Photo by Lauren D. Rogers
The cast of Love’s Labour’s Lost at Blackfriars Playhouse
My husband and I recently headed west for a much-needed weekend getaway combining some of our favorite activities: outdoor recreation, fine dining and the arts. Our destination was Staunton, less than a two-hour drive over the Blue Ridge Mountains from Richmond. On our way, we detoured through the Shenandoah National Park for a brisk hike. We arrived in Staunton with plenty of time to explore this quaint small town that has experienced a resurgence and reinvention since the opening in 2001 of the Blackfriars Playhouse at the American Shakespeare Center, the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theater.
Photo courtesy of Stonewall Jackson Hotel
To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
We spent the night at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel & Conference Center (24 S. Market St.), conveniently located downtown and next door to the American Shakespeare Center. Staunton is a walkable town, and it was a huge bonus to park the car and explore it on foot. The 124-room hotel was built in 1924 and was remodeled in 2005. Expect traditional Virginia décor and furnishings and plenty of Southern hospitality. Our room was in the historic part of the hotel, and while small, was clean and comfortable with a spacious bathroom. The hotel’s Shakespeare package ($185 to $262) includes one night’s accommodations, a generous breakfast buffet for two, parking and two tickets to a show of your choice.
The Play’s the Thing
Visiting the Blackfriars Playhouse (10 Market St.), for a production of Cyrano de Bergerac was the main focus of our trip. The theater performs a rotating repertory of three to five productions each season, with two or three different plays daily. While the theater focuses on Shakespeare’s work, it also performs the work of other playwrights, all following the basic principles of Renaissance theater production: universal lighting (which helps to break down the “fourth wall” between audience and performer), minimal sets, lavish costumes and live music.
The theater itself is beautiful, and though the seats (wooden benches with back rests) can get a bit uncomfortable, the resident troupe is top-notch. We missed our opportunity, but the theater offers daily one-hour tours of the theater for $7. This winter, the troupe will perform The Taming of the Shrew, The White Devil and The Rover.
The World’s Mine Oyster
We grabbed a light lunch and mid-day Bloody Mary at Byers Street Bistro (18 Byers St.), located in a historic warehouse. Our grilled salmon salad and chicken tostada salad were just the sustenance we needed for a few hours of window shopping and gallery hopping while allowing us to save room — and calories — for dinner.
The Shack (105 S. Coalter St.) has become a hot dining destination in the short year that it’s been open. Southern Living declared this unassuming, and aptly named, eatery to be one of “The South’s Best New Restaurants,” and chef Ian Boden, a 2013 James Beard Award nominee, was recently named a D.C.-area rising star by StarChefs.com. The prix fixe menu ($45 for three courses, $55 for four) changes daily with seasonal — and inspired — local fare. Standouts included the Wagyu oyster steak with root vegetable gratin, and young turnips and a cinnamon-chocolate pot de crème with the most sublime orange sugar cookies. My husband raved that “you can taste the orange before it hits your tongue” and learned from a young sous chef that he had baked them from his grandmother’s recipe. It’s wise to make a reservation, since there is only seating for 26 at communal tables.
Although the Last, Not Least
Staunton boasts a number of antiques shops, art galleries, bookstores and other independent retailers. Our favorites include Made: By the People, for the People (15 E. Beverly St.), a modern-day general store featuring American-made clothing (think flannel shirts and organic cotton separates), tongue-in-cheek gifts and handmade goods.
Sunspots Studios (202 S. Lewis St.) is a glass-blowing studio and gallery. Visitors can watch demonstrations, and even learn to blow their own ornament ($40 to $45) during daily walk-in workshops.