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.

 

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Managing the Bard and Puppets

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Stage mangers often go unrecognized, doing behind-the-scenes chores to make sure that the show runs smoothly. Because of stage managers, props are never lost, cues aren’t missed and the curtain rises and falls (generally) on time. Robin Longley, stage manger for Spoleto Festival USA’s production of Shakespeare’s  “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” has an added element to watch over, puppets. Check out what he does and what it takes to make the magic happen at each performance with the Bard, puppets, and festival-goers.

“Midsummer” is a well-known work, how would you describe this interpretation of the classic?
Longley: It is a smart, sexy, inventive, rude and slightly crazy version of the Shakespeare classic. And it’s got puppets, lots of puppets, in it.

Some people maybe reluctant to see Shakespeare, in what ways does this production make the work more accessible?
Longley: I think the time spent in rehearsals delving into the meaning of the text is very well rewarded in the performances given and the story is really clear.

What would you say were some of the highlights of the production process?Longley:Unpacking the puppets that Handspring Puppet Company had shipped to Bristol in on my first day on the job in January has to be up there. There’s also nothing like doing the show for the first time in front of an audience – you learn where the laughs and the rounds of applause generally are – we keep tweaking the show too, so there are new funny bits for the Spoleto audience that the people of Bristol never got to see.

What were some of the more challenging moments for the production?
Longley: From a stage management perspective, every day can be a challenge: from the scheduling of rehearsals that may clash with costume fittings, or trying to work out where a noise is coming from in the building during a quiet bit of a performance, to how to do the show with an actor who is throwing up in the toilet.

How does doing a festival production differ from a longer running production for a theatre’s season?
Longley: Normally you set a show up, and come in and do the set up at the same time every day and do the show at the same time every night. At Spoleto, logistically everything is different. There are four different show times; we have to pack the set, costumes, props, puppets and some of the lighting equipment away every few days for the Opera; every day there are chamber concerts on the front of our set which means the local crew have to move some of our floor sections to get a piano or a marimba or a harpsichord in (Spoleto has an excellent crew by the way).

Tell me a bit about your background as a stage manager and working with the festival?
Longley: Back home in the UK I am a freelance stage and company stage manager. I have worked in many of the UK’s best, in my opinion, producing theaters up and down the country since training in stage management and technical theater at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. I became attached to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” after working with Tom Morris on his recent production of Arthur Ransome’s “Swallows and Amazons,” which played in London’s West End and toured the UK from December 2011 through to May 2012. Tom asked me to work on “MSND” while we were still touring with that and I was somehow able to fill the gap with work (and also become a father to my daughter Olive in July).

Have you worked as a stage manager for other Shakespeare productions? If so, how does this production differ from the others you’ve worked on?
Longley: I have worked on “Julius Caesar” for Birmingham Rep; “Richard II” for the Royal Shakespeare Company; “Much Ado About Nothing” for Regent’s Park Open Air Theare, London; two productions of “Antony and Cleopatra” for the Royal Shakespeare Company, with Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter in the title roles, and Chichester Festival Theatre, with Michael Pennington and Kim Cattrall. I have never done one with this few actors or this many puppets.

How would you describe “Midsummer” to someone who is unfamiliar with the play?
Longley: It is a love story with an hilarious subplot involving ‘rude mechanicals’ (to quote Puck) that culminates in a performance within the play of Pyramus and Thisbe with some of the finest stage clowning I have ever had the pleasure of stage managing.

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Using everyday objects for music on command

I took my 13-year-old daughter to a contemporary music concert this weekend, one in the Spoleto Festival’s Music in Time series, organized by Resident Conductor John Kennedy. It featured a program of recent music by the New York City-based composer Nathan Davis, who creates conceptual soundscapes inspired by natural and not-so-natural phenomena. It might seem heady for a young teenager, but I see no reason why young people should not be exposed to this kind of music — before their tastes become calcified by age and prejudice.

—Adam Parker

BY ZOE ALESSANDRA DE LUCA-PARKER
Special to The Post and Courier

The first piece by Nathan Davis in the Music in Time series concert on Sunday was “Bells.” The composer told everyone to take his cell phones out and dial a number, then an access code (there were four, labeled Astral, Cryptic, Telegraphic and Tintinnabular) of your choice. While in most concerts the music comes from the stage, Music in Time makes music come from every direction, filling the whole room with different sounds.

The second piece, “Weather Rock,” had many different parts to it. It had a violin and a cello each with one thin string hanging off. The players pulled the strings to make amazing, stuttering sound a little like the wind. The percussionists used various objects, including rocks to make a very interesting gravelly sound.

“On speaking a hundred names” was a piece for a bassoon, one of my favorite instruments. It changed from something classical to something exploratory and seemingly accidental, but all very much done on purpose. The bassoon player, Ryan Wilkins, also played the same note in many different ways. I enjoyed this piece very much because I liked the effects created by the playing and by the technology that enhanced it.

The next piece was “Crawlspace.” This piece was the most fascinating to me because the composer took a microphone and placed it on the keyboard of his laptop computer, then took a camera and showed what he was doing. Sometimes he would hit the keys, moving the microphone around to different spots on the computer. The result was robot-sounding, and very dynamic, with many sounds created at once.

The last piece was called “Skryzp Skzryn.” It was a string quartet that started very high and, as the piece proceeded, went lower and lower. I liked this piece because it showed how the instruments change sound and the instruments’ range. All four of the instruments would do things at different times.

Nathan Davis makes music from sounds that are natural or created by common things. Another composer might be inspired by these sounds and attempt to transcribe them for instruments, but Davis uses the sounds themselves, along with regular sounds from instruments, sometimes transcribed electronically.

This show was definitely one of the most interesting shows I have ever been to. This show was for everyone to enjoy.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Review: Pamela Z

Review of ‘Music In Time I’ by Pamela Z at the Memminger Auditorium.

The crackle of popped bubble-wrap and the dainty ding of two metal rods, carefully sampled live onstage at the Memminger Auditorium, have become two more looped elements added to Pamela Z’s cauldron of sound. The multilayered, droning mix contains samples of lyrics and the occasional soaring operatic vocal, elements that the abstract shapes in the projected video behind Z respond to in every instance. It is a hypnotic experience, with multimedia singer and performer Pamela Z serving as both musical alchemist and gatekeeper for the audience into her signature soundscapes.

The ensuing chaos can sometimes be overwhelming, with all of the aural stimuli building to a cacophonous, overpowering crescendo that threatens to spin out of control. But then, with a wave of her hand or the subtle press of a pedal, Pamela Z reins in her noisy creation, proving once again that every sound was indeed in its intended place.

Her technique of building abstract collages of sound—sometimes rhythmic, sometimes atonal—makes the process and the performance and integral part of her compositions (I don’t imagine a Pamela Z CD would be nearly as enthralling.) In that regard, her show is almost geeky. I found myself at certain points straining to see when she was starting to capture specific vocals and sounds, and trying to identify the pace of specific loops of songs. Her performance dares you to decode it, to dig down into the bed of music as it occurs to discover her secrets. In that regard, she is not only a performer, but a shepherd, controlling what direction we move within the soundscape and inviting a strong analysis of her process rather than relishing in the performance of the final product.

However, it was when she didn’t provide an entry point—whether it be a consistent beat, a new vocal or an overarching theme—that her work began to falter. One particular piece, in which she used a laptop camera to record a short video series of brief motions and sounds that she then controlled using waves of her hands, never seemed to come together as a composition itself, and played more like a technological demonstration than an artistic work using a compelling audio-visual tool.

The audibly shuffling feet of exiting patrons punctuating the end of each of her first five works made it abundantly clear that Pamela Z isn’t for everyone. Her approach can be hypnotic, cacophonous, atonal, and even comical at times. However, it isn’t entirely accessible. Even “Broom,” her final performance that she quasi-jokingly declared her “pop song,” had a hint of soul and verse/chorus/verse song structure, but it still leaned heavily toward her signature piecework aesthetic.

With the very nature of her work being predicated on live sampling, I can’t imagine two Pamela Z performances ever being exactly alike, even if the blueprints are generally the same. It’s with this in mind that the process itself becomes more enthralling than the end results. I have to admit, it sure was fun watching her hands pluck, pry and stretch the noises she’s created using a small, mysterious custom made theremin-esque box. It’s her most fascinating onstage piece of equipment, but it’s the ingenuity of Pamela Z itself that proves to be her most valuable instrument.

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Playing with Puppets

Director Tom Morris likes playing with puppets. After winning a Tony Award for best director of play in 2011, Morris decided to implement the use of puppetry in his imaginative rendition of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” currently running at the Dock Street Theater as part of Spoleto Festival USA. For Morris, puppetry and Shakespeare came hand in hand as the bard tends to lay out imagery right in his text. After leaving Spoleto, the show (which made its United States debut here in Charleston) will head to New Haven, Conn. and continue its tour from there.

What is your favorite Shakespeare play?
Morris: That’s a good question. Well, it depends really. It’s like saying, “what’s your favorite outfit?” I have to say, I haven’t directed many Shakespeare plays, but I do use Shakespeare as a kind of medicine. Reading Shakespeare is like a fantastic, imaginative workout. This morning, I think my favorite Shakespeare play is “Twelfth Night.” That’s probably to do with being someone from Bristol who’s turned up in this beautiful, strange city, having a really exciting adventure. Though on other days, “Winter’s Tale” and I love, obviously “Midsummers Night’s Dream.” When you work on a play, you can get in the middle of it. I think the big tragedies are amazing—“King Lear,” that’ll do, that’s about five.

An article stated that you always base yourself in Shakespeare when working.
Is that true?
Morris: That’s sort of true. The kind of theater that I like watching and I try to make is theater that makes an appeal to the imagination. It’s a kind of theater that understands,

Tom Morris, director of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Spoleto Festival USA

Tom Morris, director of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Spoleto Festival USA.
Photo: Sam Frost/The Guardian

at first, principles are the foundation for everything. The meaning of the thing is created by the audience. It is by coincidence or not, the case, that in Shakespeare’s theater, they didn’t have very much scenery and the invitation to the imagination of the audience was explicit in the text…The kind of theater that I make, whether there are puppets in it or not, makes a rather similar invitation to the imagination of the audience. A puppet clearly requires the audience to give it life, otherwise there’s no story.

What was the inspiration behind using puppets in “Midsummer”?
Morris: I guess there were two inspirations. One was having made “War Horse” with Marianne Elliot and with Handspring Puppets. It seemed like a very exciting idea to try to do something else with something completely different. This particular play appealed because thematically it is engaged with changes of shape, metamorphosis, how the imagination operates. We know that in the dark you can see something and imagine it to be something else. All of those kinds of transformations, internal and external, connect in an interesting way with how a puppet works, because a puppet asks an audience to transform it. And also, the play is dreamlike in structure. We all know that our dreams are visually bizarre.

Your ideas of using puppets before, with “War Horse,” landed you a Tony Award. What was it like winning the coveted award?
Morris: It was very, very strange. I didn’t grow up in the culture of Tony’s. Tony’s are sort of a mythical object for me, so distant and far away and not anything I’d come anywhere near. The experience of that was a mark of joy for unpredictability and collaborative theater making…Witnessing the emotional impact that show has had on audiences, not only in Britain, but obviously in New York and now in Australia and soon in Germany and Canada, witnessing that emotional response is really the thing. A Tony is the label on top of that, which is fantastic because it’s a thing you put on your shelf. It’s a badge on the heart of the audience, and I think that’s why it got so many prizes because people felt the audience was profoundly moved by it.

Is there a difference between audiences in Britain and audiences in the United States?
Morris: For sure. We’ve done three performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and they’re coming off the end of a run in Bristol. The audiences were very different… very different ages of audience, very different city they’ve grown up in. We had a talk after the first performance here because the audiences here—two shows yesterday—are really excited about the show, and they were excited in very different ways. So the company has to allow the audience here to make it their own in a way that’s true for them. They respond to different things, find different things funny, different things moving. The timing shifts, the audience here has changed the timing of the show. It’s fascinating.

How did “Midsummer” fall into your hands?
Morris: I always loved it as a play because I am fascinated by how you go to sleep loving one person and wake up loving another person, which sometimes happens, and how we live our lives around that. So, that’s the underlying thing…We [Morris and Adrian Kohler, “War Horse” puppet creator] started talking about “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and I started to understand and see the images that that text inspired for him. We decided that if we were going to work together that we were going to do something very different from “War Horse.” There would be no point in repeating that experiment. That would be of no interest of us. We knew it was going to be different, and we decided that we would try to do something that would combine lots and lots of different kinds of puppetry, and obviously dialogue. He [Kohler] was creating a visual text that would go along with Shakespeare’s text.

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Opening Ceremony Photo Gallery

A team of reporters and photographers attended the festivals’ opening ceremony, and we took some time to get to know some of the other attendees and ask what they were looking forward to most at this year’s festivals.

Click here to check out our photo gallery!

For more information, read The Post and Courier’s full story about the opening ceremony.

Slideshow photos by: Christina Riley and Eesha Patkar

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Banners About Town

Spoleto Festival USA is ramping up their advertising this year with a selection of light pole banners throughout downtown.

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The new Spoleto Festival USA banners. (Photo credit: Joseph DiDomizio)

 “We have expanded our downtown signage campaign this year and are very pleased with it,” said Paula Edwards, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Spoleto Festival USA. The city had previously purchased banners for an event in the spring, Edwards said, and after they purchased some additional hardware, allowed the festival to use them.

“We thought it was the perfect way to create Festival buzz and enhance our popular window display contest that local merchants participate in,” Edwards said. “Charleston is the perfect size city to do something like this in, in that something like Spoleto can completely consume downtown for a two-week time period. And we’re trying to do that visually as much as possible.”

If you spy a poster in a unique location, tweet your photos to @SpoletoChas!

If you’re interested in buying this year’s poster—the one featured on the street banners—you can find more information on the Spoleto Festival USA website.

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