We had a beautiful spring weekend to enjoy the arts in downtown Seattle. We saw three different plays. One made us laugh and cry; one made us laugh; and one made us think about creativity and art. We ate great food, drank excellent wine, laughed our way through a growing to-do list, and ended our weekend stay with an argument with a cabbie. What an adventure.
We left Tacoma in time to beat rush hour traffic. We had to cancel a visit to a granddaughter's program, however. That broke our hearts, but we checked into our hotel (Renaissance Madison) in time to unpack and relax a little bit. Although the Renaissance is a Marriott hotel, it is from what we have experienced from their hotels in Tacoma and Puyallup. We parked our car for the weekend and took a taxi to the base of the Space Needle and admired the Dale Chihuly artwork (Seattle Glass Garden) nearby.
We walked over to the Food Court and were surprised to find renovation and restaurant removal going on. In the past we have dined from a wide selection at the Food Court when seeing productions at the Seattle Center. This time, other than Starbuck's and Seattle Fudge, our choices were limited to sandwiches, kabob stuff, and burgers. Peg had a gyro, while I had a Bacon and Blue Cheese Burger. We shared onion rings and a spanokapita. We searched for a garbage can to clean up our mess and then took the no-longer Bubblator downstairs to the Center House Theatre for the latest Book-It Repertory Theatre production of Racing in the Rain. The play was adapted by Myra Platt from the New York Times' Best Seller written by Seattle author Garth Stein.
Racing in the Rain is the story of an aspiring formula one driver and his dog, Enzo. The dog, played by David S. Hogan, aspires to die and return to Earth as a human. As a dog he listens intently to his owner and hero, Denny. Enzo learns from life, Denny, and television documentaries, sitcoms, and even TV detectives. When Denny marries Eve and they have a daughter, Enzo's job is to protect them.
Just like humans Enzo learns that no matter how much we want to protect those we love, sometimes we can only stand and watch as disaster unfolds. I loved Enzo's re-imagined version of what must have happened during open court proceedings, which involved Enzo testifying with a Stephen Hawking voice-box and the assistance of Peter Falk-style Columbo explaining a series of events.
In the end Enzo is brought down by a dancing demon zebra and finally an embarrassing moment of old age and hip dysplasia. During the production when something was funny, everyone laughed. When something was sad, everyone cried. And when the play was over, everyone gave it a standing ovation . . . even those with hip dysplasia. The play was an example of what theatre should always be: engaging.
We took a cab back to hotel and discussed the play all the way home and into the night. Saturday morning, I let Peg sleep in a bit and then we took a cab to our favorite Parisian pastry shop, Belle Epicurean. Native Seattle-ite Carolyn Bianchi Ferguson decided to pursue her dreams and moved to Paris to study at the world renowned Le Cordon Bleu. She met fellow student (and future husband), Howard Ferguson, and the two fell in love with Parisian foods, culture, and each other.
Made in traditional French fashion with all natural ingredients, her creations — from absolutely decadent desserts to the award-winning Brioches known as Belle’s Buns — continue to draw admirers and accolades across Seattle and throughout the Pacific Northwest. Carolyn pursues her passion for pastry in two Seattle locations AND through the catering side of their business.
I have no problem selecting sweets or savories from Belle Epicurean. I know they will be wonderful. Cost is secondary. I know the macaroons are supposed to be excellent, but I can only eat so much. I like a savory tart or a savory Brioche to start off breakfast with . . . okay, any meal . . . or snack followed with a sweet tart or torte or god knows what. Just give me a bag of their goodies and I'm good to go.
I don't see why people take the time to consider their purchases there. You can't go wrong. I could send a six year old granddaughter into the shop and tell her to point at various pastries and just say "Gimme."
Our hearts were broken later in the day, however. We returned to purchase 1/2 price pastries at four (as their sign said), but they close at three on the weekends. We did get over the shock and disappointment by going to dinner next door after attending the new musical, First Date at ACT Theatre.
First Date is the play I was most looking forward to. Racing in the Rain with a talking dog was something I thought I would have to put up with. My misgivings were crushed. I was hoping that my allusions of a funny play would not be crushed. I knew it was a romantic comedy, but didn't realize it was a musical. First Date is produced as a partnership between ACT Theatre and the 5th Avenue Theatre. We saw their first effort last year, Vanities. The play was less than stellar, but the idea of co-producing is not.
I loved the play. The two main character meet for a blind date in a singles bar. He's tweeby looking (Eric Ankrim). She's quite attractive (Kelly Karbacz). She calls him a BDV, a Blind Date Virgin. He calls her a BDS, a Blind Date Slut. Things aren't going well, but you know they will eventually get it together. Well, you at least hope they will. You care about these people. In a romantic comedy everything turns on your "wanting" to help these two people.
The rest of the cast, other couples and the waiter, are there because they want the same thing you do: to bring these people together. My favorite musical number is when the rest of the cast sings The Girl for You when he finds out she isn't Jewish. The cast all wear black flat-brimmed Kosher cowboy hats with ringlets on either side and dance around the stage singing, "Oy, oy, oy." Billie Wildrick is especially good as a Jewish grandmother with shawl and kerchief dancing on the bar and table tops.
The play moves along nicely with sixteen musical numbers. All with no intermission and within an hour and a half. The cast is outstanding and filled with many of our favorite local actors. This is the premier of this musical comedy. Like Racing in the Rain, the audience loved it . . . really loved it. The standing ovation was well earned, well deserved, and filled with well wishing for the two main characters. After the show people chattered about their favorite parts. Everyone had a sparkle in their eye.
From the theatre we hailed a cab and went to find the closed doors of Belle Epicurean. We wanted to buy some half price pastries for Sunday breakfast. We weren't too disappointed, however. We just went next door. We had seen the Shuckers Oyster Bar menu on their stand when we first visited Belle Epicurean that morning. Many of our favorites were listed . . . or soon to be favorites.
We entered the restaurant and noted the "club" atmosphere. The restaurant had dark wood (real wood!) paneling, special coving and architectural features including what appears to be stamped-tin ceiling tiles. I think there is only one manufacturer left of the stamped-tin tiles and they are found in the city of my birth, Nevada, Missouri. The dies and process hasn't changed in nearly a hundred years . . . much like the city.
We sat in a cozy alcove that gave the feeling of a bay window seat. Peg and I sat side by side and looked out on the restaurant. It was still early for dinner and yet, the restaurant wasn't empty by any means. Even though it was Saturday, I'm guessing some of the meetings were about business.
Peg had an excellent glass of Pinot Gris. I think she really wanted a second and third glass, she said it was so wonderful, but we had a second play to attend that evening. Three glasses and the day would have been over. I had a Disoronno Sour (double), that was perfect. Three of those and I would have been down for the count myself. I switched to Diet Coke, instead, while Peg drank water.
I ordered a selection of fried seafood (oysters, clams, prawns, and fish). I chose the oyster bisque to accompany my dinner, which Peg and I shared. It was creamy with just the right taste of oysters. A dash of sherry could have made it absolutely perfect. The bisque disappeared before I could think of asking for the sherry. Our server Jim was friendly and helpful. Shuckers was generous with their butter. It's served in a cup and contains perhaps 1/5 of a cube of butter. The butter went well with their bread and biscuit selections.
Peg ordered the trout, which again was perfect. The skin was crispy and the meat was not over-cooked, but tender and filled with delicate flavor. The fillet was served on a bed of rice and asparagus and bell peppers. I shared a piece of prawn and an oyster and was rewarded with a nice piece of trout with tasty skin. I like tartar sauce and squeezed lemon on most of my seafood, but the deep fried clams were best with cocktail sauce.
My meal came with a deep cup of salad - half green and half cole slaw. I drizzled lemon juice over both the lettuce and the slaw. I could have eaten twice the amount, but in reality I was full. As the clock neared five we could see blackboard prices change to dinner pricing as opposed to lunch. We enjoyed the dining experience and will return on a future trip.
After dinner we went back to the hotel, left a wake-up call for 7:15 and took a nap. We needed it. Two days later we still needed one.
We returned to ACT Theatre via a limo for The Pitmen Painters. The play is based on a true story of midland miners in England during the 1930s. It's from the acclaimed writer of Billy Elliot.
The coal miners have one of the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs you can make a living at . . . and sometimes it's not even making a living. It's long hours of backbreaking labor with bouts of cave-ins and death, but other than that . . . the miners are proud of their work. But even though they are proud of the work they do, they are looking for more. The Worker's Educational Association filled that gap. A group of miners in the town of Ashington met in the hall of the YMCA and paid for an instructor to teach them art appreciation. They hire Robert Lyon, the master of painting at Armstrong College. The miners are a little taken aback when they find out that Professor Lyon, is not a professor and then they get even more upset when he can't tell them what individual paintings mean.
Lyon tries to get across the idea that "meaning" of a work of art has more to do with the people looking at the art than it does with the art that was produced. Lyon bridged the gap by suggesting that they create their own art.
The first act is filled with humor and discussions about what makes art and why. Some first attempts at art creation are thrown away by the miners as rubbish rather than sharing poor examples of art with their mates. But, soon the miners begin to show their work to each other and learn from Lyon and their fellow miners. Through the efforts of creating their own primitive works of art and their passionate discussions, we too have a chance to examine our own thoughts about art and creativity.
At the first intermission people in the lobby talked about the meaning of art and about visiting the Gauguin exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. At the final curtain, however the story and the warm glow that had been infused early in the play was gone and the play just kind of petered out. There were only a few people (relatives and fellow actors?) that gave the production a standing ovation. Two and a half hours is a long time and materials and interest fell short. I hope this problem gets fixed. As a preview, forms were passed around asking for opinions. I doubt they'll consider my suggestion for tap dancing painters as serious. But the Cary Wong set with its hardwood flooring cried out for Billy Elliot taping his way around the easels.
After the production we talked briefly with our friends Marie and Andy Neiditz, who had traveled north to see the production. They are season ticket holders at both ACT and Lakewood Playhouse. Andy is the city manager of Lakewood. They used to live within a mile of our northend/westend home, but have moved into the community where I grew up.
Peg called for a limo to pick us up, but we grew tired of waiting and finally hailed a cab and returned to the hotel. We arrived after eleven. The bar on the lobby floor was crammed and we were too late for our favorite little bar twenty-some floors up. We went to our room and ordered a pizza delivered from Milano Pizza. Inside of thirty minutes we had a knock on the door and soon had our small chicken pesto with goat cheese pizza laid out on the bed. The pizza was excellent and cost much less than ordering from room service. The small pizza was the perfect ending to a wonderful day in Seattle. Peg and I each had three small pieces of pizza and washed them down with Sprite.
We slept in a little bit on Sunday morning and then while Peg began packing, I returned to Belle Epicurean for breakfast pastries. I chose ham and gruyere cheese tarts for both of us and two different sweet pastries (citrus and pear) to share.
I walked out of the pastry shop and into an argument with a Far West cab driver. When I asked to be taken to the Renaissance Madison, he told me, "It's only a block away." "I know where it is," I responded. This went back and forth several times before I got in and continued until I got out at the hotel.
While we stayed in Seattle we used cabs nine times. They are quicker than getting our car from the valet service, we don't have to find or pay for parking. I use cabs for our convenience, not for the cabbie's. You can bet, however, that I won't ever use Far West, again. I think the cab driver was looking for a longer fare. He's lucky I didn't report him. There are rules you know. I only gave him a dollar tip. That'll fix him.
Back in Tacoma we unpacked, went to a movie with friends and then dinner. Peg and I went to bed early to watch Masterpiece Theatre and fell asleep before it was over. Monday morning, Peg finished the remnants of her pastries. I had none of my own. Being of sound mind and good taste, I devoured mine fresh out of the bag on Sunday.