Sunday, May 21, 2017

Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)

Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) is an epic tale of emotional struggle, reconciling ones beliefs, and the torment (and triumph) of love. 

Told in three parts—with two intermissions—each is its own story within the protracted narrative, each story portraying struggles humankind has endured since the beginning of time. In this case, we're experiencing those struggles in the U.S. Civil War.

Now showing at Actor's Express through Sunday, June 11, Father Comes Home is by Pulitizer Prize winner, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, the first African-American woman to with the distinguished award in drama (for her 2001 play Topdog/Underdog). 


Father Comes Home from the Wars | Actor's Express | Photo: Christopher Bartelski
Father Comes Home from the Wars | Actor's Express | Photo: Christopher Bartelski

The lead character Hero, who later in the story changes his name to Ulysses, in Part 1 is undergoing a keenly painful struggle trying to decide between remaining with this wife, Penny, which could only be achieved by self-inflicted physical dismemberment, or going off to war with his master—who has promised him his freedom for his service in the war—meaning Hero would have to fight on the wrong side.

Evan Cleaver (Hero, Ulysses) is brilliant! I'd seen him perform at Actor's Express before and he was amazing then, but I think he's the stand out in this performance. You feel with him the emotion he's acting on stage—the wide array of emotion—as well as the internal struggle between what his heart is telling him and what he "thinks" is the right thing to do.

Brittany Inge (Penny) is equally as brilliant. Her strong presence and strong emotions are beyond evident...they reach right into the viewer's heart, taking them along for the ride. I'd also seen her before at Actor's Express, not so long ago. Her range is impressive and I look very much forward to seeing more of Ms. Inge.

Rob Cleveland (The Oldest Old Man) makes his Actor's Express debut in Father Comes Home and it's a performance to be remembered. He's the closest thing to a father that Hero has and he gives Hero fatherly advice, as emotionally challenging as it may be. Later, in Part 3 of the play, there's a highly charged father-son scene that rips your heart out.


Father Comes Home from the Wars | Actor's Express | Photo: Christopher Bartelski
Father Comes Home from the Wars | Actor's Express | Photo: Christopher Bartelski

In Part 2 we meet the Colonel (Bryan Davis, also in The Crucible), who is Hero's master. when he has captured a Union forces Captain. 

Colonel tortures his prized prisoner physically and emotionally. I think it's the Colonel questioning his own personal beliefs about slavery—owning another human being—and the painful conflict within him that deep down he knows he's not right. He struggles with the actions that have brought him wealth and a place in plantation society, but of instead of relinquishing beliefs I think he knows are wrong, he takes out his pain on Captain Smith (Richard McDonald).

Later in Part 2, Hero experiences freedom, but not of himself, nor of his internal pain and suffering. Albeit for a brief shining moment, Hero was a hero. He continues to struggle with what is right, as well as the promise of freedom for his service in the war. 


Father Comes Home from the Wars | Actor's Express | Photo: Christopher Bartelski
Father Comes Home from the Wars | Actor's Express | Photo: Christopher Bartelski

In Part 3, we learn of Homer's love for Penny. His love for her is deep and her decision of whether or not to go with him and a band of runaway slaves will seal his heart's fate. It's believed that Hero was a casualty of war when Penny then expresses her love for Homer.

Then the plot thickens... But I won't spoil the ending for you. 

Marcus Hopkins-Turner (Homer), who I'd only before seen in Memphis, is magnificent! His character is strong of will, despite having lost a foot. He's resolve in his love and desire for Penny. Homer was the character I was most most rooting for, but not because he was the underdog. Because he seems to have suffered most of all the characters and yet wields such strength and resolve.

It's also in Part 3 when we meet an unexpected character...Hero's dog. The part is wonderfully played by Jason-Jamal Ligon, but expect an internal "reset" from heavy to a bit more light-hearted. While there is humor scattered throughout this otherwise heavy play, "Dog" is delightfully playful, and is wearing quite the clever costume.

Actors Damian Lockhart (amazing!), Meagan Dilworth, and Seun Soyemi portray slaves and, later, other runaway slaves. They are each their own character, with distinct personalities, but their dialogue also serves as a "chorus" to the script, emphasizing certain points made throughout the performance.

Parks utilizes a mixture of Civil War era speak and contemporary slang and actions...I doubt you ever saw a 'fist bump' in the Civil War. They're used harmoniously, lightening the gravity of what is otherwise extremely heavy subject matter. Again, this is not a story about the Civil War, it's about human emotion, struggle and internal conflict resolution.

Each Part begins and ends with a song performed by the actors, with Part 3 having a little more mixed into its story. Otherwise, this is a quiet play, meaning there's no music during the acting parts. You're mind is accompanied only by the performance taking place before you, which allows for a wholly immersive experience.

Theses are only a few highlights. This play goes much deeper. It's an exploration of the battle many of us have experienced...the battle between circumstance and self. 

Next up is Little Shop of Horrors, opening July 15.

Then, Actor's Express launches its 30th season, and an exciting season it's going to be! May I recommend a season subscription, and do consider joining the $30k Club! Here's what we'll be seeing...

The Christians, by Lucas Hnath
September 16 - October 15, 2017

Cardboard Piano, by Hansol Jung
November 11 - December 3, 2017

Angels in America, by Tony Kushner
January 13 - February 11, 2018

The Harvey Milk Show, by Dan Pruitt (book, lyrics) and Patrich Hutchinson (music)
March 9-10, 2018

The Flower Room (world premiere), by Daryl Lisa Fazio
April 21 - May 13, 2018

TBA - Exciting Broadway Musical
June 16 - July 29, 2018

Go see Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) at Actor's Express by Sunday, June 11. Know going in that this is a three hour play, with two intermissions, then buy your tickets and go fully immerse yourself in this wholly remarkable exploration.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Georgia Renaissance Festival 2017

In my experience, every mention of "Renaissance Festival" is followed by three statements: (1) "Yum! Giant turkey legs!", (2) "They're jousting, right?", and (3) "Are you dressing up?"

The Georgia Renaissance Festival has all of that and so much more! And you can get in on the fun every weekend now through June 4, 2017.


Georgia Renaissance Festival 2017 | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Georgia Renaissance Festival 2017 | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

There is indeed jousting, as well as masterful feats of horse riding skills, and there are sword fights! All for the King and Queen of the tournament, and we common folk. This is the one time it's super fun to be common folk!

However, if you'd like to be seated under cover during the tournament, I recommend purchasing your VIP tickets as soon as you arrive. By time we went over to watch the tournament we were relegated to watching from a hillside. Don't' get me wrong. There are no bad seats, but the earlier you go, the closer you will be to the action! 


Georgia Renaissance Festival 2017 | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Georgia Renaissance Festival 2017 | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

My dear friend Nikki—my partner in the "By the Numbers" series—gave me four tickets to the RenFest that she and her husband had won at a local Trivia Night. I took my dear friends Patti (that's her above with a cosplaying festival-goer) and her husband Eric, and our new friend CodySuch a fun crew to hang with!

While at this festival, we made photos with the RenFest Queen; participated in an archery competition when Eric kicked our collective butts; feasted on giant smoked turkey legs; sampled a few beers; and got kissed by a pirate. Well, Patti did the latter.  


Georgia Renaissance Festival 2017 | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Georgia Renaissance Festival 2017 | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

There are lots of shows at the RenFest, but none make your sides hurt from laughing like the Washing Well Wenches! I want to assume that these two have been working together for years...their banter flows so naturally. That's where "natural" stops. 

The next thing you know, you have a guy running up the hill, into festival foot traffic, yelling something absurd at the top of his lungs. And another guy running up the same hill wearing underwear on the outside of his pants, also yelling absurdities. It was hilarious! Do not miss this show!!! Seriously. Do...not...miss...this...show!


Georgia Renaissance Festival 2017 | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Georgia Renaissance Festival 2017 | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

There are so many incredible performances, you may find yourself in the same situation as me...unable to pick a favorite! Then I think, why can't I have several? I can!!! So can you!

The Gypsy Geoff Fire Circus is AWESOME! We saw his show immediately following one of the jousting tournaments. 

And, something interesting happened.

The part of his routine when he invites kids to the stage to be part of the show started as typically as one would expect. In this case there were six kids on stage, super excited and a little bit nervous, listening intently to Geoff's instruction on how to balance a spinning plate on a long, skinny stick. We've all seen this, right?

Then, the kids go "off script"!

Without being instructed to, the first kid—who Geoff had passed a spinning plate to stick-to-stick—turns and passes it to the kid next to him—while Geoff was off getting another plate for the next kid. Geoff was going to give them each their own spinning plate, but the kids opted for a more challenging feat...to pass the same spinning plate to each kid on stage!

There were a couple of spills (we'll call them practice runs), but these kids were determined to make magic! They passed the same spinning plate from kid to kid to kid, all the way down to the smallest of them...in a single spectacle! They did it!!!

I think the above is my favorite photo from the day...that's Gypsy Geoff!


Georgia Renaissance Festival 2017 | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Georgia Renaissance Festival 2017 | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

You absolutely must see The Ded Bob Sho! What he's missing in flesh, he makes up for in banter that is oftentimes brilliant humor, oftentimes over-the-heads of some. If you're a worldly person or keep up with current affairs, you're going to appreciate your time with Ded Bob. Pay attention.


The stage is massive—and in keeping with the festival's theme, of course—and there is audience participation, as there is in many of the festival's awesome shows and performances. With that said, Ded Bob is special...don't miss him! 


Georgia Renaissance Festival 2017 | Travis and Cody
Georgia Renaissance Festival 2017 | Travis and Cody

Yes, yes I was busting a vein getting into that giant turkey leg...but, doesn't everyone?

All four of us had one. Well, most of one. We later saw one festival-goer who was carrying around—with great pride I assume—a turkey leg bone that had been rendered devoid of meat. It looked like it could have been plucked from Deb Bob himself, the bone was so clean!

There is lots more to eat and drink, too...a LOT more! They have snacks and meals, beer and wine and margaritas, and they have a wide range of make-your-mouth-water desserts! And it's all available throughout the festival grounds. If you leave hungry or thirsty, it's your own fault! Just sayin'. 


Georgia Renaissance Festival 2017 | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Georgia Renaissance Festival 2017 | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

I'd only been to one other Renaissance Festival, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Let me tell you...you can expect a festival done right! Did the festival designers engage archaeologists or sociologists who are experts in the Renaissance era? Probably not, but what they have done is perfect FUN! 

You will not find yourself sitting in a boring lecture learning European 1300-1500s history (I love history and read/watch it all the time!). You will discover a "rebirth" of what it means to relinquish being uptight, how to discard the drudgery of hectic work weeks, and how to shed the stench of stress. When you arrive, do yourself the great favor of relaxing into the fun. Go, have a great fun time!


Georgia Renaissance Festival 2017 | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Georgia Renaissance Festival 2017 | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

There are LOTS of animals at the festival, too! There's a falconry demonstration, the beautiful horses from the jousting tournament, camel rides, hawks, eagles, owls, and these two pirating lizards, to name just a few.


Georgia Renaissance Festival 2017 | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Georgia Renaissance Festival 2017 | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

I highly recommend a thorough review of the Georgia Renaissance Festival website, just so you know how much is going on so that you don't miss something that you really want to see. Like me, you may want to visit multiple times so that you can do absolutely everything! 

The festival is every Saturday and Sunday through June 4, 10:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Call me a festival geek, but I highly recommend planning a FULL day at the Georgia Renaissance Festival...there's so much to see and do, you're going to need a full day to see and do everything! Go, have fun!

[more RenFest photos]

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The King and Prince: Part 1 - The Sights

Welcome to St. Simons Island, part of The Golden Isles, home of St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island, and Historic Brunswick, all lining the 99 mile coast of Georgia. 

I was recently hosted by The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort for a luxurious four-day, three-night tour of the island, the food, and the resort. I'm going to share the experience with you in a three-part series, beginning with the sights and sightseeing on the island. Although we were guests of the resort, it was important to them that we experience some of what the island has to offer, which made the experience whole.

The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort | St. Simons Island | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort | St. Simons Island | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

There were 18 writers in our group, from all over the country. There were two from California, two from Las Vegas, and few from Florida, as well as many other places. A few of us were there from Atlanta, from which the resort is an easy drive for a long weekend or week-long stay.

The resort is splendid! And it's huge, which we discovered on one of our guided tours. But, I'll share more about the hotel and resort in Part 3 of this series. For now, to the sights...  


Live Oak Trees | St. Simons Island | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Live Oak Trees | St. Simons Island | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

One of the first-noticed characteristics of St. Simons Island is its canopy, which includes thousands of live oaks, the official State Tree of Georgia. Also, you'll notice that the structures on St. Simons Island are no taller than the canopy of their property—a law that keeps this charming town such a magical destination. Live oaks can live to be several hundred years or even 1,000 years old, so the charm they bring St. Simons Island will be around for generations to come!

In its early years, St. Simons Island was home to a thriving lumber business. Wood from the live oak is so dense, timbers from the island were used to construct the frigate U.S.S. Constitution—nicknamed "Old Ironsides". Commissioned in 1794, the ship was instrumental in the War of 1812—going 33-0 in battle—and is today on view to the public at Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. 

One of the more impressive showings of live oaks on St. Simons Island is the Avenue of the Oaks. The double-row of oaks were planted in 1827, when the property was Retreat Plantation. One hundred years later, in 1926, the property was purchased to create Sea Island Golf Club, which opened in 1928, and today is still beautifully adorned with live oaks.

Biking on St. Simons Island | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Biking on St. Simons Island | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

We had a packed agenda, but also had some personal time scheduled. We could enjoy the pool, walk the beach, enjoy a massage at The Royal Treatment Cottage (part of The King and Prince), do some work or even take a nap.  

One afternoon, we got to meet Lee and Andi of Ocean Motion Surf Shop (with a location one block from the resort) and Barry's Beach Service. They shared with us some of the awesome services they offer guests and others visiting the beach. To name a few, they offer bike rentals, guided kayak nature tours, sailboat rides and lessons, beach chair and umbrella rentals, and their super popular stand-up paddleboard rentals.

I was so tempted to go on a bike ride, perhaps over to East Beach, to explore some of the 21 miles of bike paths on the island, and will definitely plan on just that on my next visit!

TIDES! One extremely important piece of information a tourist will need during a visit to St. Simons Island it a tide table, or at the very least a heightened awareness of the drastic changes in tide levels. The tide variance on St. Simons Island can be 7 feet to considerably more in spring and fall, as well as periods of a full moon. Enjoy your time at the beach, just don't get caught on a sand bar because you missed the tide.


Fort Frederica | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Fort Frederica | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

I've visited a lot of forts over the years, but this visit was unique in that we had the opportunity to see Fort Frederica from our tour trolley and later by boat. 

It was here in 1742 that fate of the colony of Georgia was decided. The fight was a battle between Spanish and English forces. Following the Battle of Bloody Marsh (in which seven Spanish lives were lost), James Edward Oglethorpe (founder of Georgia and namesake for Oglethorpe University here in Atlanta) sent disinformation to the Spanish, via a freed prisoner, regarding arriving reinforcement numbers. 

Never again was Georgia disputed as being under English rule...not until the Revolutionary War.

[boat tour photos]


Christ Church | St. Simons Island | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Christ Church | St. Simons Island | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

St. Simons Island is such a relaxed place, you might not realize just how much history there is to discover here. One of our tour stops included a tour of Christ Church, Frederica.

The church's roots date back to around 1736 with Rev. Charles Wesley's ministry at Frederica. He served as Secretary for Indian Affairs and was Chaplin to General James Oglethorpe, founder of Georgia! 

Prior to the first church building being built in 1820, the congregation met under the canopy of majestic live oaks on the property. That church was destroyed during the U.S. Civil War, but it was rebuilt on the same site after the war, the very church we visited on our tour. 

A church volunteer shared some of the church's rich history with us, including some information about the stunning stained-glass windows throughout. Afterward, we toured the church grounds when we heard more fascinating church history. Some of the headstones in the church's cemetery date back to 1803! 

When I travel, my usual souvenir is a book about the place I'm visiting. Christ Church has a cookbook with hundreds of recipes—including "St. Simons Island Chicken", which I must try sometime soon!—and gorgeous photos of the church's stained-glass windows with a brief description of each and its dedication. 

[more church photos]

If golf is your thing—or even if you're a novice—be sure to take advantage of the King and Prince Golf Course, extensively restored and renovated less than 10 years ago. The course is not directly connected to the resort, but visitors can arrange transportation to the course through the hotel. I haven't played in a very long time, but was incredibly tempted! This is an award-winning, stunning course is sure to be a treat for every golfer.


Cap. Fendig | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Cap. Fendig | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

Our tour guide on many of our outings was the totally awesome Cap Fendig, a lifelong resident of St. Simons Island and a member of one of the oldest families on the island. His tours include the Lighthouse Trolley Tours, St. Simons Dolphin Tours (THAT was an awesome experience!), and private boat tours, to name a few of the offerings.

Cap Fendig is the expert you want when you're ready to explore St. Simons Island! He's informative, insightful and perhaps most importantly, he's funny!


Pier Market Village | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Pier Market Village | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

On one morning of our visit, we had breakfast in the Pier Village district, a popular destination for shopping, sightseeing and dining. We had a little free time after breakfast so I perused Pier Market Village (pictured above); walked the Pier where people were fishing, relaxing and socializing; and briefly popped into Neptune Park, an oceanfront public park with a playground, 18-hole miniature golf course, and a pool area! 

St. Simons Lighthouse | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
St. Simons Lighthouse | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

The one attraction I was most looking forward to visiting was the St. Simons Lighthouse, and climbing its 129 steps to the gallery—the balcony surrounding the lantern room—for the spectacular vistas of the Golden Isles.

The St. Simons Light was first lit in 1810! The original lighthouse was constructed of tabby and was octagon shaped. That one was destroyed during the U.S. Civil War. Lit in 1872, the "new" St. Simons Lighthouse continues to welcome ships into the port of Brunswick today.

Impressively, the original third-order Fresnel lens remains in the lighthouse today, still operational and visible to ships 23 miles at sea!

The St. Simons Lighthouse Museum is in the connected former Keeper's Dwelling, and a fine museum it is. The museum houses rare artifacts, historical photographs and interactive displays. There are also two cylindrical displays chronicling the history of each of the lighthouses to occupy the area, mere feet from each other at different times in history.

[more lighthouse photos


The Pier | St. Simons Island | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
The Pier | St. Simons Island | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

The Pier, at the front of Neptune Park, is bustling with activity! I don't know exactly when it was built, but I've seen photos of it dating to the 1940s. It's a popular destination for a daytime walk or an evening stroll after dinner.


Tree Spirit | St. Simons Island | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Tree Spirit | St. Simons Island | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

One of our excursions was to the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau, which houses a local art gallery, an artisan gift shop (where I purchased another book—Georgia's Lighthouses), a large-format professional photography exhibit, and, of course, brochures to any and everything one could want to see or do in St. Simons Island! 

It was there that we learned about Tree Spirits, and got to see up-close-and-personal the Mermaid Tree Spirit, carved into an area of the tree damaged by a lightening strike!
                                 
ED Hose shop | St. Simons Island | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
ED Hose shop | St. Simons Island | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

Although it may have seemed that I was jumping around a bit, there is rhyme and reason to the flow. It does not follow our itinerary chronologically. Instead, I mapped onto The Princess and the Crab, a book written by Grace Gore Sturdivant (the Sturdivant family owns The King and Prince Beach & Gold Resort) and beautifully illustrated by the incredibly talented ED Hose. (ED is a she, by the way.)

The above photo is ED Hose's amazing shop in Pier Market Village. We had a little extra time on one of our excursions and I happened upon the shop. A couple of days later, we were gifted a copy of The Princess and the Crab and I remembered the artist's name. The book is filled with places we visited, so, with excited inspiration, I mapped my writing of "Part 1 - The Sights" onto the story!

When you stay at The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort, I hope you'll visit some of or all of these wonderful destinations. There are considerably more than what I've noted here, but I have to leave something for you to discover, right?

A very special "Thank you!" to The King and Prince and to Leigh Cort Publicity (Leigh, you're AMAZING!). And a reminder to my readers that while this was a hosted trip, all opinions are my own. Safe travels!