Friday, November 30, 2007

Heaving Hedgehogs in Hanover

Posted by Bruce Miller

After a 12 noon meeting in Ashland on Wednesday, Phil and I decided to drop in on our Swingtime Canteen company at Hanover Tavern before their 2 pm matinee. Our gorgeous ladies were in their costumes and our dashing men were stepping up to their piano, bass and drums in an effort to begin the show, when word came down from Michelle (of the restaurant that bears her name) that she had just been called by a bus group of 45 South Carolinians. They were traveling up 95 and would be about 25 minutes late for the performance. Could we hold?

Three groups comprised most of the sold out house that day. The Henrico Rec and Parks group and the Red Hat Ladies were already sitting patiently in their seats. And right smack dab in the middle of all of them were 45 empty seats for the gentle folk from Charleston.

Situations similar to this happen from time to time, and Phil and I frequently are called upon to do our “dog and pony show.” I’ve never been sure which one of us is the dog and which the pony. Perhaps we’re both donies. Or pogs. But our goal is to keep the on-time audience members happy until the “held up in traffic” audience (usually arriving by the busload) actually shows up.

When it’s a children’s theatre audience, and Christmas, I haul out my audience participation versions of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the Snow Bear Boogie, etc. We put our right paw in and our left paw out, and we parents jangle our car keys to Jingle Bells until the errant playgoers finally make it into their seats. At Easter-time I’ve been known to resort to Little Rabbit Foo Foo.

With an audience of spirited senior citizens, it’s not quite that easy. Making antlers with our hands every time we get to the word “reindeer” doesn’t seem to float their boats. So Phil and I took to the stage and announced that we’d be happy to answer questions about the history (fascinating, actually) of Barksdale Theatre and Hanover Tavern.

After breezing through my less than encyclopedic (but fairly accurate) knowledge of Patrick Henry and Hanover real estate circa 1776, the questions started getting tougher. “Who is the Montgomery Room named after?” (The Montgomery Room is the dining room in which the group had just eaten lunch, and I don’t have a clue how it earned that moniker.) “Did Thomas Jefferson really visit Hanover Tavern and which room did he stay in?”

I felt myself missing Nancy Kilgore.

Nancy, God bless her soul, knew all the answers. And when she didn’t, she was an unrivaled expert at making them up. She was at her most dazzling when the “real” answer was either fleeting or unknown. Watching Nancy lead groups through the Tavern and/or other historic Hanover properties was like watching Maggie Smith captivate the tourists visiting an historic British manor house in Lettice and Lovage.

In that wonderful play by Peter Shaffer, the character of Lettice, hilariously played on Broadway and in London’s West End by Dame Maggie, repeats the same historical narrative to a different group of tourists four times, and each time her docent declamation becomes more fantastical and compelling. In the final iteration, she has the tourists spellbound with a tale of British gentry vaulting down the grand staircase holding aloft platters brimming with baked hedgehogs.

I must admit I resorted to a bit of hedge-hogwash myself when I described the fiddle contest that Henry and Jefferson are alleged to have had "just on the other side of that door" during the Christmas season of 1759. We know from his journal that TJ visited the neighboring estate of Nathan Dandridge that year on his way to William and Mary. Who’s to say that the fiddling legend is untrue?

Of course, the Hanover Tavern in which Patrick Henry worked and played actually burned to the ground sometime in or just prior to the 1780s, and the one we know and love today (at least the northern section in which the theatre is located) was not rebuilt until 1791. But that’s not the way that Nancy Kilgore told it. And if I have the choice of being true to history or true to the memory of Nancy’s wildly enthusiastic embrace of the Tavern’s spirit, I’ll pick the latter any day of the week.

After all, as Nancy once said, “Once you’re sitting in those seats, darling, you’re not in a museum, you’re in a THEATRE!!” Here here.

--Bruce Miller
Images (from the top): Hanover Tavern, Swingtime logo, Rudolph in Claymation, the new Thomas Jefferson gold piece, Nancy Kilgore in Stop the World, Maggie Smith in Lettice and Lovage, Patrick Henry.

1 comment:

Robinitaface said...

This was my favorite. post. ever.