Sister Act: The Perfect Holiday Confection

After leaving the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 2006, I needed a “side-hustle” to support my acting career. Eva DeVirgilis, the amazingly talented playwright and performer of our upcoming World Premiere, In My Chair, talks about this in her play. Her hustle was make-up; mine was personal training.

One of my dear friends in the theater, Nick Demos, (who I met while playing Will Parker in Oklahoma! at The Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma where he was Artistic Director at the time), earned a Tony Award for producing Memphis in 2010. As a Tony Award-winner, he had the privilege of being a Tony voter for the next few years. I gave Nick really cheap personal training in exchange for first dibs on his second ticket to all the shows he was required to see.

Felicia Curry,  Andrea Rivette and cast in Virginia Rep’s Sister Act.  Photo by Aaron Sutten.

I think it was early in 2011 when Nick and I went to see Sister Act on Broadway. Now, you have to know, I consider myself a very serious theater-goer. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good musical comedy, but if I’m paying Broadway prices, I’m usually going for the meatiest, most substantive play I can sink my teeth into. Despite that, Sister Act ranks among my top three most enjoyable Broadway experiences (alongside Peter and the Starcatcher and the You Can’t Take it With You revival from 2014).

Little did I know, seven years later, I would be equally ecstatic about the production of Sister Act now playing at Virginia Rep. I admit, at the time we programmed the show, it seemed simply like really good, wholesome fun for the whole family at the holidays. It is certainly that, and then some, with the amazing cast we have. But I was struck on Opening Night by what a perfect play it is for this moment.

Felicia Curry and Zakiyyah Jackson.  Photo by Aaron Sutten.

On the outside, it is a sweet and hilarious confection to be enjoyed by all, but on the inside, it delivers the holiday message of seeing the value of another human being, no matter how different they may be. Felicia Curry and Andrea Rivette give a masterclass in musical theatre performance, embodying two characters separated by religion, race, and life experience. They begin the play utterly opposed to each other’s point of view, and offended by every word out of the other’s mouth. By the end, there is mutual admiration, understanding,  respect, and even love. By the end, they are indeed Sisters.

Happy Holidays, Richmond. We are so grateful you choose to share a night or two of this busy season with us.

Felicia Curry and Andrea Rivette.  Photo by Aaron Sutten.

Sister Act is on stage through January 6 at the November Theatre.

Hampton Roads lawmaker proposes legalizing marijuana in Virginia

A delegate whose district includes parts of Portsmouth and Norfolk wants to legalize marijuana in the commonwealth – and he’s introduced legislation for the first time that would do so.

“I think it’s time in Virginia we have a long public policy conversation about where this is headed,” Del. Steve Heretick, a Democrat, told the Virginian-Pilot Wednesday morning, the first day of the General Assembly session. “It is a choice adults should have without fear of criminality. And it should be safe and legally available to consume if you choose to do so.”

Heretick has proposed legislation every year since his election in 2015 to decriminalize marijuana, which would nix the criminal penalties for marijuana possession and replace them with a small civil fine. He’s not the only one seeking changes to the state’s rules governing marijuana and hemp products – other bills at the session would similarly decriminalize simple possession.

But Heretick’s proposal this year takes it a step further with actual legalization – meaning not only would smoking cannabis not land you in jail, but you could buy and sell it in Virginia with relative impunity.

In recent years in Virginia, many lawmakers have opposed legalization even as they inch closer to lessening the criminal penalties.

“Not in Virginia,” Del. John Bell, a Northern Virginia Democrat, told the Loudoun Times-Mirror in 2017. “I don’t think that the sentiment is strong enough in the General Assembly to do that.”

Heretick’s bill in the House would let adults over 21 buy and consume marijuana for medical reasons or recreation. A statutory structure would allow for the cultivation, manufacturing and distribution of marijuana and its products.

Under Heretick’s vision, the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services would issue licenses for people to grow and sell the plant as well as limited home-growing for personal use. The average Virginian would be able to keep three mature plants, three immature plants and seedlings to maintain growth, he said.

Heretick said the legislation is “155 pages, give or take” and outlines a comprehensive regulatory framework.

“The idea is this legislation decriminalizes simple possession where it is legally obtained, but it does not decriminalize it for those who want to sell it outside the state framework.”

Virginia would monitor everything “from seed to sale.” Smoking in public – except as permitted by localities – and using marijuana while driving or as a passenger would be outlawed.

Heretick added: “I hate to admit this, but there are certain revenue potentials as well. It can and should be taxed,” and the money could go to helping address drug abuse issues.

His bill calls for a tax on retail pot products of 9.7 percent – for a total of 15 percent including the 5.3 percent state sales tax.

“When I hear about legislators in Washington and Colorado (legalizing) it because it helps them make some money, I think that’s improper,” Republican then-Del. Randy Minchew told the Loudoun Times-Mirror in 2017. “I think allowing for a recreational use of a narcotic so you can tax it is not a legitimate public policy purpose.”

Heretick knows there’s a long road ahead.

“We’ve had stereotypes for so long about marijuana,” he said. “People are reluctant to look at this a different way.”

He believes many colleagues “quietly support the bill” and said there’s been a large, mostly positive reaction from the public.

He won’t be surprised if legislators instead want to wait and study the issue with commissions and the like. But he doesn’t see decriminalization as enough.

“That’s not the final step,” he said. “Every state that has started with a decriminalization bill has ultimately ended up with a legalization bill. We can cut to the chase. We’re not inventing the wheel.”

Meanwhile, Hampton Roads’ first medical cannabis dispensary is slated to open in Portsmouth this spring, run by New York-based Columbia Care. It’s one of five companies that have been granted licenses by the Virginia Board of Pharmacy to operate strictly-medical dispensaries.

Make Mine Meatless

Style food writers share their favorite vegetarian and vegan dishes.

We’re a team of omnivores over here. But even with our meat-eating tendencies, it wasn’t hard for any of us to come up with food items worth mentioning in a vegetarian roundup.

Narrowing our selections down to one each turned out to be the challenge.

And while none of us plan to say goodbye to bacon any time soon, we can’t help but swoon over these veggie-based dishes.


Vegan Pho

Sen Organic Small Plate

2901 W. Cary St.

355-0736

I don’t know how to make Sen Organic Small Plate’s vegan pho and it’s driving me crazy. I am no slouch in the kitchen. My stepdad is a former chef and my mom is a food writer and photographer. Our dinner table conversations are usually kicked off by some sort of food puzzle: “Can you tell what spices I used in this?” “How do you think this was cooked?” Usually we nail it.

This pho is my tantalizing white whale.

The menu describes a vegan pho broth with fried tofu skin, soy chop, daikon, carrot and oyster mushrooms. The bowl comes with sides of Vietnamese basil, peppermint, cilantro, bean sprouts, lime, jalapeño and Sen’s homemade hoisin and hot chili sauces. Spelling it out makes it sound simple. This pho is anything but.

I’ve brought all of my family and many of my friends to this small restaurant at the east end of Cary Street. We sit across from each other, brows furrowed as we absolutely inhale the rich and complex broth. It teeters on sweet … brown sugar? But there’s an umami that lingers. Mushrooms? Star anise?

We dive into the bowl with our chopsticks to fish out – tofu skin? Daikon?

I think we would have more success cracking the code if we didn’t inevitably polish the pho off within 10 minutes. It’s that good. – Lily Hargis is the daughter of Phaedra Hise.


Vegan Breakfast Burrito

821 Cafe

825 W. Cary St.

649-1042

Folks, when I tell you that a solid breakfast burrito can be made without egg – trust me. If anyone could pull it off, it’s 821 Cafe with its substantial vegan-friendly offerings.

As a nonvegan, egg-eating, brunch-loving professional, I understand the skeptics. Here’s the thing: This mega breakfast pillow sent from the heavens consistently has flavor and that’s more than I can say for some purveyors of such eats, both in and outside the city limits. Often these breakfasty concoctions are either too watery or greasy. Blech. Not so with this baby. Every tightly wrapped morsel is packed full of flavor, composed of black beans, vegan sausage crumbles, tofu scramble and potato. The best is that the bits are finely chopped so the mix is even throughout every savory and satisfying bite. That’s right, no ginormous tofu blobs that we can all admit are weird to bite into anytime, but especially in a burrito. Bonus, you get a side with this plate and can snag grits, potatoes or fruit. Hint, it pairs well with the Buskey cider they have on tap, which is gluten-free.

Hangovers be damned, this one is served all day, every day! – Hilary Langford


Honeynut Squash Appetizer

Southbound

3036 Stony Point Road

918-5431

To give up meat at dinner, or at least order something without any seafood or bacon, especially in the winter, can be a tough sell for this carnivore. It takes something special on the menu to distract from the duck. That something special is on the winter menu at Southbound.

Between the fluffy buttermilk pancakes at Heritage and the inventive, house-made pasta dishes at Southbound, I’ve been particularly impressed with chef Joe Sparatta and company lately. The ramen bowl hiding on the Heritage brunch menu is divine, and his roast chicken is the reason to order chicken at a restaurant.

Back to Southbound. The roasted honeynut squash ($9) is an appetizer, but it is as robust as an entree, and feels complete as a vegetarian dish. The squash half, sliced lengthwise and skin on, is about the size of a dinner plate. Seeds in the center have been scooped out, and in their place rests a generous dollop of ricotta and a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds, toasted to a crisp, and the fleshy inside of the gourd is velvety and smooth. Pair that with a curried tomato warm salsa that lines the bowl. Each bite encapsulates those winter feeling you come to expect from an excellent January eat: nourishing, comforting and hearty. And I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. – Nathalie Oates


Grilled Portobello Sandwich

Plant Zero Cafe

7 E. Third St.

231-6500

True to form in the newspaper industry, I spent my first full day at Style running around from one meeting to the next with photographer Scott Elmquist. On our way back to the office between interviews, my new co-worker offered to treat me to a first-day lunch from the cafe across the street, which I had yet to visit. I thanked him profusely, quickly scanned the menu and selected the portobello sandwich and a bag of kettle-cooked chips.

A year later, this sandwich is still my go-to on days I forget (or just don’t want) to pack a lunch. Slivers of crispy asparagus and raw red onion complement the meaty slices of balsamic-glazed mushrooms, and it’s all topped with gobs of creamy, piquant Gorgonzola. That would be enough on its own, but the layer of pesto aioli slathered on the ciabatta makes it truly next-level. It’s a little sloppy to eat, but it remains at the top of my list of Richmond sandwiches, vegetarian or otherwise. Occasionally I’ll pair it with a salad, but seriously, go for the jalapeño-flavored chips. – Laura Ingles


Non-Spaghetti and Meatballs

Lucy’s

402 N. Second St.

562-14

Leave it to a restaurant with a focus on local beef to tackle a vegetarian version of a comfort food mainstay like spaghetti and meatballs and absolutely nail it.

Lucy’s in Jackson Ward may have the most direct cattle farm-to-table pipeline in the city – the cows are raised on co-owner Amanda Lucy’s family’s farm in the Northern Neck – but chef Jason Lucy also serves one of the most unique meat-free dishes going.

For Lucy’s non-spaghetti and meatballs, no cows are harmed in the creation of meatballs made of shredded artichoke, spinach and avocado, then fried to a crispy, golden brown. Served over sauteed spaghetti squash with an appealing depth of flavor thanks to caramelized onion pomodoro sauce, a little vegetable stock and butter, the dish gets a final, traditional flourish with a flurry of grated Parmesan. Between contrasting textures, supremely balanced flavors and the heartiness you expect from a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, it’s a dish that satisfies on multiple levels.

Rather than relying on a meat substitute, the chef marries an array of vegetables and gives them the star treatment, resulting in a dish that’s not only distinctive, but appetizing enough that even nonvegetarians have been seduced by its siren call. – Karen Newton

Back to The Vegetarian Issue

Sister Act: The Perfect Holiday Confection

After leaving the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 2006, I needed a “side-hustle” to support my acting career. Eva DeVirgilis, the amazingly talented playwright and performer of our upcoming World Premiere, In My Chair, talks about this in her play. Her hustle was make-up; mine was personal training.

One of my dear friends in the theater, Nick Demos, (who I met while playing Will Parker in Oklahoma! at The Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma where he was Artistic Director at the time), earned a Tony Award for producing Memphis in 2010. As a Tony Award-winner, he had the privilege of being a Tony voter for the next few years. I gave Nick really cheap personal training in exchange for first dibs on his second ticket to all the shows he was required to see.

Felicia Curry,  Andrea Rivette and cast in Virginia Rep’s Sister Act.  Photo by Aaron Sutten.

I think it was early in 2011 when Nick and I went to see Sister Act on Broadway. Now, you have to know, I consider myself a very serious theater-goer. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good musical comedy, but if I’m paying Broadway prices, I’m usually going for the meatiest, most substantive play I can sink my teeth into. Despite that, Sister Act ranks among my top three most enjoyable Broadway experiences (alongside Peter and the Starcatcher and the You Can’t Take it With You revival from 2014).

Little did I know, seven years later, I would be equally ecstatic about the production of Sister Act now playing at Virginia Rep. I admit, at the time we programmed the show, it seemed simply like really good, wholesome fun for the whole family at the holidays. It is certainly that, and then some, with the amazing cast we have. But I was struck on Opening Night by what a perfect play it is for this moment.

Felicia Curry and Zakiyyah Jackson.  Photo by Aaron Sutten.

On the outside, it is a sweet and hilarious confection to be enjoyed by all, but on the inside, it delivers the holiday message of seeing the value of another human being, no matter how different they may be. Felicia Curry and Andrea Rivette give a masterclass in musical theatre performance, embodying two characters separated by religion, race, and life experience. They begin the play utterly opposed to each other’s point of view, and offended by every word out of the other’s mouth. By the end, there is mutual admiration, understanding,  respect, and even love. By the end, they are indeed Sisters.

Happy Holidays, Richmond. We are so grateful you choose to share a night or two of this busy season with us.

Felicia Curry and Andrea Rivette.  Photo by Aaron Sutten.

Sister Act is on stage through January 6 at the November Theatre.

Movie Review: “Vice”

New Dick Cheney biopic has its moments, but leaves the viewer unsatisfied.

Everything about “Vice,” the fast moving, cluttered and too long biopic of Dick Cheney from director Adam McKay, looks good on paper.

You’ve got star Christian Bale packing on the pounds to look eerily like Cheney, complete with constant smirk and deadpan monotone delivery. You’ve got Steve Carell offering a giddy, maniacal take on Donald “Rummy” Rumsfeld, who seems be having fun even when he’s falling from power. Also Sam Rockwell, fresh off his Oscar win, takes on the well-worn role of likable party dunce, George W. Bush. And in a head-scratcher that somehow works, Tyler Perry as the restrained military general, Colin Powell.

But the main thing you get is an angry director with a set agenda that colors every frame: McKay’s goal seems to be showing his sincere revulsion for both Cheney, who is painted as one of history’s most underrated villains, and the American public which was too stupid, overworked and distracted — pop culture moments such as “Survivor” and the “Wassup?” commercials get nods — to protest as Cheney molded the vice-president’s office into the most influential and corrupt job in the world.

The film covers a lot of ground, time-wise, and one of its most salient points is its depiction of the rise of Fox News and how marketing techniques became successful tools for politicians to easily dupe Americans into supporting unpalatable ideas. We see a marketing whiz try out euphemisms on a test audience with the winning phrases instantly repeated on television news shows. (Side note: As I waited in the popcorn line at Bow Tie before the movie, author, CNN political commentator and President Obama’s special advisor for green jobs, Van Jones stood in front of me, with a few people asking for photos.)

But what bothered me about “Vice” was that, sadly for a biopic, the bio really isn’t there. There’s a brief look at a young, brawl-happy Cheney, booted from Yale for drinking, which leads to a dead-end job, DUI arrest and his motivated wife Lynne, played with Mid-Western verve by Amy Adams, demanding that Dick straighten up and fly right. We’re then to believe that, out of his deep love for her, Cheney headed straight to Washington bent on world domination. Everything else in the movie is pretty much common knowledge, if you were reading anything at the time, some of it having even been dramatized before in Oliver Stone’s Bush biopic, “W.” If you’re looking for insight on what really drove Cheney to keep coming back for more, good luck. The best this film can offer is fly-fishing metaphors, which I suppose means the thrill of sport.

The movie does argue that Lynne was the driving force, or the true power behind the throne; there’s even a comedic Shakespearean bedroom bit that’s purposely on the nose. No other explanation is explored for Cheney’s insatiable hunger for power which found him securing key roles in the Nixon, Ford, and, of course, Bush White House, surrounded by henchmen whose names you will remember — Scooter Libby, Paul Wolfowitz — presented here mostly as caricatures. Cheney is usually either enjoying the outdoors, having a heart attack (a reoccurring gag line in the movie) or recklessly destroying the world. The script doesn’t dig much deeper than old headlines and fares better when it has fun with the subject, rather than connecting the dots for us, the dim-witted public.

Always the quiet loyalist, Cheney was also head of Halliburton, a period that goes largely unexplored, coming up only as the clear reasoning for invading Iraq (“They gave me [$26] million, double what we thought,” he says cheerfully on the phone while describing his parting gift when he left to join the Bush campaign).

Like 2015’s “The Big Short,” McKay’s superior film that illuminated a complex financial crisis by way of a spitfire ride among very human brokers, “Vice” wants to be a darkly funny movie about a serious subject, as well as a tutorial on how power works today. But it’s the dramatic equivalent of a Michael Moore documentary, stopping the narrative flow many times to teach the audience why what Cheney just did was so evil.

It’s also a bit tonally challenged: the dark humor and narrative fourth-wall breaking alternates with jolting Iraq explosions, torture shots and a gruesome close-up into Cheney’s empty chest cavity as he lays on an operating table awaiting a heart transplant – by the end, it all just feels queasy and pedantic. To be fair, the filmmaker warns the viewer at the beginning of the movie that this was a secretive guy (we did “our fucking best”) then proceeds to bludgeon us with behind-the-scenes interpretations of Cheney’s lust for power and thinly veiled rage. But it comes at the cost of a deeper, more human portrait of a man who seems to have loved his family but few others. Cheney was barely human, more of a grumpy corporate monster, the movie seems to say.

This final conclusion somehow feels too simple: Like a modern-day Grinch, here was a man whose malfunctioning heart was a few sizes too small – or from the close-up shot of Cheney’s removed heart on a table, just plain rotten.

Movie Review: “Vice”

New Dick Cheney biopic has its moments, but leaves the viewer unsatisfied.

Everything about “Vice,” the fast moving, cluttered and too long biopic of Dick Cheney from director Adam McKay, looks good on paper.

You’ve got star Christian Bale packing on the pounds to look eerily like Cheney, complete with constant smirk and deadpan monotone delivery. You’ve got Steve Carell offering a giddy, maniacal take on Donald “Rummy” Rumsfeld, who seems be having fun even when he’s falling from power. Also Sam Rockwell, fresh off his Oscar win, takes on the well-worn role of likable party dunce, George W. Bush. And in a head-scratcher that somehow works, Tyler Perry as the restrained military general, Colin Powell.

But the main thing you get is an angry director with a set agenda that colors every frame: McKay’s goal seems to be showing his sincere revulsion for both Cheney, who is painted as one of history’s most underrated villains, and the American public which was too stupid, overworked and distracted — pop culture moments such as “Survivor” and the “Wassup?” commercials get nods — to protest as Cheney molded the vice-president’s office into the most influential and corrupt job in the world.

The film covers a lot of ground, time-wise, and one of its most salient points is its depiction of the rise of Fox News and how marketing techniques became successful tools for politicians to easily dupe Americans into supporting unpalatable ideas. We see a marketing whiz try out euphemisms on a test audience with the winning phrases instantly repeated on television news shows. (Side note: As I waited in the popcorn line at Bow Tie before the movie, author, CNN political commentator and President Obama’s special advisor for green jobs, Van Jones stood in front of me, with a few people asking for photos.)

But what bothered me about “Vice” was that, sadly for a biopic, the bio really isn’t there. There’s a brief look at a young, brawl-happy Cheney, booted from Yale for drinking, which leads to a dead-end job, DUI arrest and his motivated wife Lynne, played with Mid-Western verve by Amy Adams, demanding that Dick straighten up and fly right. We’re then to believe that, out of his deep love for her, Cheney headed straight to Washington bent on world domination. Everything else in the movie is pretty much common knowledge, if you were reading anything at the time, some of it having even been dramatized before in Oliver Stone’s Bush biopic, “W.” If you’re looking for insight on what really drove Cheney to keep coming back for more, good luck. The best this film can offer is fly-fishing metaphors, which I suppose means the thrill of sport.

The movie does argue that Lynne was the driving force, or the true power behind the throne; there’s even a comedic Shakespearean bedroom bit that’s purposely on the nose. No other explanation is explored for Cheney’s insatiable hunger for power which found him securing key roles in the Nixon, Ford, and, of course, Bush White House, surrounded by henchmen whose names you will remember — Scooter Libby, Paul Wolfowitz — presented here mostly as caricatures. Cheney is usually either enjoying the outdoors, having a heart attack (a reoccurring gag line in the movie) or recklessly destroying the world. The script doesn’t dig much deeper than old headlines and fares better when it has fun with the subject, rather than connecting the dots for us, the dim-witted public.

Always the quiet loyalist, Cheney was also head of Halliburton, a period that goes largely unexplored, coming up only as the clear reasoning for invading Iraq (“They gave me [$26] million, double what we thought,” he says cheerfully on the phone while describing his parting gift when he left to join the Bush campaign).

Like 2015’s “The Big Short,” McKay’s superior film that illuminated a complex financial crisis by way of a spitfire ride among very human brokers, “Vice” wants to be a darkly funny movie about a serious subject, as well as a tutorial on how power works today. But it’s the dramatic equivalent of a Michael Moore documentary, stopping the narrative flow many times to teach the audience why what Cheney just did was so evil.

It’s also a bit tonally challenged: the dark humor and narrative fourth-wall breaking alternates with jolting Iraq explosions, torture shots and a gruesome close-up into Cheney’s empty chest cavity as he lays on an operating table awaiting a heart transplant – by the end, it all just feels queasy and pedantic. To be fair, the filmmaker warns the viewer at the beginning of the movie that this was a secretive guy (we did “our fucking best”) then proceeds to bludgeon us with behind-the-scenes interpretations of Cheney’s lust for power and thinly veiled rage. But it comes at the cost of a deeper, more human portrait of a man who seems to have loved his family but few others. Cheney was barely human, more of a grumpy corporate monster, the movie seems to say.

This final conclusion somehow feels too simple: Like a modern-day Grinch, here was a man whose malfunctioning heart was a few sizes too small – or from the close-up shot of Cheney’s removed heart on a table, just plain rotten.

Peter Greene on Arizona’s Gag Law for Teachers

Peter Greene believes that Arizona’s proposed gag law is part of a national reaction to teacher activism. If you can’t beat ’em, silence them, is the mantra.

He traces the trend towards silencing teachers to legislators in Pennsylvania and Virgina, and then back to fringe-right agitator David Horowitz and rightwing corporate bill-mill ALEC.

Greene writes:

All of the rules make sense when one considers the source– a racist authoritarian xenophobic alt-right wingnut. This is not just about shutting down teachers (it really is bigger than being anti-#RedforEd) but about making sure that teachers cannot interfere with the imposition of a white supremacist alt-right dreamland.

The second thing we can say with certainty about this proposal is that Rep. Finchem [of Arizona] did not whip it up himself after some conversations with concerned parents. HB 2002 is part of a wider attempt to shut teachers up so that they can’t exercise First Amendment rights– particularly not in ways that would contradict white nationalists .

It’s a bill that deserves to die. And Rep. Finchem is a man who deserves some extra attention, to see just who feeds him these kinds of anti-American anti-freedom ideas for bills.

It is a fascinating and ugly trail and worth your while to follow it to see where it leads.

Don’t forget the First Amendment. It is not fake. It is real.