Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Serene Bed And Breakfast Nestled Under The Moss Covered Trees Of Wentworth Street With A Ghost Story

I found this bed and breakfast while walking Wentworth Street toward beautiful Wentworth Mansion to take pictures. If it wasn't for its modest sign pinpointing its location, I would not have discovered it. Many of the houses in this part of Harleston Village on Wentworth Street are of comparable style built of brick, stucco, or clapboard, except for the few large mansions. 1837 Bed and Breakfast is a fine example of a Charleston single house one room wide, with gable end to the street and tiered piazzas. It’s not known for a celebrated history, but like many homes in Charleston, it has an attention-grabbing but sad ghost story associated with it.

It was built by cotton planter Henry Cobia in the 1800's, and I am guessing more specifically 1837, but this is more implied than a stated fact. Henry Cobia is also credited with building the house at 128 Wentworth Street circa 1840. Built in the Federal-style, the house has three floors. It is accompanied by a two-story brick carriage/kitchen house. It was converted to a bed and breakfast in 1984.

The main house has a total of six guest rooms--three on the second and three on the third floor. Rooms on these floors entail walking up one or two flights of stairs. Each floor has open piazzas. Common rooms, such as the kitchen, dining room, and parlor are on the first floor.

Room 202
The carriage/kitchen house has two individual rooms on the ground floor with open beam ceilings and a one bedroom suite on the second floor, which is up one flight of spiral stairs and also has a small, private balcony. Originally separated from the main house as a safety precaution to protect it from accidental cooking fires, which was a common construction practice in the early years of Charleston, it was attached to the main house at the turn of the century.

Room 102
Each room is decorated with period furniture featuring queen canopy rice beds, armoires, local artwork, and oriental rugs. All rooms have private entrances and private baths. Amenities include cable TV in each room, free wireless internet service, and refrigerators. There is free one car per room on-site parking for small cars. A sumptuous, complimentary breakfast is prepared every morning and served starting at 8:30 am--for each days offerings go to daily breakfasts. It is reasonably priced with rooms ranging from $139 to $259 a night in the main house and $129 to $275 a night in the carriage house.

1837 is highly spoken of by most of its previous guests, but has one peculiarity--guests and employees have reported seeing a little boy playing around the halls, then disappearing from sight. The employees have affectionately named him, George. Now, some may view this as unsettling and others may view it as alluring, but according to the staff, apparently friendly George just engages in harmless mischief.

These are the sorrowful events that have become the supernatural story of 1837. Like many cotton planters, Henry Cobia owned slaves. During the 1830s, a male and female slave lived in a room on the third floor of the house along with their nine-year-old son. In 1843, due to financial difficulty, Cobia was forced to sell several of his slaves, which included the boy's parents. The next day, the little boy walked down to a dock on Charleston Bay and asked a man where his parents were taken. He was told that they had been transported to a ship that was currently docked in the middle of Charleston Harbor. Motivated by the hope that he might be reunited with his parents, the boy stole a rowboat and rowed in the direction of his parents' ship. All at once, the little boat capsized, and the boy drowned.

A concierge of the bed and breakfast states that George's mischief includes opening doors, rocking chairs and turning lights on and off. Most of the disturbances take the form of mattress shaking or the radio turns on in the middle of the night.

As described by the concierge and reported in an article by Dr. Alan Brown, a paranormal investigator, one of the funniest incidents at the 1837 Bed and Breakfast took place in May 2002: "We had a lady come down at breakfast, and she said, 'Did we have an earthquake last night?' And I said, 'I don't think so.' She said her bed was moving. I said, 'Was the chandelier moving too?' She said, 'No.' I said, 'Well, that's not an earthquake.' I didn't tell her about the ghost. Chances are that it was George acting up again. She asked me to call the earthquake people, and I did, and they said we didn't have an earthquake. She accused them of covering it up."

1837 Bed and Breakfast is the Charleston package made up of old southern charm with ghostly implications. It is located in a quiet area of the city, but not far from King Street and Charleston Place. According to most reviews, its staff is hospitable and attentive. It was awarded the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence in 2015 and highlighted on History and Travel Channel. New York Times called it "A perfect place to unwind."

126 Wentworth Street
Charleston, SC 29401
Phone: (843) 723-7166

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

One Man's Sold Dream Becomes Another Man's Great Gain--Wentworth Mansion

The Second Empire Style bricked behemoth, characterized by its mansard roof and dormers,
benevolently stands four stories above Charleston's intersecting streets of Wentworth and Smith. To get a complete photograph of the impressive mansion, I had to cross over to the other side of Wentworth and Smith where I took an angled shot for the best panorama. Beyond the mansion’s encircling black wrought iron enclosure, the beautifully landscaped grounds beckoned me to enter through its front gate. I accepted the enticement and stepped over the threshold into the present past.

Constructed by the finest artisans of the day, the nearly 24,000 square foot architectural treasure was completed just in time to have its infrastructure rocked and its constitution tested. In August of 1886, The Great Earthquake of Charleston struck with violent fury. While bricks rained down onto the streets of the Holy City, the magnificent Wentworth home of wealthy cotton merchant, Francis Silas Rodgers, emerged from the upheaval virtually unscathed. It is considered one of the finest homes in Charleston.

Francis Rodgers had a dream. Not the kind you conceive in your sleep and awaken from, but more along the lines of a concept. With a family of 13, Rodgers had envisioned that the mansion be used to live in by his children and their children. He employed architect Daniel G. Wayne to bring it to reality.

Rodgers spared no expense in the building of his lavish mansion. The exterior was covered in Philadelphia pressed brick and the windows and quoins were finished in stone. Interior features included inlaid floors, two grand matching chandeliers from Europe, marble mantles carved by sculptor Emile T. Viett, elaborate wooden staircases, a double parlor, Lewis Comfort Tiffany glass panels, and a rooftop cupola with panoramic views of the city. A bas-relief cornice above the dining room window depicts a cotton plant, representative of Rodgers' business.

The family flourished, but 34 years later his heirs sold it for $100,000 to the Scottish Rite Cathedral Association, who in 1940, sold it to the Atlantic Coast Life Insurance Company. The insurance company used it as their office headquarters until 1996, when Richard Widman had a dream of his own, purchased the unappreciated mansion, and changed its destiny.

Widman renovated the mansion with the noble resolve of preserving its famed historic features. Modern conveniences were added like gas-lit fireplaces, king-size sleigh beds, whirlpool tubs, and double glass-walled, walk-in showers, and air conditioning. After 18 months and 7 million dollars, the grand historic mansion opened as a 21-room, award- winning luxury hotel offering guests a true taste of Southern hospitality in an unsurpassed setting. Wentworth Mansion is a must-see for history buffs and a one-of-a-kind authentic Charleston experience where patrons are emerged into luxury living and good ole Southern hospitality at its best. The year was 1998 and this was only the first phase of Widman's plans.

In 2000, Widman converted the carriage house behind the home, which once housed the stables and carriages, into Circa 1886, today a AAA Four Diamond, Forbes Four Star award-winning restaurant. In 2004, the structure that was originally used as the stable for the Mansion was renovated to house the Spa at Wentworth Mansion. The 1,000 square foot spa offers patrons a full range of treatments.

Wentworth Mansion has been named the #1 Small, City Hotel in the U.S. 2015 in the 2015 Travel and Leisure World's Best Awards, #2 Best Hotel in Charleston of the Top 25 Best Hotels in the US in the 2015 Condé Nast Traveler Readers Choice Awards, and One of the Top 50 Hotels in the U.S. in the 2015 US News.

Amenities: Southern breakfast served from 7:30-10:30 a.m. at Circa 1886 restaurant; afternoon tea and lemonade from 2-4 p.m.; evening wine tasting and hors d’oeuvres from 5-6 p.m.

Specials and packages.

Average rates depending on room selection: August--$440-$595, January--$359-$800, April--$460-$610.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Kaminsky's Dessert Cafe In Charleston--The Go-To Place For A Happy Ending

Sitting at the beautifully laid-out table setting, sipping on a High Tea concocted with a balanced blend of Rum, Earl Grey infused sweet vermouth, rhubarb bitters, strawberries, and basil, the perfectly integrated "S" floating in my just delivered butternut squash bisque with a pecan crumble was a fitting reminder of our outstanding dining choice for the evening. For beyond the glass windows of its front entrance, out on busy East Bay Street, the establishments recognizable yellow overhead sign and blue awning unmistakably affirms the rationale behind the "S". We were dining at the highly celebrated eclectic Charleston restaurant named Slightly North Of Broad or quite simply and more fondly referred to as S.N.O.B..

Slightly North Of Broad is just one of a plethora of world class restaurants located throughout the Charleston peninsula, Upper and Lower. However, on this beautiful Charleston night, in the historic French Quarter, it was the clear choice by way of requests from three of our party of five who had not previously had the pleasure of dining at the S.N.O.B., and it did not disappoint.

The company was delightful, my drink cheerful and my soup tasteful. It was the perfect introduction to my selected entre--Local Grouper with Charleston Gold rice, bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, white miso, and toasted benne, which after its consumption, culminated into the major reason for this article--dessert. Without a doubt, the offerings on S.N.O.B.’s dessert menu would have been rich and succulent, but with no disrespect to S.N.O.B., we had other plans.

Just a short stroll from S.N.O.B. down East Bay Street to the Old City Market and about halfway up its adjoining North Market Street, you will arrive at the doorsteps of a dessert café that is adored by locals and sought after by visitors. Its name is Kaminsky’s and it has been a dessert institution in Charleston since 1992.

It was a late visit and North Market Street was alive with patrons. There was a bit of a wait, which was expected. We passed the time conversing with fellow expectant customers huddled around the cafe's steps, until we got the call. As we entered through its door, to the right, there was a glass case housing a selection of its signature desserts and beyond a dessert bar where a large chalkboard hung overhead with a list of the days special offerings. To the left, scattered about were a hodge-podge of tables and chairs for seating, which added to the cafe's endearing quirky vibe. With an interior of brick and wood, Kaminsky’s Old Charleston charm was underscored by a ceiling-high painted wall emblazoned with its name. Its people friendly atmosphere was as rich as its dessert collection.

Kaminsky’s desserts are prepared fresh each day with selections changing daily. It offers dozens of cakes and pies by the slice, as well as milkshakes, floats, ice cream and cobblers, with everything available a la mode. In addition to its vast array of specialty coffees, it also offers a full beer, wine and liquor selection featuring eleven of Kaminsky's highly sought Dessert Martinis--all for $8.00. On our visit, I chose one of the menu's "Kam Crew" favorites, the White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle--smooth. Others in our party chose Key Lime Pie and Kahlua Expresso. To peruse the complete list, go to Dessert Martinis.

Kaminsky's was a satisfying conclusion to a spectacular evening in Downtown Charleston. For some of us, it was a first-time visit. It is a great place to have a conversation and share a few laughs while spooning over a vast array of delicious and seductive desserts and sipping on a collection of imaginative dessert martinis unique to this one-of-a-kind café.

Kaminsky's Dessert Cafe
78 N Market St, Charleston, SC
(843) 853-8270

Monday - Wednesday: 1pm - 1am
Thursday : Noon - 1am
Friday - Saturday: Noon- 2am
Sunday: Noon - 1am

Sunday, June 5, 2016

"Oliver" Will Warmly Pick The Pockets Of Your Heart--Now Showing At the James F. Dean Theatre

First published as a serial from 1837 to 1839, Oliver Twist became Charles Dickens second novel in 1838. A story about an orphan named Oliver, the boy starts his life in a cruel workhouse where he is branded as a troublemaker after asking for more gruel and then sold into an apprenticeship with an undertaker. He escapes from there and travels to London and meets the Artful Dodger, a member of a gang of juvenile pickpockets led by the elderly criminal Fagin. As the story progresses, a bit of a "twist" is revealed--a turn in the plot that may have influenced Dickens in the naming of his main character.

Actually there are varying explanations for the name Oliver Twist. In the story, Mr. Bumble randomly picked the name Oliver for the orphaned child and used an alphabetical system to come up with Twist. Twist could also be a play on the words "all of a twist." However, Oliver and his name may have been based on a young workhouse boy Dickens knew while growing up named Peter Tolliver.

In 1960, the story was loosely turned into an English musical called Oliver with music and lyrics by Lionel Bart. It premiered in the West End of London and enjoyed a successful long run. In 1963, David Merrick brought Oliver to Broadway. Since, there have been numerous tours and revivals, and now has found its way to the humble stage of the James F. Dean Theatre.

The Flowertown Players successful and entertaining opening night production of Oliver was a coordinated group effort of 30 youngsters and adults nicely choreographed and musically orchestrated by director Jenney Aubrey and Company. With a Victorian London skyline painted across the upper portion of the stage for a backdrop, Kem Welch's realistically appointed set, constructed by Chrissy and Ernie Eliason, fostered the crucial atmosphere for this period piece based off of the inspirations and recollections of England's beloved writer of the 1800's.

As the story of Oliver's life and travels were paraded across the stage from the workhouse scene to the streets and establishments of Gothic London, the constantly changing scenes were managed with precision by Ashley-Ann Woods and Crew.

Aiding visually to the play, Nicole Harrison's cleverly designed costumes from the workhouse orphans to Mr. Brownlow are imaginative and fittingly portray the dress and styles of London's 1800's social hierarchy as Charles Dickens would have seen it.

The capable cast of performers infused Oliver with high energy and dedicated passion. It is unmistakably obvious each and everyone of them thoroughly enjoy doing the show and go all out to sell the plays song and dance routines.

Jonah Streff, in his first singing role with the Flowertown Players, is the epitome of Oliver. Meaning, if I were to picture in my mind what the real Oliver would have looked liked according to the imagines of Dickens, Jonah would be it, and of course, the costume greatly helped in this regard. He hit the right notes in his rendition of "Where is Love?", when Oliver was forced to sleep on a coffin and his collaboration with Sam Daniel, The Artful Dodger, in "Consider Yourself", when he is invited by the kindly pickpocket to come and live in Fagin's lair--definitely a play favorite and admirably executed by Sam Daniel.

Fagin (Bill Terranouk) is an elderly criminal who oversees the gang of young pickpockets. When Oliver is brought to him, he teaches the boy their ways. Cloaked in a tattered overcoat and haloed in a briny appearance, Bill Terranouk, in a crusty grumble, delivered his signature songs of the play "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two" and "Reviewing the Situation."

Some of the more unsavory characters Oliver interacts with include Mr. Bumble, the workhouse manager, played by Fred Maidment and Widow Corney, played by Kate Berrio, both heartless and greedy individuals. Fred and Kate are paired in one of the more humorous songs of the play, "I Shall Scream", where Kate showcased her expressive facial skills ranging from flirtatious to standoffish. Then, sold by Mr. Bumble, Oliver comes in contact with the equally unpleasant Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry (Charles Soderlund and Gretchen Gabriel). But the most odious of the characters is the brutal Bill Sykes (Jason Olson), introduced into the play by the song "My Name". He commits the worst of offenses, murder.

Not all the characters Oliver confronts are interested in what they can do to him rather than what they can do for him. Mr. Brownlow (Chad Estel), a victim of the young pickpockets, and Bet (Casey Dorman) ultimately seek Oliver's best interests. Mr. Brownlow is a key part of the twist in the story line.

Finally, there is the unfortunate Nancy, who also has a tender heart. Unfortunate because she loves Bill Sykes and tender because she ultimately seeks to do right by Oliver and makes the ultimate sacrifice. Nancy is played by Sarah Daniel, who is no stranger to the stage and is the lead singer in a local Summerville band. She partakes in two of the plays favorite songs--the lighthearted "Oom Pah Pah" and the highly emotional "As Long As He Needs Me." One, bringing out her playful side and the other, her passionate side--highlighted by powerful vocals.

Honorable mentions goes to Ben Soule for his portrayal of Charley Bates. Ben was a delight to watch and his enthusiasm was indisputable as was the entire group of young actors in the opening number of "Food Glorious Food."

Oliver is the Flowertown Players at their best. It will warmly pick the pockets of your heart and leave you repeating the orphan boy's opening words "Please, sir, I want some more."

Showing June 3-19. Purchase tickets for Oliver.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sleeping quarters
Crews quarters

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

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

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

Monday, April 25, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 18, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Director Julie Hammond and Friends