Shrimp and Grits Showdown: Round 3 Southend Brewery

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(Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar)

Situated on the corner of Queen and East Bay, the Southend Brewery is a cavernous entity not far from Charleston Harbor and the Battery. Monstrous copper fermentation tanks dominate the backdrop upon entering the restaurant, with vaulted, workman style ceilings. Rustic and warm, this was the perfect place for Round Three. S&G Southend 2

Nic’s picks: After the disappointment that was round one, and the slightly better effort by our round two locale, my spirits were high going in to round three. It was short lived.

Again, the shrimp and grits came out expertly served in a shallow bowl, but covered with a thick, cream based gravy. While I know shrimp and grits isn’t the most health-conscious meal, the gravy makes it so much heavier than it needs to be.

The grits were so-so. They had good texture and good cheesy flavor, but they weren’t anything special, and th gravy just overpowered any subtle flavors the grits conjured up. Tasso ham makes another guest appearance, and it was flavorful and smoky, but again it overpowered any subtleness this dish could have produced. I’m all for bold, flavorful dishes, but when one of the main ingredients of the dish is not a highlight, then there are some problems.

The shrimp were plump and juicy, and they provided a good flavor and meatiness for the dish. Of the three restaurants so far, these shrimp were the best, by far. They were rich enough to cut through the gravy, if only for a fleeting second. Fresh tomatoes were strewn throughout the dish, and frankly it confused me. They provided no flavor or texture, and their presence was more of a nuisance than any kind of flavor enhancer.

Overall, the dish was lackluster and not deserving of it’s relatively steep price ($17.95). The flavors did not come together, and it was an extremely heavy dish with too many ingredients. For such a simple dish, it was made too complex, and that worked against it. This dish would have benefited from a more delicate, deft touch.

S&G SouthendB’s business: Charleston has definitely capitalized on shrimp and grits being smothered in gravy with tomatoes — cold tomatoes. Which to my dismay, left most the grits on the outside of the bowl cold.

Unappetizing as it is to chomp into cold contents for a meal that’s supposed to be savory and hot, again, I immediately shoved the tomatoes and the tough and overcooked shrimp to the outside of my bowl with the hopes that its lingering, overpowering flavor didn’t completely ruin the dish. But it was too late. I couldn’t even finish or enjoy what I was eating.

The best part of this dish was the Tasso ham, which also seems to be a Charleston shrimp and grits staple. Otherwise, for the steep price, the grits weren’t well-cooked, the cheese was almost non-existent, and the gravy was too heavy.

The highlight of my visit to Southend Brewery wasn’t even for the shrimp and grits at all; it was for the collard greens.  Every time I’ve eaten greens in Chareston, they were choppy and weren’t cooked long enough to be supple and mushy, not chewy. But these greens were cooked just right. They were surprisingly sweet, not savory, from being basked in brown sugar, which was a welcome surprise.  They had a hint of Old Bay hot sauce mixed with vinegar and real bacon bits, both of which if layered on too heavily could’ve overpowered the natural bitterness of the greens; but they didn’t. They were sprinkled with enough restraint to be enjoyed and not frowned on.

Finding Hope with “Mayday Mayday”

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“Mayday Mayday” recounts the miraculous and unbelievable story of Tristan Sturrock, the man who suffered a near fatal fall, which left him paralyzed from the shoulders down.

But, not for long.

Sturrock, the writer, performer and co-director of the production was just 37 years old when he stumbled out of a bar on a mission. He found his way to his car and sped down the road in search for a bag of chips for his then five-month pregnant girlfriend, Katie. Unfortunately, instead of finding chips, he found himself with a broken C5, unable to move any limbs and faced with a life altering decision: to let his injury heal naturally with a halo brace or to endure an “intervention surgery,” which could either leave him healed or dead. So much for a happy medium.

“Mayday Mayday” is a one-man show, with Sturrock playing various characters (the

Tristan Sturrock in "Mayday Mayday"

Tristan Sturrock in “Mayday Mayday”

doctor, his sister, his mom and the surgeon). With each character he is able to perfect a convincing persona—his mother, nurturing and concerned, the doctors knowledgeable and direct and his whimsical sister, and even if she’s a bit absentminded.

The transitions between characters seem effortless, as Sturrock switches between professionals and family members with ease.

Though the play strikes a serious chord (the newly paralyzed man was expecting his first child, the story line had enough humor built in to make it feel more inspirational than heartbreaking.

A toy truck served as the ambulance and a toy helicopter transported him to the hospital, which gave the story a childlike element. His playful nature allowed audiences to laugh at his misfortunes rather than cry at his losses.

Perhaps the main reason why this production is such a success is because the audience is hearing it in first person; Sturrock wasn’t a person playing a character, he was telling his story.

His eyes burned with passion and hope, which the audience found enthralling—as he told his story. Sturrock has conquered the ability to look at the glass half full and he holds his glass while walking gracefully across various stages around the world.

Review: Noche Andaluza

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The outstanding premier of Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía fulfilled the expectations of the Spoleto Festival USA audience. The vitality and sensuality of the dancers made the “Noche Andaluza” (“Andalusian Night”) performance a delightful introduction into the secrets of Andalusian dancing.

Colorful dresses, clean dancing and live music harmonized in a show that had its strongest moments when the whole company danced together. Even though part of the essence of flamenco dancing is its spontaneity, the synchronization and elegantl interaction between female and male dancers gave energy and rhythm to the presentation.

The guest dancer (Pastora Galván) had an evident control of her body. Her power, security and attitude seemed to say that she could do anything she wanted to. She showed, in each step, why she has her own avant-garde style.

That is precisely why one of the finest moments of the show was the one in which Galván dances on one side of the stage, while the company is on the other. Traditional and avant-garde flamenco dancing were shown together to give the viewer a taste of the infinitive possibilities of the Spanish style of dancing.

The style of the show changed, though, when the choreographer and artistic director Rubén Olmo, appeared on the stage. His thin figure and his extremely versatile dancing capacity gave him the possibility to freely and delicately jump through the stage as if he were a bird in the act called “El Vuelo” (“The Flight”). Olmo’s solo pause the energetic rhythm experienced before and makes a good transition for the ending.

The show rightly finished with a more spontaneous scene in which the musicians had the possibility to sing and dance at the center of the stage, while the company surrounded them keeping the rhythm with their claps. This act highlights the importance of music for flamenco and especially the role that this Spanish has as an art manifestation truly encrusted in Spanish culture.

Piccolo Poetry Walk

In addition to Piccolo Spoleto festival goers attending the Sundown Poetry Series, they may also take part in the Charleston Poetry Walk sponsored by the Poetry Society of South Carolina.

The walk takes festival goers on an hour-long journey through downtown Charleston to see historic places where poets were once inspired by. “We have such a rich heritage of poets from and/or influenced by their time in South Carolina,” said Mary H. Harris, coordinator of the walk. ” It is great fun to let visitors and locals know a little more about them and hear their words.”

The walk starts at 125 Meeting St. and has several times to join starting at 10 a.m. Admission is $12.

Southern Eats: Boone’s Bar

Boone'sSometimes the most fortuitous things come about because of a wrong turn or bad directions. Leaving a meeting, I got turned around and headed in the opposite direction of the restaurant I was supposed to be going to. Not wanting to backtrack, and trying to dodge an impending thunderstorm, I high-tailed it towards my apartment.

Walking down King Street, past all of the chain restaurants and boutiques, I came upon an interesting little place. Not knowing what to expect, I stopped in and looked at the menu. The place, Boone’s Bar (345 King Street) served typical bar food: fries, sandwiches, burgers, wings, etc.

It was noon and I was starving so I ordered the “Southern Cali Turkey” which consisted of turkey, Swiss cheese, bacon, avocado, tomato, and sprouts, all served hot on toasted sourdough bread with an herb aioli. Served with hand cut fries, the bill came to $11, not exactly dollar-menu, but not back-breaking either.

The sandwich was better than serviceable; it was flat out good. The bread was perfectly toasty; crusty on the outside but soft and supple with a good mouth feel. The turkey was juicy and warm, slightly smoky but not overly salty. The bacon provided a nice fattiness to offset the lean turkey, and the creamy avocado provided richness.

The sprouts were a nice departure from the standard lettuce, but the tomatoes were muddled. The aioli was a miss as well. A touch too oily and a bit too many herbs, it provided too strong a flavor to be paired with the subtleness of the turkey and avocado. The aioli provided a jolt of flavor; unfortunately the sandwich didn’t need it.

The hand-cut fries were excellent. Crisp on the outside but tender on the inside, keeping the peel on was a nice, nostalgic touch. Overall, the food was good, but not great. For a lunchtime spot, there are definitely worse places you could choose.

Boone’s Bar

LOCATION- 345 King Street

HOURS- Mon.-Sat. Noon-2 a.m.; Sun. Noon-Midnight

Natalia Khoma Presents Bach’s Solo Cello Suites (1-3)

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After last year’s presentation of J.S. Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites, Natalia Khoma brought it to Piccolo Spoleto again, this time at First Presbyterian Church.
For the concert on May 29, she played the first three suites of the six. Her interpretation was rich and colorful. Her skills allowed her to add layers, change volumes and vary tempos while performing. All these, integrated with her graceful appearance, made her even more charming.

Khoma, a native Ukrainian, is a renowned cellist and a cello professor at College of Charleston. Among her competition wins is the Budapest Pablo Casals Competition, named after the Spanish cellist who played a crucial role in popularizing the Bach cello suites.

These suites were largely unknown until Casals recorded a full version of all six in 1939. They then became a peak that seemingly every cello maestro tries to reach at some point in their career.

Unlike Casals’ deep interpretation of the Prelude of Suite No. 1, Khoma’s playing is brisk and absorbing. Her first note in Menuet—bright, quick and forte—was a potent contrast to the mournful Sarabande. Her refreshing articulation of the beginning was joined by an elastic and elegant reinvention of it in terms of melody and sound intensity. It enriched the acoustics and added layers to the suite.

The second suite in D minor, in contrast to the first one, is darker. The lines lingered in her strings, her fingers, the hall and the church. The mournful notes were like endless sadness and gloom. However, the pace in the Allemande was unexpected. In her interpretation, the lines and notes plunged forward in an incredibly fast tempo that still captured every nuance.

Yet the Courante was somehow even speedier. With greater contrast in volume and pitch in phrases, the emotion became so fierce that when the final crescendo came, you felt the agony and drama falling on the audience. During this suite, Khoma kept wiping the sweat off her head and fixing her hair between movements. Her dress strap also fell off her shoulder, which seemed to distract her. (The strap fell from time to time throughout the concert.)

After going backstage for a while, Khoma came back and played the third suite in C major. Her melodic short notes leaped over the fluid bass. While the strong resonance in the First Presbyterian Church sometimes blurred the piece’s echoes, the emotions were amplified. Khoma’s seamless playing then integrated the layers, the volumes and the richness of sound in the Gigue. With successive fortes near the end, she ended this journey with an intensified and prolonged coda.

Music and words from the cast of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”

 Andrew Jackson, the Rockstar president, makes his first visit to Charleston via The Village Repertory Co. at its new home in the Woolfe Street Playhouse. “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” which transforms America’s 7th president into an emo lead singer, has never before been performed in the Charleston area. Go behind the curtain with this audio preview of the show.

Will Haden plays Andrew Jackson and sings “I’m not that Guy.” In his professional directorial debut, Josh Wilhoit styles the musical around the idea of politics as celebrity. Becca Anderson plays Rachel Jackson, Andrew’s wife, and sings “The Great Compromise.” Corey Webb serves as musical director and sings “Second Nature,” a reflective song near the end of the show.

If you go

  • When: Thursday May 30 – June 22
  • Where: Woolfe Street Playhouse, 34 Woolfe St.
  • Tickets: $36

“God of Carnage” Would Wreak Better Havoc with Age-Appropriate Actors

Review of “God of Carnage,” part of the Stelle di Domani series.

It takes a minute to get used to seeing a pair of college students discuss their 11-year old son.

As part of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, the College of Charleston’s Department of Theatre and Dance presents “God of Carnage,” Jasmina Reza’s dialogue dense 90-minute production. “Carnage” traps two sets of parents in a living room as they deal with their sons’ playground scuffle. Christopher Hampton translated Reza’s tight French into equally tight English, bringing a whole new meaning to “fighting words.” But, all these words put a lot of pressure on the actors.

The cast of "God of Carnage"

The cast of “God of Carnage.”

Margaret Nyland and Peter Spearman play Veronica and Michael Novak, parents of Henry, who gets whacked in the face with a stick. Nyland is a University of Virginia graduate taking classes at the College of Charleston. She’s older than her undergraduate cast mates, which really works to her advantage. She moves and sounds like a harried young mother standing up for her son after a child’s fight. Spearman, as her nebbish husband, nails the hesitant speech of a spouse who is clearly not the dominant one in the marriage. Although only a college junior, Spearman acts old enough. He employs that particular brand of fatherly pride when he learns his son has a little gaggle of boys who follow him around like a gang. Novak’s boy is a ringleader in a way that Novak hasn’t been since before he got married.

College of Charleston senior Diana Biffle and junior Christian Persico play the other married couple, Annette and Alan Raleigh. The Raleighs’ son, Benjamin, hit Henry with a stick because Henry wouldn’t let him join his gang. Biffle and Persico are clearly college actors. They look young and sound young. Benjamin would more likely be their kid brother than their son. It doesn’t help that the Raleighs’ dialogue in “Carnage” naturally calls for an annoyed attachment to Benjamin. “He’s a savage,” Alan declares to explain away his son’s behavior in the park.

Costume designer McKenna DuBose doesn’t help the dilemma when she employs a hackneyed trick: make a young girl look older by suctioning her luscious hair into a dour bun, then add glasses. It’s the same trick used in movies to make a pretty girl look like a dork. Because we’re so used to it, we become less swayed to believe the design. Biffle is left looking like a cute kid toddling around in her mother’s heels. The same goes for Persico who wears a trench coat that swallows him whole. He fishes around in the large pockets of his trousers every time his blackberry rings, reminding us that he is as uncomfortable in these grown men’s pants as he is with bandying about legal advice over the phone. Alan works as a corporate litigator.

What does end up saving “Carnage” is when Nyland, Spearman, Biffle and Persico all work together, talking on top of each other and exhausting their characters at the same time. The whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts in this production. When Spearman’s Michael breaks out a bottle of perfectly aged rum, a catalyst among college kids as much as full grown adults, the show turns quite nicely.

Alliances shift from husband and wife batting for the same team, to the two husbands playing against the two wives. Of course, Hampton’s translated dialogue dictates this shift, but without the clever chemistry of the core four actors, you wouldn’t have felt the necessary comedy in “God of Carnage.”

Costuming the Presidents

For the past 20 years, Julie Ziff has been behind the scenes of the Charleston theater community. More appropriately, behind the seams. For Ziff, costuming shows has become a passion since retiring from her day job in New York City years ago. Knowing that she was wanted to go into costuming, Ziff took theater classes at The New School in NYC and shipped down to Charleston to start her new career—one that keeps her incredibly busy. Currently, the designer is costuming two shows for the Piccolo Spoleto Festival at the Woolfe Street Playhouse, “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and “Love, Loss and What I Wore.”  The good news, she may be busy, but it’s easy to find her: in the costume shop.

How did you get involved with this theatre?
Julie Ziff: I did a show for Keely Enright (founder and producing artistic director of The Woolfe Street Playhouse)  when we were downtown at the Midtown Theatre and then when they decided to start their own theater company, she asked me to come and work with them.

How did you get into costume design?
Ziff: Well I moved down here from New York City and I retired from my day job. And, right before I left I went to The New School and I took an acting class, a set design class and a directing class because I wanted to do costumes, but I thought I don’t even know the language. So, I took those classes right before I left and when I came down here, my younger daughter was in the theater so I started making costumes for the theater company she was with. I have done costumes for almost everyone in town and then I met Keely and Dave and started working for them full time.

What was the daily wear of the 19th century politician and their cohorts? What were people wearing back then?
Ziff: Suits. Well, you know, clothes haven’t changed too much over the years. So, it’d be a shirt and tie, and a vest and a jacket with maybe a hat.

What about the women?

Julie Ziff (right) and Keely Enright (left, producting artistic director of the Woolfe Street Playhouse).

Julie Ziff (right) and Keely Enright (left, producting artistic director of the Woolfe Street Playhouse).


Ziff: Well, a dress. I’m not sure if it was a bustle dress at that point or just a hoop skirt, but it was big clothes and a lot of layers, too.

Have you interpreted the costumes from the original Broadway show?
Ziff: We of course have that available as a resource and since it is such a recent show, it has more of an influence on us than if we were just creating it from scratch, but we always like to do our own thing.

So how did you do your own thing?
Ziff: Well, Keely, Josh [Wilhoit, Director of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson] and I met together and we talked about what the colors are, what is the feeling we want here? I meet all of the actors so I sort of know body sizes and what they look like, so it  springs from that. We think about what works in our theater because we’re not off Broadway, we’re not Broadway; we have a stage that isn’t deep.

What do you think is the biggest challenge when designing costumes?
Ziff: In this type of theater where you have maybe a four-to-six week run, you have to make the costume substantial enough so it will last the run but you can’t afford to make it substantial enough so that it’s really there forever.

Have you ever been inspired to veer away from a traditional costume and make it your own?
Ziff: Yes, they let me do that a lot. It’s very collaborative here.

What has been your craziest costume designing experience?
Ziff: Maybe “Urinetown” was one of our more creative from a costume standpoint because we just did all black, white and grey and we used red as the accent color. Everybody had something red.

What was the reasoning behind that?
Ziff: The set was a cinderblock outhouse that they were using and we just wanted to make it more dramatic. It was such a great musical and we wanted to be able to pull on the drama of it.

What is your favorite part about doing costume design?
Ziff: Every play is its own entity. You have about a month to research everything, decide what you’re going to do and then you have two weeks to make them and then they’re up for a month and you start all over. So, it’s very creative and very fun.

Puppets Bring Shakespeare to Life

Review of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Dock Street Theatre.

Spoleto Festival USA’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is not just about bringing Shakespeare’s play to life. It’s also about bringing puppets to life in Shakespeare’s play.

The production, by Handspring Puppet Company and Bristol Old Vic, makes use of puppets to present the fantasy world. But in this realm (being housed at the Dock Street Theatre), the puppets and actors exist alongside and interact with each other.

Four young lovers —Hermia (Akiya Henry), Lysander (Alex Felton), Demetrius (Kyle Lima) and Helena (Naomi Cranston) — appear as puppets wearing the same clothing as the actors who control them. Though weird at first sight, the puppets soon interweave with the actors’ breaths, gestures, physical movements and voices.

William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The gods Oberon and Titania, meanwhile, are presented in another style, one more reminiscent of sculptures. David Pearce, who plays Oberon, holds a big wooden head and a mechanical hand that can point, make a fist and fetch objects. Saskia Portway, who plays Titania, raises a regal sculpture head. When the gentle yellow light falls on the sculptures, they look stately and solemn, yet the shadow falling to their right also adds a gloomy cast.

The puppets carry the metaphor of the play. As the story goes on, the lovers are aware of the puppets and act as counterparts with them, exchanging and even dropping them. This blurs reality and fantasy, which helps convey the supernatural powers of this uncharted era and place. The contrast between the sizes of the puppets speaks to their relative status. On the other hand, the production also makes room for the absurd, notably the conversion of Puck as a transformative creature made of carpenter’s tools (carried by three actors) and Bottom’s transformation into an ass, who plays a comical word game with his name by reversing his head and his backside.

The production does ask a lot of the audience, however, by demanding that they crane their necks for a better view of the puppets on stage in order to understand the lover’s plight in this rendition of Shakespeare’s classic.