February 14, 2015- Panama City, FL. Actors have an open-ended mission: To relieve tension in their audience, but also to incite thought. This is as true of those who devote themselves to small-city “stock” theater productions, becoming more intimate with both their audiences and their crews, as it is of those who stride the Red Carpet on awards night.
The rehearsal on which I sat in, this lovely north Florida morning, was intent on taking the viewer/listener back to childhood: Specifically, it addressed the Spelling Bee, on the surface level, and the issues of parents living through their children and the resulting effects this brazen, immature vicarious life has on the child, on the more crucial, underlying, level.
Two hours of love were put into this endeavour, at least from the actors’ perspective. There will be more, before the February 20 presentation. The troupe presents before school groups, so this play will hit home, for any child who is in an activity for the sake of his/her parents.
I started the morning watching my hosts’ dogs play, in the back yard. Dogs have the right perspective: Only do what feels right, do it as a team, and mess around a bit, while doing it.
The actors have the team thing down, and so will get through the production quite well. My host is one of the best at this, and while messing around is not on her agenda- there is no one who has more fun with her work.
The Martin Theater, where the production will first be staged, is a venerable institution in Panama City, and was a key USO site during World War II, when north Florida was a key staging area for the European Theatre of the conflict.
The murals on its south wall reflect the spirit of that time of national teamwork, and determination. Womankind in those days was far more than Rosie the Riveter. Style and grace remained key elements of maintaining morale.
After the two-hour practice, there was a new mission: Lunch. Where better to begin this important search, than at a Farmer’s Market. Panama City has a fine one, in the St. Andrews neighbourhood.
We found lots of arts, crafts and fresh vegetables, but a complete meal required crossing the street- to Little Village, a lovely old house that was converted by its owner into a small restaurant, bar and gift shop complex. It reminds me of a similar arrangement in an airplane hangar, at Oceanside, CA.
Little Village is certainly well appreciated by the residents of Panama City: The place was packed, and we got stuffed by the amazing Veracruz-style Mexican cuisine. Music was provided by a pianist-singer, evoking a cross between Billy Joel and Carlos Santana.
I was beginning to think that I might end this journey looking like these fellows.
We decided to walk off the meal, as best we could, and drove to St. Andrews State Recreation Area, first visiting Gator Lake, an encounter with a swamp environment. The signature creatures were nowhere to be seen. Of course, it was early afternoon, and alligators usually prefer to be out and about in the morning.
The sand here is the whitest I’ve yet seen, being largely the result of shell deposits.
Needless to say, Host and I were both in our elements.
The afternoon would not have been complete, though, without going across the parking lot and seeing the fabulous stretches of pure white sand and rather feisty surf.
This was a very full St. Valentine’s Day. As much as sourpuss revisionists like to put down the Patron Saint of lovers, I like to think his devotion to his chosen mission was a path of love, much like that of the actors whom I watched last night, and this morning.
The theme of real love continued on into the night, as we sat in my hosts’ living room and watched “The Good Lie”, wherein Reese Witherspoon teaches, and is taught by, four refugees from Sudan. We did so in segments, around the work of loving parents who put their son and his needs first. Later this evening, with my exhausted hosts gone to bed, I had the pleasure of talking with another house guest, an amazingly insightful boy of twelve, for about ninety minutes of free-ranging exploration of just what is needed, in order for families that are fragmented, to reconnect and ultimately thrive. I think the man-child will do just fine.