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.