Monday, September 26, 2016

The Importance Of Being Earnest--It All Unravels Right Here In The Lowcountry

The Importance of Being Ernest is a play written by Oscar Wilde in 1895. A trivial comedy written for serious people, its zany story line is a handbag packed with social escapists, secret personas, closet engagements, and lover’s entanglements with a mythical suitor. The whole whacky affair is now unfolding at the James F. Dean Theatre in Summerville with a bit of a twist--it all unravels right here in the Lowcountry--Charleston and Summerville to be specific.

The play opens in Charleston with Algernon Moncrieff (Erik Brower) receiving his best friend (Jacob Sunding) whom he knows as Ernest with last name Worthing. Ernest has come from Summerville to propose to Algernon's cousin, Gwendolen Fairfax (Minna Schubert), daughter of the formidable Lady Bracknell (Susie Hallatt). Algernon, however, refuses his consent to the engagement until Ernest explains why his cigarette case bears the inscription referring to him as Uncle Jack.

Ernest is forced to admit to living a double life. In Summerville, he portrays a respectable lifestyle for the benefit of his young ward, Cecily Cardew (Megan Fife-Malasky), and goes by the name of John also nicknamed Jack, at the same time pretending to be concerned about a brother living in Charleston named Ernest who indulges in wicked ways. On his visits to Charleston, John assumes the identity of the made-up philandering Ernest. Algernon confesses a similar deception. He pretends to have an invalid friend named Bunbury in the country, whom he can visit whenever he wishes to avoid unwelcome social obligations.

John refuses to tell Algernon the location of his country estate, but after proposing to Gwendolen as Ernest and unsuccessfully acquiring consent from Lady Bracknell after revealing he was adopted by an old man who discovered him as a baby in a handbag at a train station, Algernon overhears him giving his country address to Gwendolen. Next, Algernon makes a surprise visit to John's Summerville estate pretending to be his brother, Ernest Worthing and meets Cecily. Long fascinated by Uncle Jack's until now never before seen black sheep brother, she can't help but to fall in love with Algernon, who is pretending to be Ernest. Pretty wild stuff so far, but the best is yet to come.

Gwendolen soon arrives to see her fiancé, so named Ernest, meets Cecily, and bordering on a potential catfight, the genteel blue gloves come off as the two of them spar over their one and only Ernest. Exquisitely portrayed by Megan and Minna, the encounter generates one of the more exceptional and endearing acting moments of the play.

As usual, Chrissy Eliason and Company crafted a brilliant, and I emphasize brilliant, set for Earnest. The predominantly white theme of the proscenium evoked a sense of purity and respectability, but as with Earnest, the obvious is the ambiguous. From the perspective of the audience, the props and costumes stood out like a hologram against the stage's white backdrop and subtle pastel lighting.

Director Joseph Demerly did an excellent job at casting the character of the actor with the character of the script. Without a doubt, if I were to look at a photograph of the cast in full dress, I would have been able to match the body to the name. Likewise, the chosen actors did an excellent job bringing their character to life.

Susie Hallatt as Lady Bracknell is snobbish, domineering, and as presumptuous as her brown patterned dress, Minna Schubert as Gwendolen graced the stage with an air of southern sophistication and pretentiousness, and Megan Fife-Malasky as Cecily was naive and unspoiled as a pink rose. Jacob Sunding as John a.k.a. Ernest was spot on with his character's gentleman-like southern swag with an accent to match and Erik Brower was as witty and confrontational as his character Algernon, who is given to making pronouncements that either make no sense at all or touch on something profound.

Robert Venne (Butler Merriman) and Jason Pallay (Butler Lane) serve up some goodies and Deb Abbey as the rigid Miss Prism carries some of her own baggage and has romantic feelings for Reverend Canon Chausable played by David Hallatt.

The Importance of Being Earnest is Oscar Wilde’s social version of Bud Abbott's and Lou Costello's "Who's on first, what's on second, and I don't know is on third." You need to pay close attention to the dialogue throughout or you may miss a key piece of revelation that will later leave you scratching your head and trying to catch up. It is profoundly interesting, entertainingly trivial, and seriously humorous.

Now showing September 23rd to October 2nd.

Purchase your ticket for The Importance of Being Earnest.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Boone Hall Plantation And The Taste Of Charleston 2016--The Old, The New, And A Ghost Story Too

Lining both sides of the earthen driveway, the procession of evenly spaced ancient oaks stretched for a distance of three quarters of a mile. Their broad branches extended skyward like outstretched welcoming arms intertwining into a embracing green canopy high above where light beams from the sun cut through the open areas of the tree's thick leaf clusters. A charming and unforgettable southern reception for visitors entering the resplendent Boone Hall Plantation. NBC Daytime television called it "a must see stop on any trip to Charleston, S.C."

There is no official documentation pointing to when the famous trees were planted. Boone Hall's web page states the son of Major John Boone planted the live oak trees in 1743. Other research seems to indicate that the Horlbeck’s planted the avenue a hundred years later in 1843. There is only one sure way to settle the controversy. It would involve cutting down one of the trees to count its rings, but such an action would constitute desecrating a symbol of long standing southern heritage and spoiling an idyllic narrative.

Boone Hall’s beginnings go way back in American antiquity. Theophilus Patey was granted 470 acres on Wampacheeoone Creek (Boone Hall Creek) in 1681, who at some point in time gave 400 acres of the land to his daughter, Elizabeth Patey, and John Boone as a wedding gift. It is not known when John Boone built a house on the property, but at his death, he left third of his estate to his wife and the rest to his children, Thomas, Theophilus, Susanna, Sarah, and Mary.

Thomas, at some point in time before 1749, took over Boone Hall. He is credited with planting the two evenly spaced rows of live oaks in 1743 according to the narrative of Boone Hall. If true, the Avenue of Oaks is at least 273 years old. In 1749, at his death, he willed the plantation to his son, John Boone. He left the plantation to his nephew, whose name was also John, and in turn, in 1792, John the nephew left it to his wife Sarah Gibbes Boone and his children, Thomas, Susan, and Maria.

The working plantation left the Boone family when Sarah Gibbes Boone sold it to Thomas A. Vardell for $12,000 in 1811. By then, it had expanded to 1,452 acres and included buildings on the property. It changed hands a couple more times before Henry and John Horlbeck took possession of the plantation, which now included a brickyard. The other component of the controversy, the Horlbeck family is credited with planting the Avenue of Oaks in 1843, according to the opposing research. The brickyard was producing 4,000,000 bricks per year and at some point during their ownership, pecan trees were planted on the property. By the late 1800s Boone Hall was one of the leading producers of pecans in the United States.

In 1935, Thomas Archibald Stone and his wife, Alexandra, purchased Boone Hall Plantation from John S. Horlbeck consisting of 4,039.5 acres. The Stone's demolished the 1790 wooden house. It was a two-story frame house with a one-story front porch. In its place, they built the much grander Colonial Revival-style house that stands there today and presently owned by the McRae family. Along with the house there are nine of the original slave cabins which date back to 1790-1810, a smokehouse dating from 1750, and a Cotton Gin house dating around 1853.

Boone Hall is one of America's oldest working, living plantations producing strawberries, tomatoes, and pumpkins, as well as many other fruits and vegetables. It also is host to some of Charleston's most popular festivals held throughout the year: Lowcountry Oyster Festival, Lowcountry Strawberry Festival, Scottish Games and Highland Gathering, and of course, the Taste of Charleston, which this year takes place on Sunday, Sept.25, 2016.

The Taste of Charleston is a 3-day event showcasing taste-tempting delights served by 40 of the Lowcountry’s favorite casual and fine dining restaurants. Highlights of the Main Event include a specialty and imported beer tasting tent, live music, the legendary "Waiters’ Race" and the "Kid's Kitchen Sideshow." Food and drink tickets are sold separately.

There is a famous story associated with the long history of Boone Hall. It is called "The Thirteenth Step." Its telling raises the specter of another controversy. This one having to do with the house. Not the present house because the story takes place in the 1700's and the present house was built in 1935. The only other house mentioned in known historical records of the plantation is the house that was demolished to make way for the present house. This is where the controversy arises. This house was only a two-story house with a one-story front porch. Looking at the photo taken of the house, it only has a short flight of stairs leading onto the porch. In the story, there is a reference to a thirteenth step, the premise on which the story is based. The thirteenth step of what?

Boone Hall.PNG
Photo by Leonard Hayes 1899
Ammie Jenkins is the main character of this story that takes place in the 1700's. It is not stated whether Ammie was born on the plantation. It only states she grew up on the plantation. During those years, she formed a friendship with an Indian boy named Concha, and the two of them spent time together doing the things friends do. She grew to be a beautiful young lady. On her 18th birthday, Concha surprised her with a stunning revelation. He told her he loved her and wanted to be with her. Ammie did not share the same feelings and brushed him off. Concha was broken hearted.

Due to her beauty, she caught the eye of other suitors and in short time, fell in love with one them. In time, the admirer proposed to her and she accepted. Concha heard of the proposal and disappeared. On the night before her wedding, she was standing in her upstairs bedroom before an open window when an arrow struck her in the chest from the outside.

Despite being fatally wounded and with every bit of strength she could muster, she managed to make her way downstairs to the front door where her fiancĂ© was waiting for her. She collapsed into his arms and died, right there on the porch's 13th step. There was no doubt in people’s minds as to who was responsible for firing the arrow that ended young Ammie’s life and the reason. Concha was never seen or found.

As the story became legend, it related how the blood stain left on the 13th step could not be removed, no matter how much scrubbing was attempted to remove it. As time passed, the blood stain on the 13th step was eventually removed, but people since have claimed to have seen it clear as the day it was made, only to disappear upon looking a second time. A ghostly figure, likely Ammie, is said to have been seen sitting on the step staring down to where the blood stain was left, only to fade into nothing whenever someone got to close.

Even though known records don't state it, by this story, one would have to conclude another house existed on Boone Hall before the two-story house was built. A house constructed with at least thirteen steps leading onto the porch and the front entrance. Either John Boone or his son, Thomas, would have been the likely builders and no doubt styled in the grand tradition of plantation homes of its time.

Sadly, that original house has faded away with the passing of time, but the unforgettable Avenue of Oaks remains along with other historical features, which makes Boone Hall a must-see. And, what would a respectable southern plantation be without a good ghost story? It would be like Charleston without carriage rides.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Charleston Architectural Relic Of Great Importance Rises Above Its Surrounding Landscape

While driving along Washington Street between Laurens and Pritchard, your attention is promptly drawn to an eye-catching brick formation hauntingly rising above the concrete landscape of the Union Pier Terminal. I have from time to time on outings along this section of the Charleston waterfront seen the curious structure. In those previous encounters, I have with a passing interest pondered about its existence and fostered a temptation to photograph it, but since it was not my primary focus at that moment, its reality would drift from my speculations and consciousness. This day, it would be more than just a fleeting fancy.

I was in Charleston for the afternoon visiting the Coast Guard tallship, Eagle. The 295-foot training vessel was in port for the weekend and moored at the Union Pier Terminal. I came in on Calhoun Street and parked my truck along the heavily bush-covered security fence of the Union Pier Terminal on Laurens Street and walked through the Concord Street gate to the pier and awaiting ship. After touring and photographing the magnificent ship and on my way to leave the pier, an unanticipated opportunity with a bizarre twist presented itself.

For on the horizon and within walking distance, there stood the infamous brick oddity of prior fleeting contemplation. I excitedly navigated the numerous cement barriers that blocked my approach. From the backside, it was a three story, singular wall heavily supported by a maze of steel girders. On its frontside, its true character was revealed. I raised my camera to take my first picture, when suddenly I heard someone shout, "Sir. Sir. You cannot take a picture." I turned around and walking towards me was a husky gentleman dressed in a guards uniform. I responded in disbelief, "What? Are you serious?" He repeated, "Sir, you cannot take a picture," and added, "You are not even supposed to be in here. This is a secure area." Again, I expressed my disappointment in that revelation and asked, "Is this some kind of protected city icon?" He informed me of the possibility of being arrested. I explained to him where I came from and it seemed to appease him. He proceeded to direct me to a sign that was posted at the front guard gate warning no photographs were permitted of the facility.

I returned to the Concord Street gate and exited. Not to be deterred from getting a picture, I did warily sneak a photograph of the brick structure while standing on Washington Street, all-the-while worrying whether I would be swarmed by a bunch of policeman mistaking me for a possible infiltrator scoping out a secure facility.

The brick oddity is actually the remnants of a building facade belonging to the one-time Bennett Rice Mill. It is considered to be one of the finest examples of 19th century American industrial architecture. In its 171 years, it has changed ownership several times and survived an equal amount of natural catastrophes, but the most dire threat hanging over its continued existence is the wrecking ball.

The Bennett Rice Mill was built in 1844 by Governor Thomas Bennett, who was one of the wealthiest of the Lowcountry plantation owners and a gentleman architect. The Classic Revival building, with Palladian windows and brick columns with stone caps and lintels, was impressive. It had 11 foot ceilings, hand-dressed wood timbers, cased wooden columns and arches and cast iron interior columns. Interior wrought iron railings were used around the different platforms. The smallest of six Charleston mills, it was located in an industrial area that was served by rail, ships and a mill pond. The schooners brought in the rice, which was then loaded onto tramways and brought over to the steam-powered mill.

Around 1940
The Civil War changed the Southern economy and rice production declined, but the mill continued to operate into the early 1900's. In 1924, it was converted into a peanut plant under the ownership of the Planters Peanut and Chocolate Company and later used as a storage facility by its next owners, Seaboard Air Line Railroad Company. A tornado blew off its roof in 1938, so the new owners decided to demolish it, but concerned citizens of Charleston protested. In 1952, the city of Charleston declared it unsafe and the wrecking ball reared its ugly head. Some heavy hitters became involved in the protests, such as the American Institute of Architects in New York. The mill, rated as one of twenty-six nationally important buildings in Charleston, survived, but not unscathed. One of its wing buildings was demolished. In 1958, the State Ports Authority took ownership with plans of restoring the structure, but that same year the City ordered its destruction again. Preservationists stepped in and won their argument with the City to have it designated an architectural relic of great importance. Then, in 1960, Hurricane Donna struck a near fatal blow. The storm spawned a tornado and the building crumpled in the intense winds leaving only the brick facade we see today. The steel girders were added for reinforcement and in 1987, it weathered the fury of Hurricane Hugo.

The Bennett Rice Mill facade's future still remains uncertain. The SPA is committed to its restoration, but legal challenges have prevented the port from completing its phase one plans. After all this architectural relic of great importance has endured, it would be a crying shame if while the powers that be argue over legalities a hurricane or an earthquake should take down this surviving time portal to Charleston's glorious past.

Next time you are driving down Washington Street near the Union Pier Terminal, look towards the waterfront. The Bennett Rice Mill facade rises above the surrounding landscape like a solitary island in the open ocean. In a way, it reminds me of the famous Arch of Triumph in Paris, France. If you dare, stop and take a picture because now you see it.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

A Charleston Bed And Breakfast Where You Can Smell The History--Govenor's House Inn

In this part of Charleston, you can smell the history as distinctly as the city's Confederate Jasmine. Its distinguished aroma trickles down through the dense overhead canopy of green leaves that dangle from the entangled branches of the areas antiquated oaks and permeates the wood, brick, and iron of the elegant estates and charming residences lining the old streets. Its odor is as overpowering as the yellowish liquid sometimes left on the concrete surfaces by the numerous horse drawn carriages that frequently pass by. This part of Charleston is the highly traveled and visited neighborhoods of the downtown quarter slightly south of Broad Street.

The various bed and breakfasts located throughout the Lower Peninsula of Charleston offer the discerning traveler an opportunity to bath their imaginations in the soul of Charleston's enchanting history. One place you may want to consider to do that is the Govenor's House Inn. It dates back to the colonial years of the 1700's when the Holy city was called Charles Towne and has a connection to a well-known Charleston family.

While staying at the Govenor's House Inn, some of the history you will smell is the fragrance of oranges. Built in 1760 by James Laurens, the traditional Georgian double house occupies a parcel of land that was at one time called the Orange Garden--a public garden used for concerts and other events in the late 1600's and early to mid-1700's, which--and this should be no surprise--also believed to have contained an orange grove.

Looking at the house from Broad Street, you will notice it is extremely symmetrical, which was a typical attribute of that style. Inside, there is a center stairway with large rooms on both sides, another characteristic of that design. During an extensive renovation in 1885 by then owner, Captain Wagener, a Victorian spiral staircase was added. Original interior features include heart of pine floors, fireplaces, triple-hung windows, and solid slate fireplaces located in the formal living and dining rooms. A portrait of Edward Rutledge hangs in the foyer.

Rutledge leased the home from James Laurens in 1776, the same year he signed the Declaration of Independence at the age of 27, and eventually purchased it in 1788. A copy of the Declaration of Independence hangs in the foyer with his portrait. He was married to Henrietta, a Charlestonian woman from the prominent Middleton’s.

The Govenor's House Inn is formidable in its length and breadth. On the first and second floor exterior, a spacious veranda porch runs the full length of the house on one side and wraps around to the back. A great space to catch a refreshing breeze, read a book, drink a glass of wine or just watch the comings and goings of eclectic Broad Street with the periodic horse drawn carriage passing by. Your own piece of relaxation on your visit to Charleston.

There are seven suites in the main house; two are on the terrace level, two suites in the Kitchen House, and all are elegantly appointed. Six have their own attached private porches and two have exterior entrances. There is no elevator service to the third floor where two suites are located. It offers breakfast and afternoon tea, wine and cheese. It is one of the only properties in downtown Charleston to offer complimentary onsite parking. Depending on the time of year, prices range from $236 to $360 winter and $408 to $508 summer. Check out the full list of amenities, special packages, and things to do.

The John Rutledge House Inn is across the street from the Govenor's House Inn. If you are looking for a pet friendly accommodation, it could be a consideration.