“1963″

Handholding: white girl, black boy

One of the difficulties of dealing with important subjects in a historical context is the tendency to make problems feel like they’re a thing of the past. Films like “The Help” sanitize racism, turning a history of violence and pain into a feeble, self-important dramedy and a deeply entrenched-issue into a simple triumph-over-adversity narrative. The strength of “1963,” the Judy Simpson Cook play now running at Threshold Repertory Theatre, is that it does try to deal with some of the root causes and doesn’t downplay the pain felt by the characters.

The play follows three families in 1963 North Carolina. Molly (Eden Teichman) is the sixteen-year-old daughter of a local principal Ezra (Mark Gorman), who’s concerned about the violence and anger that might come from the inevitable desegregation of their town. Ezra and his wife, Sarah Jane (Kristen Kos), are tolerant people for their time, but neither have tried to take a stand against bigotry. Ezra’s brother Zeke (Mike Kordek) is a blowhard lawyer who claims desegregation is the worst thing that can happen to the south while his wife, Laura (Margaret Nyland), mostly stays silent.

Molly, meanwhile, befriends James (Maurice McPherson), a bright African-American boy who tutors her in algebra. James wants to take part in the sit-ins and marches heating up around the country, and his mother Lou (Michele Powe) encourages him, but his father, Joe (Kyle Taylor), forbids it, fearing the worst will happen to his son.

“1963″ is sometimes too pat in its depiction of redemption and young idealism trumping old reticence, and the use of algebra as a metaphor for equality is clunky. Yet the cast is consistently strong in their portrayals of shifting attitudes towards race relations, from Zeke’s shift from hypocrisy to advocacy to Ezra’s continued struggle to take action. The play is never more effective, however, than when Joe and Lou take center.

Taylor is an extremely fit man, and he has a a commanding voice and presence. Joe is a character too frightened by what could happen to his family to take action against what he knows is wrong. It makes for a fascinating combination of actor and role, turning Joe into a man who has to contain his own strength in order to keep his loved ones safe. Powe’s spirited yet wise take on Lou, meanwhile, shows a woman who’s ready to fight but also completely aware of what the consequences are. Whenever either of the two tell their son or their white friends about the terrible things they’ve experienced, the play takes on startling immediacy, cutting through the earlier earnestness to find something far more direct.

Coffee Bean Scene: Part 1, Kudu Coffee & Craft Beer

Kudu Coffee and Craft BeerCoffee isn’t a choice. It has been a way of life. Ever since that fateful day my sophomore year of college when I was desperate enough for a little extra weeks during finals week, I ditched soda and sugary carbonation for the inimitable flavor and charge of that little roasted brown bean.

And whenever I travel to a new town, there three things that I have to fine in order to turn that city into a surrogate home: the local bookstore, an old bar, and an artisanal coffee shop. This blog will be a written testimony of the best coffee dens in the Holy City herself, Charleston.

Here are the basic ground rule. The establishment will be judged on the following four categories: coffee (flavor), food (variety and taste), atmosphere (presentation, seating space, music), and extra goodies (wi-fi, air conditioning, memorabilia, etc.). Also, I will exempt any national chains so as to absorb the distinct caffeinated taste of Charleston. So, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Krispy Kreme are disqualified. Without further ado, first up is…

Kudu Coffee & Craft Beer                                                                                                     Where: 4 Vanderhorst St, Charelston, SC 29403

Coffee: 20 oz. cappuccino                                                                                                      A sturdy coffee base predominates the drink. The frothy milk tickles the upper lip. And the sweet aftertaste was reminiscent of a glowing Folly Beach sunset. The bean is definitely the thing at Kudu. In addition to the cappuccino, Kudu sells all the coffee house staples to satisfy amateur and seasoned coffee nut alike.

Food: Oatmeal raisin cookie                                                                                                    A crispy crust that crumbles playfully on the plate. The interior is stuffed with a seemingly barrel full of raisins. And, most important for any cookie connoisseur, the center contained a chewy core satisfying as it was mouth watering. Kudu also has a full array of sandwiches and pastries that can assemble a solid snack or late afternoon lunch.

Atmosphere:                                                                                                                          An open interior design combined with an unassuming entrance allows Kudu to be your coffee home-away-from-home. In the late evening nights and mild summer days, Kudu’s patio is as large as the interior. The only thing better than a warm coffee is a cool breeze and a friend to enjoy it with.

Extra Goodies:                                                                                                                      A soundtrack provided by SiriusXM’s “Alt Nation” radio station fills the air in between the heavy rotation of energetic conversation and caffeinated aromas. The staff is young and gracious and work behind a fully stocked counter equipped with a sexy espresso machine with a firebird red exterior. A let down, however, was the lack of wifi to casually cruise the internet. But who needs internet when you have a wide spectrum of 20 in-house brews, almost daring you to try every last one.

Final Ranking:                                                                                                                           With a strong foundation in the coffee department and tasty treats and alcoholic drinks lining the walls, Kudu Coffee & Craft Beer is not only a scrumptious coffee outlet for anyone, it’s a charming and shouts out an inviting and relaxing vibe.

 

 

“El Nino” and Miracles in Drama

Gabriel appears to Mary

Leaving “El Nino,” I felt a bit baffled as to why the production left me feeling detached appreciation more than anything resembling an emotional response.

John Adams’s opera-oratorio is a musically dense work, filled with impressive orchestration, emotional solos for a soprano, a mezzo-soprano and a baritone, and equally gorgeous material for its chorus and trio of countertenors. It isn’t as if there was a failure in execution, either: the ensemble is remarkable, the orchestra resonant, the conduction by Spoleto Director of Choral Activities Joe Miller strong. And while the opera was not originally written to be staged dramatically, director John La Bouchardiere and company’s choices, from the expressive use of puppets to the fluid transitions from one time period to another, are confident and fully realized.

The opera takes a modern look at the Nativity story, recounting the visitation of Gabriel, the birth of Jesus and his early life, alongside considerations of the miraculous nature of birth, the inevitability of death, and solace through God.

The first half of “El Nino” is primarily from Mary’s perspective, while the second half shifts to highlight the impact of Jesus even from a young age, complete with a set of miracles from Apocryphal books. It’s in the second half of the show where I grew increasingly disengaged with the work while remaining impressed by its staging and score. When I read the excellent review by Yiorgos Vassilandonakis this morning, I found myself agreeing with every bit of praise he had. But I still felt a distance from the production, particularly with the ending, which involves a miracle that’s a logical endpoint thematically but dramatically unsatisfying.

That’s when my issue with “El Nino” hit me: miracles are not dramatically interesting.

I was raised in a Catholic family, and while I don’t practice, I’m fascinated and frequently moved by religious art. And while La Bouchardiere writes in his director’s note that Adams was brought up to believe that biblical stories were metaphors rather than reality, I’m more than willing to accept religious phenomena as reality within the world of a work of art if I’m asked to (it’s no more difficult that accepting that fairies are real in “Peter Pan,” or that gang members spontaneously break out into song and dance in “West Side Story”). With that in mind, I don’t think personal belief systems should be a barrier to accepting “El Nino.”

What is a barrier is my belief in what makes for effective drama: character and action. The greatest dramatic works, from “Hamlet” to “Death of a Salesman,” “Carmen” to “Sweeney Todd,” “Citizen Kane” to “The Godfather,” require characters making active choices that define them and determine the outcome of what happens in the narrative. Even “Oedipus Rex,” in which fate plays an essential role, features Oedipus making the decisions that lead to his downfall.

Miracles, on the other hand, are not about the actions of human beings, but acts of God (or gods) upon people. Spiritually speaking, they inspire awe, emotion, even grand changes in behavior. Dramatically speaking, they turn subjects into objects, leaving people without the ability to stay active in their story. It might be unfair to categorically dismiss the use of miracles in stories, but there’s a reason the term “deus ex machina” is used, more often than not, as a pejorative. In “El Nino,” the active choices of the people in the Nativity story take a backseat to a figure of religious awe (Baby Jesus) capable of solving every conflict they come across in the second act.

Even the religiously themed works that most move me are as rooted in human experience as they are in the miraculous. In spite of its title, “Miracle on 34th Street” showcases characters battling on the behalf of belief rather than letting a higher power take over. “A Christmas Carol” (ghosts, I know, but it’s Christmas and a redemption story in a Christian fashion, so I’m counting it as religious) allows for supernatural forces to take Ebenezer Scrooge through his life, but it’s Scrooge who must choose the path of redemption. “It’s a Wonderful Life,” (a contender for the title of “Most Moving Film Ever Made,” in my book) features an act of God to push Jimmy Stewart towards life again, but Stewart must make that choice, and his economic salvation is as much a belated acknowledgement and repayment for a lifetime of good deeds as it is a miracle.

What about actual biblical stories? To me, the two most moving portraits of Christ are Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1964 film “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” and Martin Scorsese’s 1988 film “The Last Temptation of Christ.” Pasolini, an atheist with a “nostalgia for belief,” presented the biblical characters not as figures acting out a passion play, but as men making decisions, and stressed the radical nature of Jesus’s teachings. Scorsese’s film, meanwhile, was greeted with a firestorm of controversy, but the film makes the intangible tangible by focusing on the anguish and fear Jesus must have felt as he chose to do what he believed was necessary for humanity’s salvation.

There are certainly exceptions to my belief that miracles and deus ex machina are not dramatic. Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” ends with an incredible display of God’s power against forces of evil, while my personal favorite film, Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia,” ends on a deus ex machina so unexpected that I dare not reveal it. But the first is specifically about man’s meddling with forces beyond his power, and even here, the death of the villains and salvation of Indiana Jones is determined by respect, or lack thereof, of the power of God and the choice to meddle. And the ending of “Magnolia” is as much postmodern commentary on deus ex machina as it is a moment of unlikely catharsis.

Perhaps this is all beside the point, as “El Nino” was conceived as an opera-oratorio – a concert piece – not as a work of drama. That might mean that a dramatic production of “El Nino,” however skillfully made, is a bit of a folly, a problem of presentation. Or maybe it’s a problem of perspective, and I’m looking at what the work is not rather than what it is. Either way, I walked out of “El Nino” thrilled that so many people were touched by it and disappointed that I wasn’t as well.

Agree or disagree with my take? Were you moved by “El Nino?” I believe any cultural criticism and opinion should be the start of a dialogue, not a monologue, so I’d be glad to hear from those who felt differently and why.

Spoleto Festival on Twitter and Facebook!

Twitter Logo

Anyone interested in following what’s going on at Spoleto Festival and Spoleto coverage over the next four weeks should keep these next handful of Twitter accounts in mind.

As always, @ChsPostCourier will feature regular local coverage, along with the special Spoleto Festival account @spoletochas.

Syracuse University’s Goldring Arts Journalism Master’s program will contribute to the Spoleto coverage as well, both in print and online. Be sure to follow the Goldring Dozen: Alejandra Acuna, Jessica Cabe, Arshie Chevalwala, Sarah Hope, Melanie Lustig, Max O’Connell, Insher Pan, Nicholas Reichert, Nicholas Schmiedicker, Anita Xu, Olivia Yang and Angela Zonunpari.

All festival announcements and information will come from the official accounts of Spoleto USA (@SpoletoFestival) and Piccolo Spoleto (@Piccolo_Spoleto).

Did you know that you can like The Post and Courier, Spoleto Charleston – The Post and Courier, Spoleto Festival USA and Piccolo Festival on Facebook? Well you do now!

Looking for other information about the city while you’re in town? Try @CityCharleston@EventCharleston@ExploreCHS and @HistoricChas. Worried about the weather? Take a look at CharlestonWeather at @chswx.

Tweet any suggestions for other essential Spoleto accounts to @spoletochas. Thanks for reading, and welcome to #spoletochs.

Shrimp and Grits Showdown: And The Winner Is…

Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar

Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar

As it turns out, our shrimp and grits “showdown” wasn’t much of a showdown at all. Even though Nic and I vowed never to speak of what we thought about each bowl until after we wrote and posted each blog, as it turns out, we shared mostly all of the same sentiments. We hated the gravy. We hated the tomatoes. Let’s face it, the only thing our Southern tongues disagreed on was the taste of the shrimp, on occasion.

last blog 2So, we decided that since our tastes were so similar, we would write on sugar packets what we thought was the best and the second best bowl of shrimp and grits. To our surprise (but not really though) we both picked the same number one and number two choice. Which is….

Winner:

1) Hominy Grill - It was pure authenticity that ultimately won out for Hominy Grill. No frills, no extras, just pure unadulterated shrimp and grit flavor proved to be the winning formula, and Hominy Grill brought the noise.

Runner-Up:

2) Swamp Fox Restaurant at the Francis Marion Hotel- While this dish contained gravy, it was the most flavorful, rich, unctuous gravy of the lot, and it provided a deep seafood flavor that enhanced the shrimp. The grits were cooked well and stood up to the thick gravy. Plus, not having those nasty tomatoes sure didn’t hurt the movement.

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So, there y’all have it folks! The best bowl of shrimp and grits from what Nic and I have experienced during our time in Charleston as reporters for the Post and Courier during this year’s annual Spoleto Festival USA. We’ve eaten much more than just good old shrimp and grits -and have enjoyed sharing our meals with you!

-Love, Nic and B

Shrimp and Grits Showdown: Final Round SNOB

Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar

Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar

Situated on East Bay Street, SNOB, or Slightly North of Broad, brings a little bit of their name into the dining room. More upscale than any of the other restaurants B and I have tried, the same genteel, southern hospitality abounded, ridding itself of any pretension. White table linens and fancy place settings couldn’t take away what was a wholly Southern, down home experience. Final round, ding ding ding! Snob1

Getting right into it, we feasted on cornbread for a good while, waiting for the rest of our party to arrive. Equal parts sweet and savory, it was as close to down home classic southern cornbread as I’ve had since I’ve been in Charleston. Soft and buttery, moist and dense, but not heavy, the cornbread was a perfect golden brown on the outside and maize on the inside. I almost ate too much cornbread and didn’t leave enough room for the real reason why I was there. Almost.

Nic’s picks: The shrimp and grits were served in a large bowl that was almost too large. Portion size was not a problem at SNOB, and of all the places we visited that gave the biggest portions. Gravy and raw tomatoes made another appearance, and it seems like in Charleston they are a recurring character rather than a cameo. Nonetheless, we are intrepid; we carry on. I dug into the grits. The gravy was a little oily, but not as heavy as others I had over the course of the last three weeks. I tried the tomatoes, just for the sake of trying them, and immediately pushed them off to the side. They offer nothing to the dish. Not one single thing is made better by the tomatoes.

The shrimp were the best of any of the places I ate at. They were plump and tender, full of flavor. They were also abundant, something that most places have skimped on. They were perfectly cooked to a nice opaque pink color, not too tough but still providing a nice bite and mouth feel.

snob2The grits were smooth, not too watery, but not too stiff. They had just enough texture and they contained a nice corn flavor, independent from the gravy and other accoutrements. Crispy Tasso ham provided a nice textural element, that crunch that softer dishes so desperately need to break up the monotony. It wasn’t too overpoweringly salty either, which was a nice touch. The smoked sausage was a nice thought, but with the ham and the gravy, it could have been left out altogether and it wouldn’t have been missed. There was a nice garlicky bite to the dish that other restaurants lacked, and it was a nice signature to make the dish their own.

Overall, it was a good plate of food, one of the better dishes we had through our eating tour of Charleston. While a little more upscale, SNOB definitely delivered on that down home, Southern food experience.

B’s business: From the moment the shrimp and grits were served, there was no hiding either one of our distresses at seeing yet another bowl filled to the brim with what else? Gravy and tomatoes.

Almost immediately, I automatically pushed the tomatoes to the side—by now I know the cold, juicy fruit doesn’t add any particular flavor to the grits.  The gravy, however, had me torn. It had the most watery consistency of all the gravy we’ve tried, making the grits a soggy mess to pick up by fork. But it also had a good Southern flavor that reminded me of crawfish boil and shrimp boil bases used to marinated seafood back home in New Orleans. A poignant spiced yet not too salty, the gravy actually added some zest to the otherwise bland Geechie Boy grits.

Now, don’t get me wrong, who doesn’t love Geechie Boy? Yellow in color with bits of actual corn added to the taste, these might be one of the best brands of grits available. But without any additional cheese added, the grits were a bit plain when consumed separately from the bowls other contents.

Which, of course, included shrimp. Easily forgettable, these shrimp weren’t anything special as compared to the other meaty contents of the bowl that included both tasso ham and sausage that added just enough briny flavor and substance to the grits. You didn’t even need to eat the shrimp, which I also chose to avoid.

Other things to look for:snob 3

The grilled chicken was some of the best grilled chicken I’ve ever had—period. Perfectly charred on the outside while still being tender and moist on the inside, the depth of flavor between the rub and the flavor of the chicken was extraordinary. The grilled summer vegetables were okay, but the goat cheese croutons (really just battered fried balls of goat cheese) were delectable and paired perfectly with the spice in the chicken. This dish was actually better than the shrimp and grits.

Stay tuned for the action-packed conclusion and our favorite shrimp and grits picks!

Tenor Madness at Jazz Artists of Charleston event

Tenor Madness

Credit: Tessa Blake

 

Tenor Madness brought jazz mania to Father Figaro Hall as part of  Jazz Artists of Charleston’s 6TH annual jazz series on Tuesday, June 4th.

 

The group, which features Mark Sternbank and Robert Lewis (both on tenor sax), played jazz standards and original compositions throughout the set.  Accompanied by Tommy Gill (piano), Kevin Hamilton (bass), and David Patterson (drums), the group opened with a snappy number and continued with an Austin Powersy piece entitled “Tom Thumb”.

 

From there, Sternbank introduced two of his original compositions, “DaySpring”and “70x7”.  “Dayspring” provided a jazzy take on a waltz—  a careful yet adventurous mid-tempo selection. “70 X 7”, which is a more modern work, highlighted a funky drum intro and a fun, sassy sax duet.

 

The next piece, Coltrane’s  pensive and melancholic “Soul Eyes” was played in memory of the late Ben Tucker, a bass player from Savannah, GA who recently passed.

 

Credit: Tessa Blake

Credit: Tessa Blake

From there, the tempo picked up with an original piece from Robert Lewis. “Clark”, based on a character from Dr. Seuss’ “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” featured a anticipatory beat that progressed to a delightful ditty.

 

Tenor Madness finished off the set with Coltrane’s version of “Summertime”, an homage to

the South Carolinian ties of  the opera Porgy and Bess, and Dizzy Gillespie’s  quick and witty Eternal Triangle. Tenor Madness explored the strength of two tenors saxophones and lived up to its name.

Shrimp and Grits Showdown: Round 5 Poogan’s Porch

Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar

Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar

Having Husk be your neighbor could be a tough thing; unless you’re Poogan’s Porch. Sean Doyle, the chef at Poogan’s Porch has cooked his Lowcounty cuisine in one of the most illustrious kitchens in America, the James Beard House. Kind of a coming out party for chefs, it’s a great honor and only the best chefs in the world are invited to cook there. With that being said, on to Round 5. Poogan's Porch1

Like Husk, the ambiance at Poogan’s Porch is gorgeous and inherently Southern. Beat up hard wood floors and rustic wooden tables populated the little dining room. Out front, on the porch and in the courtyard, tables were lined with white tablecloths and napkins, giving the restaurant a garden party atmosphere.

Nic’s picks: When the shrimp and grits came out, perfectly placed in a large, shallow bowl, I was dismayed; the return of the ubiquitous gravy. I thought in my mind, “Gravy? Again? What is it with the gravy?” It wasn’t thick, like at Southend or the Swamp Fox, but it was present, and that irked me. I tasted the grits first, without any other flavors. They were grainy and slightly cheesy, but they didn’t taste like grits. There’s a certain flavor associated with grits, an earthy corn flavor that just wasn’t present in this dish..

poogan5The grits also contained bell peppers and smoked sausage, both adding busting mouthfuls of flavor. The freshness of the bell peppers set against the smokiness of the sausage and the cheesiness of the grits was a nice balance. The shrimp were good, but they weren’t anything special. They were tender and rich, but they didn’t provide that much depth of flavor to an otherwise one-dimensional dish. Overall, the dish was so-so at best. It wasn’t overwhelming, but it wasn’t underwhelming either.

B’s business: Eating in a place as open and beautiful and Poogan’s Porch kept a permanent smile on my face prior to our meal even starting. The hardwood floors, the high ceilings and the porch area outside reminded me of a true Southern brunch, and I was more than ready to partake.

When the shrimp and grits arrived, however, it was more like a bowl of gravy with a side of grits.  The gravy tasted like the heavy gravy that accompanies pork chops; too much richness for a bowl of shrimp and grits. Not to mention, the grits themselves were so watery and thin, they slipped right through the fork.

The shrimp were tasty and tender, even with the added annoyance of biting the hardened tail shells off to enjoy their flavor. Since the shrimp were so good, it made it hard to ingest the Tasso ham this time, as it was salty and slimy beneath the grits.

Maybe I’m just getting used to the taste of onions and bell peppers in these Charleston based shrimp and grits, but they added a nice taste and hardened texture to the squelchy grits. poogan4

Expect the unexpected:

Nic’s picks: We ordered a few appetizers to start. For the first time in Charleston, I saw alligator on the menu. Because we’re in the South, the alligator was fried to a golden brown and delicious mound. It was served with a honey jalapeño dipping sauce, similar to spicy honey mustard. It didn’t last long, the alligator, and I’m sad to say I was a major player in it’s consumption.

We also ordered macaroni and cheese as a starter. It was creamy and warm, exactly what mac and cheese should be. It was studded with smoky bacon, and I never thought I would ever say this; there was too much bacon. It overpowered the taste of the cheese. It’s not macaroni and bacon, it’s macaroni and cheese, and the bacon masked the cheese flavor.

poogan3B’s business: Honestly, the best part of the meal wasn’t the shrimp and grits at all – it was the homemade biscuits and the fired alligator appetizers. The biscuits were baked semi-sweet and served with a whipped butter that melted atop the crispy exterior. Moistened by milk and not butter, the dough inside the biscuit was dense enough to satisfy yet light enough to save room for what came next.

Which was the fried alligator. As someone who generally stays away from fried foods, this is a New Orleans favorite I couldn’t resist. The alligator was superb – cooked and marinated with just enough flavor to be moist and not greasy, yet tender and not chewy. The batter used to fry the alligator could’ve been a bit more flavorful, however, these nostalgic pieces of white meat hit the soft spot of my Southern tongue just right.

 

Not just toy action figures

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Review of “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” at Pure Theatre.

Wrestlers can be so touchy, can’t they?

After all, millions watch them whine on TV every Monday night, lamenting over a championship loss or bitterly promising revenge.

Pure Theatre’s “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,”—a Piccolo Spoleto Festival presentation—gives a comically in-depth look at what lives behind the Lucha libres, groin-hugging tights and politically incorrect pseudonyms, like “The Fundamentalist.”

The Fundamentalist, mind you, is a radical Muslim. And when partnered with Che Chavez Castro, a Mexican border-jumper who leeches off the system (not my words) and also very anti-United States, the amoral marketing schemes of a Caucasian American pastime shine through.

At least, that’s what Everett K. Olson, the owner of THE Entertainment, thinks. “Wrestling fans don’t speak Spanish,” he says to Mace, one of the two wrestling personas adopted by the charming Michael Smallwood, when he suggests that can try to speak Spanish for one of his characters.

There’s a reason that this play, written by Kristoffer Diaz, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama in 2010. Diaz effectively and grippingly deconstructs a testosterone-laden sport and shows that these men—bulging muscles (though not always the case) and tattoos aside—are able to look past their own stereotypes. The only exception is Chad Deity, played by the rightfully holier-than-thou Christian Duboise, who embodies his character both inside and outside of the ring.

Still, it’s captivating to see what is behind the persona of wrestlers, moral pinings included. For Mace, wrestling is an art form, and he’s got a story to tell.

Director Sharon Graci’s steady hand throughout the production leaves just enough room for mystery to blossom throughout the performance. At times, Diaz’s text is completely predictable—diatribes on the less-than-sensitive racial ignorance in the biz give the piece little wiggle room, leaving us for hungering for a little more justice throughout—and Graci, along with the cast of six, presents a satisfying conversation.

The show is almost entirely done in what looks to be a 10-by-10 foot wrestling ring. By the time Act II comes round, body slamming and clotheslining are much appreciated. And, these guys throw each other around as savagely, and almost as believably, as the pros on TV.

The technical aspects of “Chad Deity” (designed by Charlie Thiel) are impressive. The gaudy music and self-glorifying videos that accompany a wrestler as he makes his entrance and the behind-the-ring trash talking are all documented on two screens.

It turns out that wrestlers have feelings too and they want to be seen as more than just plastic figurines.

Shrimp and Grits Showdown: Round 4 Hominy Grill

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Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar

Hominy Grill is a renowned purveyor of Lowcountry cuisine. Featured in countless publications and on myriad television shows, it’s a well known, and loved, destination in the Holy City. Located on the corner of Calhoun and Rutledge, Hominy Grill is in an unassuming building with a quaint mural on the side denoting the restaurant. Inside are farm style tables and rustic wooden chairs. It’s the perfect setting for an early afternoon feast. On to Round 4.

Nic’s picks: With the exception of Husk, Hominy Grill had the best ambiance of the restaurants I’ve been to thus far. It reminded me of Sunday afternoon lunches after church or being at friend’s house in Middle Georgia, and nostalgia counts for a lot. Hominy 2

We ordered a few different dishes of food, but when the shrimp and grits came out, they captivated my attention. For the first time in Charleston, I received a bowl of grits that wasn’t covered by an obscene amount of gravy. I took full advantage, tasting the grits first.

No bacon, no shrimp, no nothing, just pure, unadulterated grit flavor. They were creamy but still provided that gritty texture one would expect. The shrimp were perfectly sautéed, bright and bursting with a briny, rich flavor. They had a nice substantial bite, but were still tender and flavorful. The bacon provided a nice smoky, meaty flavor that complimented both the shrimp and grits, but it was used sparingly, much to my pleasure.

The mushrooms were a new addition for me, but I could have done without them. They didn’t detract from the dish, but they didn’t add to it either. The cheese was smooth and creamy, and thankfully it didn’t pervade the dish fully, preserving the nice, clean flavor of the grits. Overall, it was the most authentic bowl of shrimp and grits that I’ve had since I’ve been in Charleston, and I’m just thankful it didn’t have a thick gravy or mealy tomatoes.

Hominy 3B’s business: This was the first bowl of shrimp and grits that genuinely looked like, well, shrimp and grits. Presented for the first time that I’ve experienced in Charleston without gravy and tomatoes slathered atop, I could actually see the beaded white grits nestled below the shrimp, bacon and mushrooms.

Without the gravy or the cold tomatoes, the grits tasted a bit bland from what I’m used to eating in the Lowcountry. However, a more bare approach was much appreciated. It allowed for the cheese, and other accoutrements to blend into one cohesive taste of Southern flavor.

The added bacon instead of the usual Charleston-added Tasso ham was a much appreciated change of pace. The big bits of real bacon added a slightly salty flavor to the unadulterated grits and blended with the meaty mushrooms to create a rich flavor without needing a gravy to do it for them; which is how it should be.

The shrimp were also a great burst of flavor in their own right. Small, but thick, the shrimp were well-cooked and perfectly dispersed throughout the bacon to create an interesting mix of crispy and meaty.

But the most surprising thing of all was the lemon. As popular as it is to slather lemon all over seafood in New Orleans, I’m never one to partake. So, as much as I like lemon in my tea, I had an initial hesitation for lemon in my grits. But I gave it a try anyway, and was shocked by the welcomed burst of citrus and how well that paired with the once again, bare grits. Bravo to Hominy for discovering this interesting super Southern pair-up.

Expect the unexpected: Hominy 1

The greens. Perfectly braised and just a hint of bitterness, the collard greens at Hominy Grill were tender, flavorful, and just what greens should be. They went quickly at our table, and for good reason.

The squash casserole was cloyingly sweet and lacked texture, and it was a big disappointment, as were the fried grits. While the fried grits lacked flavor, the casserole had too much, and not the good kind either. If we could order again, those two things would have never made it to the table.