Happy New Year! The Hat has emerged from the holly-daze. Here are some bits and pieces of people, places and things notable and noted.
• The Valentine Community Conversations, Fifth Series, began Tuesday night with a presentation on the Highland Park neighborhood. Upward of 50 people came out on a chilled evening, all interested in learning about this North Richmond community, now more than a century old. On Saturday, there's a guided bus tour of the community.
I spoke a bit, elaborating on the Flashback article linked above. I added in a couple of paragraphs that were cut due to space. The June 28, 1914, approval by a special court of Richmond annexing 14 square miles of Henrico and Chesterfield counties came amid debates about, well. Read on.
“Civic boosters assured the city of bringing to town the International League’s Baltimore Orioles baseball team. They’d play in an improved Broad Street Park (later where Broad Street Station, now the Science Museum, is located).
Alvin M. Smith, president of the Business Men's Club, expected consummation of the baseball deal within days. "It will be a big thing for Richmond," he said, "and just now, when we have been so vastly encouraged by bringing the regional bank here, having Richmond as a Federal Reserve city and by the results of annexation proceedings, the people are in a mood to go a little farther and have better baseball."
I asked the assembly if any of this sounded familiar. That drew a weary chuckle.
By The Way: The minor league Orioles came to Richmond, but without one of its star players, Babe Ruth, who’d already been sold to the Boston Red Sox. The financially troubled Orioles became the Richmond Climbers and later the Virginians, but that’s another story.
I hastened from the Valentine to Black Iris, for a multisensory experience of our own Nelly Kate and the combination of New York City-based filmmaker/musician Todd Chandler and singer-songwriter Mirah.
Black Iris is one of those places that have sprung up in town, and especially along Broad Street, as a result of the general emergence along that corridor as an arts and culture center. During my amble from the Valentine, I was again pleasantly reminded of how Richmond’s downtown has changed; more people on the streets, joggers, dog walkers, restaurant-goers, on blocks where, five years ago, you saw almost nobody.
I passed by Virginia Repertory Theatre, where Mame is still on stage and I’m way overdue in mentioning this production set to close on Sunday, though I interviewed Emily Skinner, who possesses one of the greatest laughs I’ve ever heard. The native Richmonder had me from the moment she appears on the set’s stairs with her bugle. She’s supported by a grand cast of Richmond theater, and these are the shows that make you understand that they are wild agglomerations of ball lightning and clouds of songbirds that happen to have somehow taken on human form.
Smith takes on this musical monument with aplomb and sensitivity. One line stands out even now, weeks after I saw the show, and it’s practically a throwaway. Dwight Babcock (the always reliable Andrew Boothby) has come to Mame’s swanky Art Deco apartment to look after his charge, young Patrick (Brandon McKinney – a gifted young performer who isn’t cute for cuteness). To Babcock’s surprise, the kid mixes him a martini while standing on a box behind the bar. When Babock admonishes Mame for exposing the youngster to such behavior, she replies, “But Mr. Ba-bcock, knowledge is power.” I think about this line when negotiating craft beer lists. Another great moment comes when Mame gets a role in a show featuring her Broadway friend, Vera (the incomparable Desirée Roots-Centeio), and the two get tangled, hooked together I think by jewelry, and they sing this way, and I wondered if director Patti D’Beck was sending us a reminder of how Smith was nominated, with Alice Ripley, for a Tony for playing one half of Siamese twins in the musical Sideshow. Anyway, afterward, I wondered why I didn’t have an Auntie Mame, or, wished I could’ve been an Uncle Mame. Or something like that.
Black Iris is a recording studio. It occupies what was once the Sound of Music, which suffered a displacing fire and is now around the corner on Foushee. But with the curatorial energy of Benjamin Thorp, it’s become a venue for unexpected and art and music presentations.
Nelly Kate gave a synesthetic performance: her dreamy lyrics and instrumentals caused images behind her to comport themselves to the rhythms.
Todd Chandler’s short films mediated up close on events that made us see them differently. A gigantic Carnival Cruise liner sailing out of New Orleans resembled both a space ship and that boat carrying Marlow into the heart of darkness. The activity of a junkyard’s machinery – a metal cruncher crane resembled the beak of an eagle or hawk and even seemed to rest once it ate — was juxtaposed with another film of a whale carcass pummeled by Florida ocean currents and nibbled on by birds. He played the soundtracks.
Then Chandler accompanied Mirah on a few of her twisty turny songs, that reminded me of Neko Case – and she did a Lorde cover at the end. But her clear, wonderful voice filled the space, alternating between sultry and poetic, filled by the standing audience that listened respectfully. And Mirah seemed impressed by the crowd. They leave New York to do concerts down South — “And somehow we never thought to play Richmond!” Now she knows.