my expectations. Director Chrissy's penchant for relevant subtleties was unmistakable from set change to set change and David Mclaughlin's high energy approach to vocals as Musical Director supercharged the theater atmosphere with high spirited zing leaving the full house gushing in the pink with joy. The duo, with the assistance of Choreographer Ethan Goodman and Dance Captain Tiffany Eliason, squeezed every bit of immonium thygocolate from the plays talented and substantially youthful cast.

The cast more than willingly complied as they bent and snapped to the lighthearted and glitzy-ditzy script with Red Bull infused enthusiasm. From the opening number of "Omigod You Guys" to the appearance of the Delta Nu Queen of the Show, Elle Woods, the audience was primed and readied for what was yet to come, and Taylor Ann Spencer delivered the goods, or should I say, won the case. From head to toe the perfect Elle, her Disney influence was unmistakable. With clear vocals and striking body language complimented by dazzling wardrobe changes (designed by herself), Ann sang and danced her way into the hearts of everyone present.

The capable supporting cast includes accomplished musician John Henry Braun as Warner--Elle's I'll follow you anywhere, in this case Harvard, ex-boyfriend, sassy S. E. Coy as Vivienne Kensington--her antagonistic rival for Warner, Charleston native Matthew Walker as the corduroy wearing Emmett--the geeky student lawyer who takes Elle under his wing and helps her realize that she is more than a pink dress, Starbucks Manager Carlos Nieto as the self important and scumbag Callahan, Rebecca Wetherby as I've got a secret Brooke Wyndham, Jennifer Kliner as the under appreciated Enid Hoopes--Elle's dowdy lesbian classmate with extreme feminist views, and vocal powerhouse Sarah Daniel as Paulette, the lovable love-bruised manicurist with a heavy accent and new best friend of Elle at Hair Affair.

Carlos Nieto, rivaled only by John Henry for neatest head of hair, shined in the musical number "Blood in the Water," while Sarah Daniel blew the roof off the theater in her finale of "Ireland." Dustin Lack garnered uproarious laughs for his brief appearances as Paulette's trailer-trashed ex-boyfriend, Dewey and as her new Irish love interest, delivery man Kyle. Rebecca Wetherby whipped up a wicked routine of jump-rope and still had enough breath to sing. Tiffany Eliason, Allison Lee Zobel Brower, and Melissa Frierson, Elle's overjoyed sorority sisters, were vivacious and vibrant. I have to add some parts of the play went to the dogs, and their names are Bruiser and Rufus--two canines with stage presence.

Baily Gaines as Chutney
Truth be told, in time, I did unintentionally see the movie on TV, and after viewing the Flowertown Player's production of Legally Blonde The Musical, omygod, I have to agree with the critic's assessment, it is infinitely more enjoyable, and the cast and crew made sure of that. Despite the plays perfumed plot, buried under all the pink is a moral to the story. Elle's own words, "Don't judge a book by its cover," repeats an old adage warning not to a judge people based on looks, but she adds, "books with tattered covers stay on the shelf." Then, there is the "bend and snap"--a cheer leading move with real world applications. Apparently, it is a knock-out of a move to get the attention of a guy, but it also catches criminals. Don't know what I am talking about in either case, see the play. You will not regret it. It is walkaway feel good entertaining and you just may throw in a couple steps from the Irish River Dance.

Congratulation to the entire cast.

Dates and showtimes: March 24, 25, 30, 31, April 1, 6, 7, 8, 2017 at 8PM
March 26, April 2 and 9, 2017 at 3PM

Purchase tickets.

Crew not already mentioned:
Kelsey Palmer-Stage Manager/Props Master
Caitlin Skowronski-Assistant Stage Manager/Sound Operator
Nicole Harrison-Costume Design
Technical director-Ernie Eliason
Robert Venne-Set Designer/Painter
Lighting Designer/Light Board Operator-Jean Gaston
Spot Light Operator-Jeff Wolf
Artistic Director-JC Conway