The Price of Family

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Upper row from L to R: Faushia R. Weeden, David Terrell Green, and Olivia Howard. Lower row from L to R: Karen S. Fox and Brodhi McClymont

A poor family in Chicago’s South Side gains a windfall of $10,000.  Amidst thoughts of dreams granted and a happier life, the money serves to deepen cracks in an already fractured unit and prove that the love of money is the root of all evil.  But the love of family still has the power to conquer all.  This is A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry and it is playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Hansberry’s script has its ups and downs.  It introduces powerful themes of family, racism, poverty, generational changes, personal identity, perseverance, hope, and self-respect, but also has some structural weaknesses.  The first act introduces several storylines for the show, but moves terribly slowly and doesn’t provide adequate build for the stories.  By the second act, the primary story of the money gains center stage, a potentially interesting subplot about a surprise, possibly unwanted, pregnancy is all, but forgotten, and a story about a young woman seeking her own identity gets a bit of short shrift.  On the other hand, the second act does provide some incredibly strong monologues and conversational moments that are a treasure trove for performers.

Tyrone Beasley’s direction is quite effective.  This show is driven solely by dialogue which can become quite dry, if not handled just right.  Beasley handles it well by having his actors make natural movements that animate the, often lengthy, conversations.  He understands the emotional beats and his actors always hit those moments subtly and organically.  He’s coached his actors to performances ranging from solid to deeply adept and I tip my hat to his superior guidance of the debuting Karen S. Fox.  That being said, I also thought the show could have benefited from a brisker pace.

Good supporting performances are given by Faushia R. Weeden who projects a spiritual weariness as Ruth Younger as she goes through the motions of life with a crumbling marriage and a hopeless future until the promise of a new home in a better neighborhood relights her candle.  Brodhi McClymont has a real naturalness for this work and provides some lighthearted moments as Travis Younger.  Christopher Scott provides a suitably subtle, polite, and slimy performance as a racist trying to engineer a buyout of the Younger’s new home in Clybourne Park so “those people” won’t move in.

David Terrell Green gives a gripping performance in his Playhouse debut as Walter Lee Younger.  At his core, Walter Lee is a good man.  He wants nothing more than to provide the best, possible life for his family, but has been so beaten down by life that he copes with his perceived failures with alcohol and sometimes takes reckless gambles in an attempt to provide that better life.  Green is dead on target with Walter Lee’s brokenness, but still shows that inner decency and drive to do better for his family.  He really sizzles in the second act when he makes an awful mistake in attempting to grab the brass ring and shows the depths of his love for his family with a performance demonstrating the utter humiliation he’s willing to undergo to rectify that error.

Karen S. Fox really dove into the deep end as she makes her acting debut with the heavy role of the Younger matriarch, Lena.  For someone who’s never performed before, Fox did an exceptional job.  She portrayed a good, Southern woman with strong faith in God and desperately fighting to hold her family together as it falls apart.  She hits the emotional beats well, reaching just the right level of anger when the bulk of her money is misused and being a bulwark for her son as she understands the impact of the blows life has dealt him.  Fox does need to make some minor fixes in volume, projection, and not upstaging herself.

Steven Williams has designed a dilapidated apartment whose spaces between the boards help to communicate the poverty in which the Youngers live.  Tim Vallier has composed a haunting score for the show which is sure to stir your heart.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes well display the social status of the various characters from the cheaper quality clothes of the Youngers to the more elegant wear of the wealthier Karl Lindner and the more educated Joseph Asagai and George Murchison.

This preview night performance did have some difficulties.  Pacing was quite slow.  Pickups for internal and regular cues needed to be much, much quicker.  Energy was sorely lacking for stretches, but when it was there, the dialogue sparkled and popped.  There was also an x factor missing from the performance.  Actors know that feeling.  It’s that magical something that causes the show to take on the fullness of its own life and it is an intangible.  It’s either there or it isn’t.  When it’s not there, the show feels like a rehearsal.  When it’s there, that’s when the show reaches maximum potential.

At the end, this is a story about family.  Its highs and lows.  Its joys and trials.  Its hopes and dreams.  A night with the Youngers just may give you a new perspective on life.

A Raisin in the Sun plays at the Omaha Playhouse through Feb 9.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $24 ($16 for students) and vary by performance.  Tickets can be obtained at www.omahaplayhouse.com, calling 402-553-0800, or visiting the box office. Due to some adult language, parental discretion is advised.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

Photo provided by Colin Conces Photography

‘A Raisin in the Sun’ Launches 2nd Half of OCP Season

Omaha, NE.–The Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP) production of A Raisin in the Sun will open Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. The show will run in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre at OCP from Jan. 17 through Feb. 9. Performances will be held Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Tickets are on sale now starting at $24 for adults and $16 for students, with ticket prices varying by performance. Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, located at 6915 Cass Street, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com.

SHOW SYNOPSIS

Winner of five Tony Awards®, A Raisin in the Sun confronts life in South Side Chicago through the eyes of the Younger family. After years of battling poverty and racism, the Youngers hope an unexpected insurance check will be their ticket to a better life. With the looming fear that this may be their only chance, the family is torn apart as they struggle to agree on the most effective way to use the money.

Directed By:  Tyrone Beasley

Cast

Brandon Williams as George Murchison

Brodhi McClymont as Travis Younger

Chris Scott as Karl Lindner

Darcell Trotter as Bobo

David Terrell Green as Walter Lee Younger

Donté Lee Plunkett as Joseph Asagai

Faushia Weeden as Ruth Younger

Karen Fox as Lena Younger

Olivia Howard as Beneatha Younger

Richard Borg as Moving Man

 

What Have We Learned?

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Nils Haaland stars as Arturo Ui in “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” at the Blue Barn Theatre

A lowly gangster rises to power in Chicago with the conquering of the greengrocery trade.  This is the story of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht and is currently playing at the Blue Barn Theatre.

Yes, I realize the plot sounds like a comedy, but it’s not.  This play is a satire on the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and is actually one of the gutsiest pieces of literature ever written as Brecht wrote it in 1941, shortly after Hitler gained ascendancy in Europe.

This play is vintage Blue Barn as it is challenging, make you think theatre with an experimental flavor.  Brecht has a very real/unreal style to his writing and you may find the story a bit confusing.  However, there is a detailed explanation on what to expect from the production in the program and moments from Hitler’s rise to power are projected onto a screen after every major scene to demonstrate the parallels between the play and reality.

I don’t think Susan Clement-Toberer could give flawed direction even if she tried.  Once more, her gift for nuance and character shows itself in a tour de force effort.  The staging is quite clever as she manages to fit her rather large cast onto the narrow dock that is Martin Scott Marchitto’s set.  I found the use of video footage to parallel Ui and Hitler to be quite beneficial and she once again leads a powerhouse cast to a series of strong performances.

While largely an ensemble piece, this show rests on the shoulders of the actor playing Arturo Ui and one could not find a better choice for the role than Nils Haaland.  Haaland once again throws himself into a role as he utterly transforms himself into Ui.  He nimbly handles the long and difficult wordplay of Ui with astonishing ease and displays new facets of the character almost every time you blink.

Haaland is just a sad piece of work at the play’s start as he laments being a common criminal out of the public eye.  Once he finds an in to the greengrocery trade, Haaland evolves (perhaps devolves?) Ui from a two bit hood to an inhuman monster as his power base grows.  The fleeting signs of humanity Haaland shows at the beginning of the show rapidly vanish as he is willing to betray and kill allies and friends to achieve his dream of conquering the nation.

Mike Markey does a superior piece of character acting as Old Dogsborough.  Markey hides his fitness well as the elderly, infirm Dogsborough who unintentionally provides Ui the means to start taking over the greengrocery trade.  Markey does an excellent job showing an extremely honest man buckle under the temptation of material gain.  From there, Markey’s body language shows a man slowly dying a living death as his body sags and collapses with each future appearance due to his guilt of letting Ui get his hooks into him due to one greedy choice.

Daena Schweiger’s performance as Emanuelle Giri is not to be missed.  Ms Schweiger is chilling as the psychopathic Giri who’s notable for a fetish for hats and a piercing, knifelike laugh.  Her Giri has no redeeming qualities and possesses a lust for power not unlike Ui’s own as she plots the death of a rival in Ui’s camp.

Jens Rasmussen makes his mark with his Blue Barn debut as Givola, another crony of Ui.  Rasmussen’s sense of movement is second to none as he has grace and fluidity which is all the more impressive given the beautiful limp he gives his character.  Rasmussen’s performance is quite memorable as he makes his Givola a potent blend of oily suck-up and Machiavelli.

Other strong ensemble performances come from Brennan Thomas who plays Ui’s right hand man, Ernesto Roma.  Roma’s penchant for danger and violence is matched only by his extreme loyalty to Ui.  One could argue that he is Ui’s one true friend which means absolutely nothing to that animal in human clothing.  Jennifer Gilg also shines in several character roles, but is particularly good as Betty Dullfleet, a criminal from another city who tries to stop Ui’s rise, but ultimately succumbs to his will.  J.J. Davis provides a bit of welcome levity as Ted Ragg, a reporter who bravely needles Ui.  Paul Boesing’s rich voice is suited to his roles as the show’s narrator and a classical actor who teaches poise and presence to Ui.

The Blue Barn clearly felt that the circumstances that led to Hitler’s rise are present in today’s political atmosphere with some subtle references in the actor’s costumes and a rather charged and colorful closing speech from Haaland.  It’s truly spooky to think that an evil like Hitler was able to rise to power and nearly won.  It’s even spookier to think that the present world climate could give rise to another like him.  As the play’s title suggests, Hitler could have been resisted.  As you watch this play and see what it tries to teach, ask yourself, “What have we learned?”

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui plays at the Blue Barn through October 16.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 6pm.  There is no show on Sept 25.  Tickets cost $30 for adults and $25 for students, seniors (65+), T.A.G. members, and groups of ten or more.  For reservations, call 402-345-1576 from 10am-4pm Mon-Fri or visit www.bluebarn.org.  Due to strong language and adult situations, this show is not recommended for children.  The Blue Barn Theatre is located at 1106 S 10th Street in Omaha, NE.

A Dictator Rises at the Blue Barn

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Nils Haaland stars as Arturo Ui in “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” at the Blue Barn Theatre

The BLUEBARN Theatre is proud to open Season 28 with Bertolt Brecht’s compelling and timely drama, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.
BLUEBARN Producing Artistic Director Susan Clement-Toberer directs with Barry Carman serving as Assistant Director with set design by Martin Scott Marchitto, lighting design by Ernie Gubbels, costume design by Lindsay Pape, sound design by Molly Welsh, and properties design by Amy Reiner.
Shows run September 22 – October 16, 2016; Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday October 2nd, 9th, and 16th at 6 p.m. Single tickets for The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui are $30 for adults; and $25 for students, seniors 65+, TAG members, and groups of 10 or more.  For tickets, please visit www.bluebarn.org or call at 402-345-1576 during the hours of 9:30am to 4:30pm (M-F).   The BLUEBARN Theatre is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is generously sponsored by Kate and Roger Weitz, Carter and Vernie Jones with additional support from Rich and Fran Juro.

About The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
A Slapstick Tragedy…
Described by Brecht as ‘a gangster play that would recall certain events familiar to us all’, Arturo Ui is a witty and savage satire of the rise of Hitler – recast by Brecht into a fictional, small-time Chicago gangster’s takeover of the city’s greengrocery trade in the 1930s. The satirical allegory combines Brecht’s Epic style of theatre with black comedy and overt moralism. Using a wide range of parody and spoof – from Al Capone to Shakespeare’s Richard III and Goethe’s Faust – Brecht’s compelling parable continues to have relevance wherever totalitarianism appears today.

About the Stars of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
BLUEBARN founding company member Nils Haaland brings Brecht’s title character to comic and menacing life. The acting company consists of many BLUEBARN Theatre veterans including: Paul Boesing (Frost/Nixon), J.J. Davis, Jennifer Gilg, Mary Kelly (33 Variations), Mark Kocsis, Daniel Luethke, Mike Markey (Our Town), Sydney Readman (Bad Jews), John Ryan, Paul Schneider, and Erika Sieff (Bug). Actors making their BLUEBARN debut include Steve Denenberg, Noah Diaz, Jens Rasmussen, Daena Schweiger, and Brennan Thomas.

About the Playwright: Bertolt Brecht
Bertolt Brecht was one of the most influential playwrights of the 20th century. His works include The Threepenny Opera (1928) with composer Kurt Weill, Mother Courage and Her Children (1938), The Good Person of Szechwan (1942), and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1941). Brecht began writing plays while working at an Army hospital. Brecht’s work fit nicely with the Dadaist and Marxist movement of the time. The increased dissatisfaction with society after World War I fit Brecht’s anti-bourgeois writing. He fled Nazi Germany and settled in the US, until setting in Berlin following World War II.

About the BLUEBARN Theatre
The BLUEBARN Theatre has been bringing professionally-produced plays to area audiences since 1989. Since its inception, BLUEBARN has produced over 100 plays and has established itself as Omaha’s professional contemporary theatre company. Striving to bring artistically significant scripts and professional production values to Omaha and the surrounding region, BLUEBARN is known for high-quality entertainment and the fearless pursuit of stories that challenge both theatre artists and patrons.

 

Blue Barn Announces Auditions for Season Opener

BLUEBARN Theatre Announces Auditions for Season 28 Opener:  The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

The BLUEBARN Theatre is pleased to announce open auditions for The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht. Auditions will be held on Saturday, July 2nd from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. and Saturday, July 9th from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Auditions will be held at the BLUEBARN located at 1106 S. 10th St. (10th & Pacific Streets.)

Performances for The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui run September 22 – October 16, 2016 with rehearsals scheduled to begin August 2016.

Company members needed: 12 male, age 17 to 70; 3 female, age 25 to 45. Please wear appropriate attire for movement. The role of Aurturo Ui has been cast.

About The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

Described by Brecht as ‘a gangster play that would recall certain events familiar to us all, Arturo Ui is a witty and savage satire of the rise of Hitler – recast by Brecht into a fictional, small-time Chicago gangster’s takeover of the city’s green grocery trade in the 1930s. The satirical allegory combines Brecht’s Epic style of theatre with black comedy and overt moralism. Using a wide range of parody and spoof – from Al Capone to Shakespeare’s

Richard III and Goethe’s Faust- Brecht’s compelling parable continues to have relevance wherever totalitarianism appears today.

About the Blue Barn Theatre

The BLUEBARN Theatre has been bringing professionally-produced plays to area audiences since 1989. Since its inception, BLUEBARN has produced over 100 plays and has established itself as Omaha’s professional contemporary theatre company. Striving to bring artistically significant scripts and professional production values to Omaha and the surrounding region, BLUEBARN is known for high-quality entertainment and the fearless pursuit of stories that challenge both theatre artists and patrons.

Off to the Cotton Patch, Days 4 & 5: A Journey to Squiers Manor

When I awoke on Sunday, I knew it was going to be a looong day of driving.  But first, it was time to feed the spirit with worship.

I attended the early morning service at St James Catholic Church.  It was a quaint, welcoming church and I rather liked it.  It was a good service which ran a little longer than normal due to the baptism of twin children.  I was particularly moved by Father’s sermon.  He connected the story of God restoring Elijah in the desert with a hearth cake and water to Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse in the Gospel of John.  God restored Elijah with physical food, but Jesus restores with spiritual food (Eucharist and His Word).

To be honest, all of this talk about food was stirring my appetite so I dashed back to the White Swan where Cathy had breakfast waiting.  Today it was cantaloupe, cappuccino muffins, multigrain waffles, and some small sausage links.  Cathy proved to a most gracious host as she shared conversation with me while I ate.

Sausage and multigrain waffles

Sausage and multigrain waffles

Once breakfast was done, I settled my bill and stepped out to the car.  I felt a little blue.  I really liked this little town.  Hopefully the stars will align so, one day, I may be able to return.  But if you’re in Whitehall, get a room at the White Swan.  Cathy will make you feel like family.

Today’s drive was much more pleasant than it had been on Friday.  Traffic was at a much lower volume so I was able to speed quickly through Indiana and the construction slowdowns were kept to the bare minimum.  Then came my rematch with Chicagoland traffic.

I mentally cracked my knuckles and dove into the fray.  The speed limit was still a suggestion, so I fought fire with fire and raised my own speed limit to somewhat keep pace with the traffic.  The other cars were still moving faster, but I didn’t feel like a sitting duck.  I managed to quickly slip past Chicagoland and the rest of the drive was a snap after that.

After 6 hours, I was ready for a break, so I was grateful that I had arrived at my stopping point of Maquoketa, IA on schedule.

Squiers Manor

Squiers Manor

My final stop for this journey was Squiers Manor owned by Kathy and Virl Banowetz.  Let me say that this is the finest inn that I have stayed at in Iowa and makes my top 5 list for the B & B project.  The house is a beautiful 1882 Queen Anne and the manor and its land take up a block.  The interior and grounds are immaculately kept and the manor is still the same as when it was originally built.  Kathy and Virl also deal in antiques and many items in the inn are for sale.  They also deliver.

Originally I was to have stayed in the Maid’s Chamber, but Kathy graciously upgraded me to the J.E. Squiers Room at no additional charge.  This is easily one of my favorite rooms that I have stayed in.  It almost has a Victorian feel.  The queen bed is very comfortable and I’m quite taken with the soft, forest green carpet.

The J.E. Squiers Room

The J.E. Squiers Room

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Front hall

Front hall

Upstairs hall

Upstairs hall

Kathy suggested several restaurants and I decided to have a little Mexican food at La Casa de Pancho.  Once more, Mapquest tried to bamboozle me with ridiculous directions that would have sent me into the middle of nowhere, but Kathy had given me better directions and I easily found the restaurant.

Kathy had told me the portions were ginormous and, if anything, it was an understatement.  I ordered the burrito chicken fajita with rice and olla beans (they’re cholesterol free).  My eyes bulged when the plate came out.  It would have taken 3 of me to finish the meal.  I’ve got an issue with wasting food, but I had little choice since I had no way to preserve the food until I got home.  So, note to myself, bring a cooler for future trips.  My note to you, plan on sharing a plate with your date or friends.  The portions are that large.

With a full (luckily not overly so) stomach I returned to Squiers Manor to begin writing today’s article.  After I had written as much as I could, I went down to the guest area to have a piece of Kathy’s chocolate mousse cake.  It was moist and delicious and, being chilled in the refrigerator, was the perfect dessert for a hot night.

When I had finished my cake, I drew a hot bath in the Jacuzzi tub and nearly fell asleep in the swirling water.  I managed to drag myself out of the bathtub and over to the bed where I fell into a peaceful slumber.

I really didn’t want to get out of bed when I awoke the next day because the bed was so comfortable, but it was time to start organizing to leave.  But first, it was time for breakfast.

Kathy had promised me a taste adventure from her garden and this meal filled the bill.  Along with glasses of orange juice and water I enjoyed cantaloupe, cinnamon encrusted coffee cake, raw fried potatoes and squash, and an omelet with broccoli, onions, cheese, and possibly more because I lost track of the ingredients.  It was a foodie’s delight.  The meal also came with a little bratwurst, but I was stuffed so Kathy kindly wrapped it up for me to take home.

Fruit and cinnamon encrusted coffee cake

Fruit and cinnamon encrusted coffee cake

A vegetarian omelet, raw fried potatoes and squash, and bratwurst

A vegetarian omelet, raw fried potatoes and squash, and bratwurst

So ends another journey for me, but I insist you arrange for a stay at Squiers Manor if you find yourself in the Quad Cities area of Iowa.  As Kathy’s sign says, “Enter as strangers. . .leave as friends.”

Off to the Cotton Patch, Days 2 & 3: A Journey of Ups, Downs, & Mistaken Identity

After that bracing breakfast, I hit the road.  Little did I know that this was going to be one long, agonizing drive.

West Dundee is only 34 miles away from Chicago and I made the astonishing discovery that Chicago area drivers are apparently training for NASCAR.  Illinois is doing a ton of construction on the interstate and the speed limit was only supposed to be 55 miles an hour.  Based on my observations, I came to the conclusion that the speed limit was apparently just a suggestion because I was the only person who seemed to be obeying the limit.  Every other car was just blitzing by me.

To say I was nervous was an understatement.  The combination of the heavy construction, massive traffic, and battalion of speedsters actually caused me to feel knuckle whitening, heart palpitating, panic.  I had to take a couple of deep breaths to actually bring my nerves back under control.  This may be the norm for big city drivers, but this was my first experience driving through a really big metro area and it was a bit of a shock.

My frustrations were further fueled by the fact that I had to watch out for the toll booths.  I accidentally missed my first toll booth on Halsted Street.  The signs had said to keep to the right so I did.  Right before the booth, the road opened up even further to the right.  It happened so suddenly that I wasn’t able to change lanes and soared right through the I-Pass.  Fortunately, I was able to go online later that night and pay the fee I missed.

After I got out of the Chicago area, the traffic slowed to more normal speeds, but the speed limit stayed at 55 miles an hour.  Even worse, when I finally crossed the border into Indiana, I found that they were still doing the construction being done when I last passed through in 2008.  Traffic was so congested that it ground to a halt and I plodded along at a rate that had snails making fun of me.

It took 3.5 hours to make the journey from West Dundee to the Michigan border where I finally was able to resume the normal speed limit of 70 miles an hour.  The drive became a lot more pleasant after that. . .until I reached Holland, MI.

Traffic was going along pretty well and I saw a Wal-Mart Supercenter in the distance.  I needed a few toiletries and decided I’d just get them now.  After buying my supplies, I got back on the road and traffic ground to a halt again!  Apparently the road I was on was the main thoroughfare for a few cities and it was now rush hour.

What should have been a four hour journey ended up being a 6.5 hour drudgery and I arrived in Whitehall, MI much, much later than intended.  I was tired, frazzled, and starved when I finally pulled up to the White Swan Bed and Breakfast.

Then things began looking up.

The first break I caught that day was that the Howmet Playhouse where I would watch and review Cotton Patch Gospel was literally right across the street from the bed and breakfast.  The second break was that I met Cathy Russell, the sweet and kindly owner of the White Swan.

The White Swan

The White Swan

Cathy showed me to my home away from home, the Jasmine Room.  The soft white of the room and the plush looking bed seemed to scream comfort and I felt myself begin to loosen up.  I think Cathy noticed my weariness as she asked if I had eaten and I told her that my journey woes prevented me from having anything since breakfast.  She prepared a plate of Michigan blueberries, cheese, and sweet potato Triscuits along with a glass of white wine.  I stepped onto the screened in porch and began to read and munch.  I felt better almost all at once.

The Jasmine Room

The Jasmine Room

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Living Room

Living Room

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After getting some much needed food into my stomach I began my explorations.  The White Swan is a circa 1884 Queen Anne house.  It’s very homey and has a pleasant lived-in quality well suited to an inn.  After I finished taking pictures, I freshened up and walked across the street to enjoy Cotton Patch Gospel.

Howmet Playhouse

Howmet Playhouse

And enjoy it, I did.  In fact, you can read the review right here.

After the show, I returned to the inn and darn near collapsed into bed and didn’t wake until the next day.

***

When I awoke today, I was ravenous and ready for a rousing meal.  Cathy served up a dish of mixed fruit and cream, a vegetable quiche, homemade sausage, and orange juice.  With my stomach full, I was ready to begin exploring the area.

Mixed fruit and cream

Mixed fruit and cream

Vegetable quiche and homemade sausage

Vegetable quiche and homemade sausage

My first stop of the day was at the Country Dairy.  This family owned dairy farm has been in the Van Gunst family for 5 generations and it credits their great dairy products to their happy cows.  No, that isn’t a joke.  The Van Gunsts take pride that their 1,400 head of cattle have great lives.  Their lives consist of milking, birthing, sleeping, and eating 100 pounds of food a day which is the secret to great milk.

The Country Dairy

The Country Dairy

Happy cows happily eating lunch to produce happy milk

Happy cows happily eating lunch to produce happy milk

It was a very interesting tour as I watched how milk goes from the cow to the carton, went into a cheese locker, visited a bovine maternity ward, and saw a group of newborn calves (even petted a few).  I even learned about the value of good breeding.  The number one rated polled Hereford was born at Country Dairy and he and another cow sold for a combined $1.2 million dollars.

Inside the calf barn

Inside the calf barn

When the tour ended, we were treated to free samples of cheddar cheese (the best I’ve ever tasted) and chocolate milk.  This milk is farm fresh which means no fat has been skimmed from it.  Whole milk has got nothing on farm fresh milk.  This moo juice was so tasty and rich that I actually bought a pint for myself.

The dairy also boasts a small restaurant which feeds more people than any other eatery in the region.  Trucks come three times a week to restock the food items not produced by the dairy itself.

After my tour, I drove around a bit to see what there was to see.  After viewing a few sights, I returned to the inn and took a long walk around the area and stopped to enjoy a vanilla shake at Dairy Treat (supplied by Country Dairy products).  I then returned to my room to relax for a little bit.

I had intended to attend worship services at St James Catholic Church, but my travel woes returned when Mapquest epically failed me.  The directions I got brought me to downtown Muskegon where I found no church.  I went to a nearby hotel where the desk clerk informed me that the church was actually in Montague.  Another clerk informed me there was another church three blocks up the road.  I dashed off to it, but found they did not hold Saturday night services.

I returned to the White Swan and found that St James was a mere two miles from the inn.  I could have walked there and back several times in the time I spent driving to and from Muskegon.  Thankfully, they have an 8:30am service tomorrow so I can worship in the morning, have breakfast, and hit the road.

I decided to go Montague and have dinner at the Old Channel Inn.  This restaurant is very popular and was jammed to capacity when I arrived.  After a short wait, I was led to a table when I decided to have the charbroiled Alaskan salmon with a side of Creole corn and salad.  Now I was wearing a suit which is crucial to the story.

Old Channel Inn

Old Channel Inn

I took off my coat so I could prepare a salad for myself.  When I returned to my table, I said grace and started eating.  A few minutes later a gentleman came over to my table and said, “I have an embarrassing question to ask you.  Are you a priest?”

“No,” I replied, somewhat baffled.

“I’ll tell you why I asked that in a moment,” said the man as he walked away.

He returned a few minutes later and said, “You’re probably wondering why I asked if you were a priest.”

“Was it because you saw me praying?”

“No.  I’m the owner of this place and there was a woman who saw you, asked for me and said, ‘I saw that young man cross himself.  I think he’s a priest and I want to buy his meal.”

A gentle poke would have felled me at that point.  This is where my suit comes into play.  I was wearing a black dress shirt under my sport coat and my arms would have been blocking my yellow tie while I prayed.  The generous stranger mistook my dress shirt for clerical garb.

I don’t even know what this mysterious woman looks like, but I’d certainly like to thank her for paying for my supper.  It made the rough day I’d had yesterday and my travel woes today vanish in the breeze.

I returned to the White Swan to sip a 7-Up while I wrote this story.  Now it’s about time to hit the hay before I hit the road tomorrow.