Friday, July 18, 2008

Is this the Transylvania Station?

With the conspicuous, and slightly disturbing, lack of Happy Dancing around here, I took off to visit the pater in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

It should be easier to get from DC to Asheville, NC. It's barely a seven hour drive, at top speeds and stops only for urination, but usually, I fly. Of course, with all the hassles of airports and such, travel by air ends up to be a bigger time commitment.

One cannot fly directly to Asheville from DC. My flight stopped first in Detroit. And not by mistake. I've been in countless airports over the years, but two things made this particular hub special. It is the first domestic airport I've encountered in which the P.A. announcements were in Japanese. (Detroit is a hub for Northwest Airlines, so I suppose this is a holdover from the days when they were called Northwest Orient?) Secondly, the terminals of this airport are connected by a long underground tunnel which is provocatively lit with shifting pastel colors, and furnished with New Age style musical rumblings.

I guess it's supposed to trick passengers into forgetting that they are in an airport, and they are largely successful. The tunnel encourages travelers to stand and gawk, which annoys people like me who, you know, have a plane to catch.

The Asheville airport is "just up the road a piece" (as we say in the South) from the town of Brevard, in which my father lives. I always get a kick out of the sign which greets visitors as they pass from Asheville into Brevard.

It says "Welcome to Transylvania."

Brevard is located in Transylvania county, and couldn't be more unlike Dracula's hometown. Bram Stoker would be bored to death.

I quickly changed clothes at Dad's, and borrowed his Mercedes (puff, puff) to head back into Asheville.

I had secured an audition for a small theatre group there, an organization which has been making some noise on the Asheville arts scene for several years (yes, there is actually an Asheville arts scene). The North Carolina Stage Company, located in a black box under a strip of retail stores, serves up an interesting mix of plays which seem to fit into the bohemian atmosphere of downtown Asheville.

I believe the audition went well, though one never knows, do one? I read for a role in their season, and the managing director who was running the audition asked me to stay and read an additional scene, so that's usually a good sign. Unless they were just bored and were getting their kicks by putting actors on the spot. But we had a nice chat, so perhaps something down the road will happen for me there. Let's keep that glass half full!

The rest of the trip was spent relaxing at my father's digs, which include a highly landscaped backyard complete with bird feeders, statuary, and a running waterfall. I'm not usually impressed with landscape work; from me it elicits a shrug of "hm. That's nice." But this particular waterfall made the most relaxing noise as it splashed its way downhill, and was the perfect accompaniment to lounging, dining, and napping on the porch above. It almost drowned out the drone of the neighbor's air conditioner next door...this is the suburbs, after all.

I was able to catch a local Theatre Dropping Friday night, a production of I Hate Hamlet at the Asheville Community Theatre. This organization has been around for decades, and has oodles of money, enough to afford their own large theatre, seating many hundreds. I've noticed that community theatres seem to be better supported, funds-wise, than many a professional non-profit, or maybe it just looks that way because nobody gets paid, so there's all this extra money with which to build swanky spaces. Well, I shouldn't say nobody gets paid; this group has a full-time staff. I mean no actor gets paid, the talent onstage always being the last group in any organization to be compensated for their efforts.

The show, unfortunately, reinforced prevailing wisdom regarding community theatre. Lots of mugging by untrained actors who either shouted or mumbled at each other, and truly atrocious direction which allowed silly walks, half-baked accents, and all-around lousy pace. And really, that costumer did the large woman no favors by putting her in pink pants...

As for the show itself, it's a lightweight piece which I had coincidentally seen in its original Broadway production, about which I have already written. But in the right hands, the play could have a bit of depth, and the kid playing the young leading man was quite nice. Unfortunately, he was sabotaged at every turn by every actor surrounding him, and ultimately sank.

I felt for him. I know a little something about doing good work in a show, but it being completely unrecognized due to the failings of the actor playing opposite.

I returned home Saturday, enduring a day-long ordeal in various airplanes, airports, and baggage claim carousels. I stand behind my very rational disgust for the strangers with whom I am forced to travel. Without fail, they are loud, rude, fat, and smelly. And if they've got a baby, it's crying.

But I was very glad to get to spend a bit of time with my father. Each morning I joined him on what he calls his "march," which is his daily workout routine: a brisk walk through his neighborhood, including a couple of really hellish hills which get the cardio going, but also including picturesque views of tree-covered mountains, mossy trails, and the neighborhood community garden.

He's living a good life these days, and for that, I am thankful.