Yesteryear’s Luxury: Rochester Inn & Sheboygan Falls, WI

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Rochester Inn

Today the road has brought me to Sheboygan Falls, WI.

At long last, it was vacation time!  But what a change in plans.  Originally, I had been gearing up for a trip to England which would have begun next week, but that plan had to be put on the back burner.  So if I couldn’t be in England, I decided I would experience a bit of New England in the Midwest with a visit to Rochester Inn owned and operated by Ray and Kelly York.

I was struck by an incredible sense of déjà vu as Green Bay, WI had been the last place I visited before normalcy got upended in March.  And the route to Sheboygan Falls is identical except for the last 45 minutes.

The trip started off rather well.  I had a clear stretch of road.  I enjoyed a meal at my favorite hole in the wall, Iowa’s Best Burger Café, in Kellogg, IA and arrived at the same Hampton Inn in Cedar Rapids that I had stayed at when I visited Green Bay.

Again, I had a very restful night, though I was somewhat disappointed by the breakfast.  During the week, they still serve a hot meal, but during the weekends, they serve a to go bag.  Mine had a banana, a honey bun, and a bottle of water.  One would think that the hot meal would be served during the weekend and the to go bag during the week, but my best friend thought they were catering to business travelers during the week which was an angle I had not considered and could very well be correct.

Saturday was gray, murky, and rainy.  But it was still an enjoyable drive.  I ended up arriving in Sheboygan Falls earlier than planned and was hungry so I stopped at a McDonald’s to eat a sandwich and small fries while I read another mystery in a Sherlock Holmes pastiche I had been reading.  Then I drove around the town for a bit before arriving at Rochester Inn.

Rochester Inn is located in the Cole Historic District and had been built by local businessman and pioneer, Charles Cole, in 1848.  The building had been built in the Greek Revival style and was originally a trading post and general store with the Cole family living on the second floor and the third floor being used as a meeting place for the Midwest’s first temperance society.  It is also believed that the building may have served as the town’s post office as Cole had been the postmaster.

The building had been several other businesses before falling into disrepair.  In 1986, it was restored to its original grandeur and became a bed and breakfast.

The inn is reminiscent of a New England inn at the turn of the century and if you want seclusion and social distancing, this is the B & B for you.

Possessing only 6 suites, Rochester Inn is the first inn I’ve visited that has no common area outside of the entry hall which I suspect is normally used for checking in and out.  The inn is currently utilizing a socially distant self check-in process and I found an envelope containing a welcome letter and inn keys waiting for me when I arrived.  I made my way up the back stairs and reached my room, the William Brian Donlevy suite.

Rochester Inn is famed for its two floor suites and I was hoping this would be the one I would be given.  Without question, this is the most luxurious suite in which I’ve stayed to date.  The first floor features deep blue carpeting adorned with symbols that reminded me of my old Webelos badge along with a leather couch, an elegant coffee table, and two armless easy chairs.  On a table by the door, I found a plate of cookies containing caramel or butterscotch chips (perhaps both) which I munched on while walking upstairs where I found a four poster queen-sized bed, writing desk, vanity area, and bathroom containing a very deep two person jacuzzi tub.  Flat screen TVs are located both upstairs and downstairs with the upstairs one having a DVD player and a DVD library is available in the main hall.

After getting settled, I relaxed for a bit before heading out for a little walk in the historic downtown area and the nearby neighborhoods.

Sheboygan Falls strikes me as a very well to do town due to the quality of homes I saw on my amblings.  It also contains a large number of parks and I spent a bit of time at Sheboygan Falls View Park looking at the town’s namesake falls.

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Dinnertime had arrived and I made the brief journey to Duke of Devon in nearby Sheboygan.  Duke of Devon is an English gastropub that practices pretty good social distancing.  I sipped on a ginger ale while enjoying a cottage pie which is a beef stew with tomatoes, marmite, and a mashed potato topping and it was quite tasty and filling.

After dinner, I returned to Rochester Inn where I spent the evening relaxing before retiring for the night.

I rose quite early the next morning and watched a little TV while I waited for my breakfast to be delivered.

As I stated earlier, there are no common areas in this inn which means no communal dining room.  Breakfast is delivered within a thirty minute window that you mark on a card and hang up on your door.  For those who must leave early, a continental breakfast can be left for you if you need to eat on the go.

At about 8:45, a tray was delivered to my room.  It looked splendid and the food tasted even better.

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Herb infused eggs with ham and cheese, fresh fruit, cinnamon croissant, with apple cinnamon jam, and OJ.

The meal consisted of a glass of orange juice with fruit and a cinnamon croissant that was so good that I literally leaned back on the couch and tapped my toes along with a casserole dish of herb infused eggs with ham and cheese.  There was also a small serving of apple cinnamon jam.  Now I’ve never been a jam fan, but this was so good that I spread it on my croissant to increase the cinnamon goodness.

After breakfast, I drew a bath and decided to try the herbal bath salts.  It smelled like a field of flowers and I don’t know if it helped me to relax, but the perfect temperature of the water certainly did along with the massaging power of the jets.

After the bath, I started visiting the local parks beginning with Falls Park.  I enjoyed gazing at the eight foot high waterfall while watching the red and gold leaves of the trees in the park.  I spoke to my best friend for about an hour before the charge on my phone wore out.  Then I headed to Settlers Park where I saw a pond full of mallards swimming and honking away.

After a morning of exploring, I returned to the inn where I found a new plate of white chocolate chip cookies waiting for me which I enjoyed while doing a little writing and Facebooking.

About a quarter of six, I decided to walk into town and have an early dinner.  My choice was Fat Cow Pub & Eatery.

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Fat Cow Pub & Eatery

Very few people were in there which made distancing even easier and I decided for some local fare with the Cheese Curd Stuffed Cheeseburger.

This was a fantastic choice.  It was served on a garlic aioli bun with lettuce, pickles, onions, bacon, and a bit of BBQ sauce.  Juicy, filling, and just plain delicious.  Feeling contented I returned to Rochester Inn where I organized some photos, watched The Blind Side, and hit the hay.

The next morning found me enjoying another leisurely soak before I got back to writing this article.  A knock at my door at 8:50am brought a tray that consisted of fruit, OJ, little smokies, and Pecan Encrusted Cinnamon French Toast with authentic Wisconsin maple syrup.

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Pecan Encrusted Cinnamon French Toast with fresh fruit, little smokies, and OJ.

And with another satisfying meal tucked away, I was ready to relax for roughly an hour before heading for home.

But if you find yourself near the Sheboygan Falls region, do yourself a favor and spend a night or two at Rochester Inn.  You’ll enjoy some timeless elegance with some splendid meals and you can enjoy a bit of simplicity with the town’s numerous parks.

Until the next time. . .happy travels. Continue reading

On the Road Again, Part I: Thornton House and Lansing, IA

Thornton House

Today the road has brought me to Lansing, IA.

How good it feels to say those words again.  I was badly in need of some downtime and a little research found me the relatively unaffected by COVID county of Allamakee in which lies the town of Lansing which is home to Thornton House Bed & Breakfast owned and operated by Frank Ebersold.

I enjoyed the scenic drive to Lansing, eschewing the interstate as much as I could and making a brief stop in my hometown of Fort Dodge to grab a quick bite to eat at Taco Tico before continuing to my stopping point of Mason City where I had a suite reserved at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites.

For my regular readers, you might remember that when I traveled to Scotland last year, I joined the Hilton Honors program in order to check into my first hotel sooner.  Shortly after returning home, I also joined the IHG loyalty program.  IHG owns a number of hotels, most prominently Holiday Inn, and that loyalty program has already paid dividends. 

With my travel bug neutralized for most of the past 6 months, I have been taking an occasional night to myself at a Holiday Inn.  Thanks to various promotions which have boosted my points and tier score, I have earned enough points for a couple of free nights, achieved Gold Elite status, and am 2 stays away from reaching Platinum status (a status that normally requires 40 nights to earn, but a special promotion is letting me do it in 5).  My stay in Mason City was my first night as a Gold Elite member.  As such I automatically earned 300 points as a gift just for staying and I was warmly welcomed to the hotel with a sign in the lobby.

My room was quite comfortable and spacious, but seems to be following the trend of suites being really big rooms instead of multiple rooms.  A nice soft king sized bed was the centerpiece of the room and led to a full night’s sleep for the first time in a while.

The hotel did offer a breakfast consisting of cereal, pastries, and breakfast sandwiches served cafeteria style.  I had a “bowl” of Apple Jacks and a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich along with some OJ while I watched the news.  I also invoked one of my benefits as a Gold Elite member and took a late checkout of 12:30pm so I could just check right into Thornton House when I arrived in Lansing.

It was a beautiful day for a drive and it seemed to go rather quickly due to the increased concentration needed to get to Lansing as one must navigate a series of back roads to reach the town. As I came closer to Lansing, I was stunned by the sudden transformation of the landscape into a valley as the hills grew in size and were covered by a lush forest.

I arrived in Lansing, a port town on the Mississippi River and also at the base of Mt Hosmer.  The town reminded me of a much smaller version of Eureka Springs, AR due to its incredibly hilly nature.

I found the inn, parked my car, and rang the bell and was greeted by Frank who gave me a socially distant welcome and gave me a little history of the house.

Thornton House is an Italianate Victorian mansion built by Alexander McMichael, a grain shipping magnate, in 1873 during a boom period in the local lumber industry.  Eventually the house passed into the hands of Dr. John H Thornton who, with his son, John W, became known as “the best medical team this side of the Mayo Clinic” and practiced out of the mansion.  For the next 120 years, the house was owned by a Thornton before passing into the hands of Frank.

Frank led me to the Grand Room which would be my headquarters for the next few nights.  The room consists of a bedroom and bathroom separated by a small foyer.  The bathroom contains a jetted tub while the bedroom has a full sized canopy bed with original or period correct furniture and overlooked by portraits of Presidents Pierce and Lincoln.

I made a quick exploration of the house before taking a walk down Main Street where everything and I mean, EVERYTHING, is located.  Gas, groceries, shops, restaurants, medical care, city hall, it’s all located there.

From there I returned to Thornton House where I puttered around for a while before heading back to Main Street and dinner at Milty’s.

Milty’s

I had been in the mood for a steak, but Milty’s seemed to be operating on a limited menu.  Instead I enjoyed a rather ripping chicken, bacon, and ranch wrap with a side of fries.  With the inner man satisfied, I went back to the inn where I spent a relaxing evening reading, organizing photos, and watching some classic game shows on BUZZR before enjoying a restful night’s sleep.

The next morning, I met Judith and Eric, who were also staying at the inn.  Positioning ourselves on opposite ends of the table and we took turns serving ourselves from dishes Frank had set up in the kitchen.  For myself, I enjoyed a delicious glass of triple berry juice and put together a plate consisting of a croissant, cheesy eggs (seasoned to perfection), sausage patties, and a homemade waffle which was quite light and fluffy.

Frank positioned himself on a nearby couch so we could share in some socially distant conversation which worked out surprisingly well.  With a satisfying breakfast tucked in, I took a drive up Mt Hosmer to the local park where I spent a half hour walking the trails and getting a couple of good shots of the Mississippi River and town.

From there I went back to the inn for a bit before visiting the nearby town of Harper’s Ferry at Frank’s suggestion.  Harper’s Ferry contains a Catholic church called Immaculate Conception which had been founded in 1848 by some Irish priests.  The land is known as Wexford, named after the village where the priests had lived in Ireland and the church, itself, is reportedly a duplicate of the church in Ireland.  A cemetery is also on the land and contains graves dating back to the same date as the founding of the church.  A very interesting visit for lovers of history.

Immaculate Conception-Wexford

After that I returned to the inn to write and rest for the remainder of the afternoon.

About 5:30pm, I walked down to the Main Channel for my dinner.  This is a local bar/restaurant and it would satisfy my craving for a steak as the Saturday night special happened to be a 10 oz sirloin with 3 grilled shrimp along with 2 sides.  As you may have guessed, I did select that.

I had asked for a house salad which proved to be surprisingly simple as it just consisted of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and croutons with a bit of ranch dressing.  The fresh vegetables were a welcome treat and I crunched away while reading a new volume of Sherlock Holmes pastiches.

The main entrée of steak and shrimp was quite delicious and it must have been my lucky night as the chef slipped me an extra shrimp.  The steak was prepared just right and a little melted butter and au jus helped to bring out its flavor.  The service wasn’t the best as I was only checked on once at the end of my meal, but as I didn’t need a refill, it came out in the wash.

A little jaunt back to the hotel found me writing a bit more, selecting photos for the article, and enjoying a relaxing bath in my jetted tub.  And from there I read myself to sleep.

Breakfast the next morning was similar to the previous though we had sausage links, blueberry scones, and tomato and cheese omelets added to the menu.  Another satisfying meal and a long round of conversation with Frank made for a fine morning.

So if you find yourself in Lansing when you travel again, you’ll find some nice outdoor activities, a little antiquing, some history spots, and a fine inn and host at Thornton House.

Normally this would be where I sign off, but this escapade isn’t over quite yet.

Full Circle: A Tribute to Doug Marr

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Last night, Omaha lost a talented playwright, a genuine wit, and an all around great human being.

I lost a good friend.

When I think of Doug I think of a genuinely good man with a phenomenal sense of humor and a truly giving and supportive heart.  Doug was responsible for giving my theatre career one of its biggest boosts and for keeping it alive when it was on life support.

I first met Doug back in 2003 when I auditioned for the Circle Theatre’s production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  I had high hopes that I would be able to net the role of Billy Bibbit, but received a surprise when I got a letter notifying me that the whole production was being postponed due to the theatre being unable to fill the key role of Chief Bromden, but Doug hoped to mount the show later that summer.

As summer closed in I asked him if Cuckoo was going to be mounted and he wrote back and said Circle would be doing Our Town and immediately offered me the role of Doc Gibbs.

I was stunned by his generosity as I was relatively an untested talent as I only had 4 small roles under my belt and this would be the first time I had something with a bit of meat.  Though he didn’t direct the production, he was present every day at his trusted post at the light and sound board.  He often regaled the cast with his off the cuff jokes and we would spend quite a bit of time talking about our mutual love for classic rock, Sherlock Holmes, and he would share with me ideas he had for future plays and stories.

I experienced a bit more of his generosity when he handed me a small check at the end of the run.  Doug always believed in paying a tiny stipend to the performers and I’m proud to have had my first paying gig under his watchful eye.

It would be nearly a decade before I crossed paths with Doug again.  At that point, I had been going through a dry spell and then he announced auditions for An Inspector Calls.  After my audition, Doug offered me the choice of either of the two young men.  Now one was a decent, level headed sort close to my real personality and the other was a drunken lout.  I opted for the lout.  Doug agreed to that as he thought that was the better of the two reads.

Doug often said that he wasn’t a director, but I think he underestimated his talents in that realm..  For starters, he was a gifted writer with an instinct for beats so he knew what points in a story needed to be hit to get maximum effect.  More importantly, he had an incredible eye for talent.  Doug intuitively understood a performer’s strengths and weaknesses and not only knew where to slot them, but also trusted their instincts so he’d only have to give slight notes to smooth out the rough edges.

I was always grateful that he let me test my range with Eric Birling and it still ranks as one of my favorite roles.

Shortly after that show, my dry spell became an arid desert.  I had grown so disheartened with the constant rejections that I made the decision to step away from theatre for a while.

Trust Doug to get me back into the swing of things.

Six months into my hiatus, Doug sent word through a mutual friend of ours asking if I would consider doing the Circle’s annual Christmas show.  I was a little hesitant because my confidence had been so battered, but he was a really hard guy to say no to so I agreed.

With his trust and support, I began to remember the things I loved so much about theatre and managed to breathe life into his creation of Gunar, the hippie elf which would become another of my favorite roles.  His kindness gave me the shot in the arm I needed and I would bag my biggest role later that season thanks to him restoring my heart.

Many in our community have shared their stories about Doug.  He was a treasure and he will be missed.  I’ll always remember him for his warmth, his good humor, his gift for wordplay, and his goodness.  Most of all, I’ll remember him for being my friend.

Rest in peace, my friend.

 

The Game is Askew

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are called in to investigate the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville and to protect his heir, Henry Baskerville, when he receives an ominous warning to stay away from the moor.  Is there a human hand guiding this evil or is there truth to the curse of the Hound of the Baskervilles?  Find out when you watch Baskerville by Ken Ludwig and currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.

I had been looking forward to this show all season.  Hearing the name “Sherlock Holmes” is like ringing the chow bell as I’ve been an avid reader of these mysteries since childhood.  As a result of this, I admit to being a bit biased when it comes to Holmesian entertainment.  But that bias takes the form of having rigorous standards whenever I watch a Holmesian production or read a Holmesian story.  With that being said, I am pleased to say that Ludwig’s take on this classic tale more than meets my standards.  It’s almost completely faithful to the original story and manages to add its own unique flavor with a high dose of farcical humor well executed by a contingent of comedic clowns.

Suzanne Withem is the ringmaster of this circus and she stages it as a classic Vaudeville production with a bare-bones set.  Her direction is sterling as she never allows the energy to wane and she knows how to mine the funny out of the production with a series of well-timed jokes and fourth wall breaking moments.  Ms Withem leads her actors to strong, brilliant performances with a pell mell telling of this mystery.

I salute the superhuman efforts of the 3 actors of the play (Kevin Goshorn, Sara Scheidies, and Guillermo Joseph Rosas) as they rotate between playing nearly 20 different characters requiring complete shifts in costume, body language, accents, and voice to portray the numerous roles.  Some examples of their stellar work are Goshorn’s highly Texan Henry Baskerville, his obnoxiously crude Inspector Lestrade who constantly hocks loogies and scratches his behind, and a hilarious cameo as a charwoman cleaning 221B Baker St; Ms Scheidies’ overwrought Mrs. Barrymore who overgestures and oddly shuffles her feet, her busybodying Mrs. Hudson, or her energetic Cartwright, one of Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars; Rosas shines as the Baskerville butler, Barrymore who has a permanently stooped posture and a wonky back; the giddy naturalist, Stapleton who has an affinity for butterflies, and a proud Castillian concierge of the Northumberland Hotel.

I’d also like to applaud the work of the roustabouts, Kaitlin Maher and Gillian Pearson, who add their own humorous touches as they bring on props, make sound effects, and sometimes are the props.

Catherine Vazquez’s Dr. Watson is the show’s straight man and narrator.  She does a wonderful job exhibiting Watson’s stalwart loyalty to Holmes, his courage under fire, and his own keen intellect, though his powers of observation and deduction are far less pronounced than those of Holmes.  She does need to project a bit more to overcome BLT’s backbox nature.  Unlike the other characters, Watson needs to be the most grounded, which Ms Vazquez certainly was, but I think she still had some leeway to elevate his energy a bit.

Ben Beck is a pitch perfect Sherlock Holmes.  Not only does he well exude Holmes’ rude, unfriendly nature, but he also well communicates Holmes’ manic energy when the thrill of an investigation is on him.  Beck well handles Holmes’ complex dialogue as he often speaks in almost stream of consciousness cadences as he makes his rapid-fire deductions. And I was particularly impressed with how quickly he was able to transition from being Holmes to being the actor playing Holmes when miscues and other errors sprang up to throw off the Vaudeville troupe.

Brendan Greene-Wash has skillfully designed a cheap looking set of cutout woods and boxes that look like they could be packed up and whisked to the next town on a moment’s notice.  Zachary Kloppenborg’s costumes are spot-on and quite elegant from Holmes’ dressing gown, to Watson’s sharp suits, to the Texan garb of Henry Baskerville, the buttling suit of Barrymore, and the raggedy clothes of the Irregulars.  Joshua Mullady’s lights always enhance any production with the eerie ghostly lights used in the story of the curse of the Baskervilles to the shadowy night scenes in Baskerville Hall.

I thought I saw a few blips such as fading or dropped accents and the mixing of pronouns in regards to Watson, but as the show is presented as a troupe doing a production of The Hound of the Baskervilles, I can’t help but wonder if these “blips” were more subtle jokes to tie into the show’s running gag of little things going wrong here and there.  In any case, Baskerville is an extremely satisfying romp that does justice to a classic Holmes mystery while making bellies jiggle with laughter.

Baskerville plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through May 19.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Fri-Sat and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, and $10 for students.  Reservations can be made by calling 402-291-1554 or visiting the web page at bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

Beware the Ides of Smarch, Days 7-9: Full Circle

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Thursday, March 7

The Vegas trip had come to an end, but we still needed to hit up my favorite breakfast place on our way out.  That, of course, was the breakfast buffet at the Gold Coast casino.  It is still the best dollar for dollar value buffet in Vegas.  For about $10, you get a lot of wonderful breakfast foods and they were in especially fine form this day.  Their legendary French Toast was in fairly fine fettle and they also had some great chicken fried steak and an excellent corned beef hash as well.

Properly fueled we began the long drive back to Phoenix.  Dave and I once again waged battle in Super Mario Party where he managed to get the duke over me.

We got back into town about 4:30pm and just relaxed until Carolyn came home from work.  Then we went to dinner at Venezia’s Pizzeria which specializes in New York style slices of pizza.  I had never had a proper New York slice before and my Buffalo Chicken slice hit the spot.

When we got back to the house, Dave, Mat, and I took a little walk around the area to work off the meal before settling in to watch the latest episode of The Orville before turning in for the night.

Friday, March 8

This was definitely an easy day for us.  Mat had a doctor’s appointment so Dave and I were left to our devices for an hour or so.  Mat came back with doughnuts from The Hurts Donut Company which are still the greatest doughnuts on the planet and I very much look forward to the branch coming to Omaha.  I savored an Andes Mint doughnut while Mat introduced us to the web series, Cobra Kai, which continues the story of Daniel LaRusso and his rivalry with Johnny Lawrence from the movie The Karate Kid.

It’s actually a very entertaining and interesting series.  The focus is mostly on the character of Johnny Lawrence and it’s nice to see William Zabka get to show some depth with a character as his heyday as an actor in the 80s pretty much had him playing one dimensional bullies.

When we watched half the series, I suggested we go out and play some mini golf to get some exercise and enjoy the weather.

So we hopped into the car and made our way to Golfland Sunsplash were we once again dueled on the links.  In some ways, it was the most entertaining round of mini golf I’ve played as I shot video footage of some of our toughest holes.  In some ways it was the worst round as I shot pathetically average.  In one sign of the apocalypse, I finished last to Dave. . .again.  In another sign of the apocalypse, Dave won the ace award (most holes in one).  This left me in a fog where I muttered over and over, “Dave?  Ace Award?”

We returned to the house and did our own thing for an hour or so until Carolyn came back from work.  For dinner we went to Rubio’s which is famed for its fish tacos.  I had a Wild Alaskan salmon taco with a side of fresh greens and it really hit the spot.

From dinner, we went to the movies to watch Captain Marvel, the latest blockbuster from Marvel.  I found it to be a decent film buoyed by strong performances from Brie Larson as the title character and Ben Mendelsohn as a sympathetic war victim.  I gave it a 7 out of 10 and was especially impressed at how Marvel altered the traditional origin story formula.

But it was back to homestead and bed as we readied ourselves for the final day.

Saturday, March 9

This was it.  The last full day of fun with Mat and Carolyn.

Mat and Carolyn slept in.  I rose at my usual early hour and was surprised to find Dave up and about already as he watched the news on his phone.  I ate a banana and the last 2 pieces of bacon from the batch Mat had prepared the previous Sunday.  After eating, I decided I wanted to go for a long walk and persuaded Dave to join me.

Except for the little nighttime excursion taken a few nights prior, I had never really walked around this neighborhood as I was under the mistaken belief that the area was just a few lanes of houses buttressed up against a business area.

How wrong I was.

Once you cross the street, there are actually quite a large number of houses, schools, and neighborhoods to enjoy.  Dave and I ambled for about an hour before returning to the house.

As each member of our group held a victory in Super Mario Party, we decided to crown a winner.  We played an abbreviated version where Carolyn decimated us.  I mean it wasn’t even close.  But I did finish in second place.

Carolyn left for the afternoon to visit her brother while the three of us finished Cobra Kai and noshed on some sausage sandwiches Mat prepared.  The sausage was tasty, but I could have eaten a sandwich consisting solely of the delectable vegetable concoction prepared by Mat.

About 4pm we headed to Scottsdale where we would close the adventure as it started:  with an escape room.

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We visited Escape Room 101 where our group was joined by Mat’s old friend, Rod, and his new girlfriend, Lisa.  In this room, we would be assuming the role of Baker Street detectives who were contacted by Oliver Byron, son of Lord Byron, the painter.  Oliver Byron had been approached by a cousin who held a will saying that he was the sole heir to Lord Byron’s fortune.  Oliver stated his father would never cut his children from the will and needed us to locate the real will before the reading of the fake.

The puzzles in this room were awesome and really required you to think.  The downside is that some of the devices activated by our solutions didn’t work as they should.  For example, Mat and I solved a symbols puzzles and nothing happened.  Mat unsolved and resolved it later which finally caused a hidden compartment to activate.

This one went down to the wire, but we managed to find the will with about 3 minutes remaining.  I would have combined the two rooms we had done as Blaine’s Basement had better presentation and pageantry while The Baker Street had better puzzles.

After another victory, we visited Carlos O’Brien’s for dinner which was a fusion of Mexican food and Irish pub fare.  I enjoyed a chicken and beef quesadilla while we conversed about various items.

Back at Mat and Carolyn’s we decided to have one final, all out battle at maximum turns on Super Mario Party.  It seemed as if Carolyn would crush us again, but we managed to start mounting a comeback.  However, my two “friends” decided to unfairly target me for purely their own amusement instead of focusing on the greater threat of Carolyn.  Dave stole a star while Mat stole my money to keep me from buying stars.  Due to their chicanery, Dave ended up winning and I vowed eternal warfare on both of them in all future games.

And so the end had finally come.  Having the old team back together added that x factor that made this trip quite a bit more fun.  Sadly, it will be a while before I see Mat and Carolyn again.  I may try a trip this summer or possibly even at Christmas as my family will be celebrating the holiday early.  Mat mentioned the possibility of road tripping to San Diego next time and that is a most intriguing idea indeed.

I see our first flight home has been delayed, so this trip really has come full circle.

Till the next adventure.

The Game Will be Afoot at BLT

BELLEVUE LITTLE THEATRE PRESENTS
“BASKERVILLE” AUDITIONS

Saturday, February 9, 2019 @ 1:00 – 4:00 pm
Sunday, February 10, 2019 @ 1:00 – 4:00 pm

Interested parties need only attend one day of auditions, so please feel free to select the date that is most convenient for you.

Actors should come prepared to move (not dance), demonstrate a variety of accents and dialects, and read from the script.

Please bring a resume and head shot if you have them and a list of conflicts between March 18 and May 19. Excessive conflicts and conflicts after April 19 may affect casting decisions.

Callbacks: Sunday, February 17
Rehearsals will begin February 18 (evenings and weekends)
Performance Dates: May 3 – 19, 2019
Performances are Fri., Sat. evenings at 7:30 and Sunday afternoons at 2 pm.

Questions? Contact Director, Suzanne Withem at suzannewithem@gmail.com

“Baskerville,” by Ken Ludwig, is a comedic retelling of “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” the classic Sherlock Holmes mystery written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In Ludwig’s version, three actors play nearly 40 supporting characters to the leads, Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Actors of all genders will be considered for all roles, and actors of any gender, race, or ethnicity who are 18 or older are encouraged to audition. All actors will utilize various dialects, but a strong standard British dialect is required.

Characters:
* Sherlock Holmes: (any age; any gender) The world’s greatest detective is sophisticated, quick-witted, and passionate. He is an English gentleman who is very precise in speech and manner. This actor plays only one role.
* Dr. John Watson: (any age; any gender) A kind amiable doctor and Sherlock Holmes’s faithful sidekick. A man of action, intellect and deep emotion. He is also very British.
* Actor 1: (any age; any gender) Plays more than a dozen characters – primarily the villains and baddies. Must be a versatile character actor adept a physical comedy and various accents and dialects.
* Actor 2: (any age; any gender – though likely male identifying) Plays nearly a dozen characters – primarily heroes and gentlemen. Must be a versatile character actor adept a physical comedy and various accents and dialects.
* Actor 3: (any age; any gender – though likely female identifying) Plays more than a dozen characters – primarily maids, nurses, and damsels in distress. Must be a versatile character actor adept a physical comedy and various accents and dialects and willing to challenge traditional gender roles.
* Roustabouts and Foley Artists: (any age; any gender) – These two or three nonspeaking roles will be cast and treated as members of the acting company. They will assist with scene changes, participate in comedy bits, and serve as Foley artists providing live sound effects for the production from onstage. They should be creative problems solvers adept at physical comedy and familiar with silent storytelling. They are vital to the success of keeping the “trunk show” design of the production moving forward and creating the world of the theatre in which the play is performed.

The Bellevue Little Theatre, an all volunteer organization, maintains an “equal opportunity” policy for volunteer recruitment of both board and production positions. Auditions are open to the general public, with the same “equal opportunity” policy. All roles are open for audition except an occasional role is precast and is so noted in the audition notice.

Location:  203 W Mission Ave, Bellevue, NE

A Most Unique Perspective

A teenager on the autism spectrum decides to investigate the murder of his neighbor’s dog.  His investigation leads to the discovery of an even weightier mystery and his investigation into that case may lead those closest to him to a remarkable discovery about him.  This is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time adapted by Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon’s novel and is playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

To be up front, this is not a play about autism.  This is a play about family, trust, and love whose central character just happens to be on the autism spectrum (likely Asperger’s Syndrome).  I haven’t read the novel though, from the play, I suspect the book is also told from the point of view of the central character, Christopher Boone.  As such, Stephens’ adaptation creates one of the most original plays I have ever seen.  Not only is it a rock solid story, but it also allows the audience to vividly see just how Christopher processes information through writing and truly innovative staging that bring his internal processes to life.

Kimberly Faith Hickman has worked wonders with the show.  Her direction is nimble and nuanced.  Her cast virtually flawless.  But the real key to this show is its staging so the audience is able to see things through Christopher’s eyes.  Rest assured, Ms Hickman hits the bullseye with her staging through the use of silhouetted voices as Christopher recalls memories;  through the cast carrying Christopher around and flipping him over as he imagines himself an astronaut; through the duality of Siobhan reading about Christopher’s experiences while we watch Christopher living the experiences and see exactly how he behaved and reacted.

The supporting cast is exceptional and admirably fills out the people Christopher runs across in his adventures as well as the voices of memory inside his head.  Exemplary performances came from Julie Fitzgerald Ryan as Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher and, arguably, one true friend who encourages his writing and helps him better cope with the rules of society; Daniel Luethke as a pair of kindly policemen who try to help Christopher and a friendly reverend whose faith butts heads with Christopher’s logic and atheism; and Silvia Conley as the motherly Mrs. Alexander who attempts to befriend Christopher and ends up providing crucial clues that lead Christopher to an even deeper mystery than the death of his neighbor’s dog.

The role of Christopher Boone is a meaty, difficult part to play.  Due to its level of challenge, it is often played by young adults pretending to be the 15 year old.  That being said, Kimberly Faith Hickman played a gamble casting the 12 year old Dominic Torres in the role.  That gamble hits the jackpot.

Torres rises to the challenge of this arduous part and nails the characterization to the floor.  The character has similar traits and qualities to Sherlock Holmes to whom the play’s title subtly references.  Like Holmes, Christopher has genius level intellect, a keen eye for detail, and a rude, unfriendly nature.

Torres imbues all of these qualities into his character as well as having a solid grip on the tics and behavior patterns of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome such as his lack of eye contact with people, the blank facial expressions, the awkward poses he assumes with his hands and legs, the monotone quality to his voice, and the inability to articulate frustration.  He possesses an excellent sense of timing and handled the difficult wordplay well.  He just needs to slow down his rate of speech so chunks of dialogue are not lost.

Mike Palmreuter gives a weighty performance as Ed Boone, Christopher’s father.  Palmreuter well communicates the difficulties of a single father raising a son with special needs.  He clearly loves Christopher and has well adapted to his son’s needs such as touching fingers instead of hugs due to Christopher’s dislike of being touched.  But he also displays a lot of doubt as to Christopher’s ability to function in society as he tries to dissuade him from his investigation into the dog’s death and worries when he must leave Christopher alone.  Palmreuter’s slumped posture says more about the weight on his shoulders more than the wonderful dialogue he speaks.

Kerri Forrester provides a good yang to Palmreuter’s yin.  As Christopher’s mother, Judy, Ms Forrester’s body language communicates a longing that Christopher was like other children.  She clearly wants to be able to hug Christopher and hold his hand, but will never experience that joy due to Christopher’s different way of living.  Ms Forrester’s eyes have a deep sadness to them when she realizes that she will never be able to make the emotional breakthroughs that her husband has when it comes to parenting Christopher.

Steven Williams and Chris Wood team up for a deceptively simple looking set that is a boxed grid, but pulses with lights and colors to express scene changes and emotional beats.  Jay Hanson and John Gibilisco join forces for a little music and sound effects from the zapping effects of the flashing lights to the light dings as the background lights assume new Tetris shapes to the crowd noises of subway and railroad stations.  Lindsey Pape’s costumes convey the blue collar nature of the Boone family as well as Christopher’s fixations with the nearly identical clothes he wears and the everyday outfits of the everyday people in the show.

As I said earlier, this is not a story about a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome.  It’s a story about family and, truly, about seeing things from a different point of view.  I think the best way to sum up this play is from a Sherlock Holmes quotation, “Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing.  It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing. . .to something entirely different.”

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Feb 10.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $28.  For tickets, contact the OCP box office at 402-553-0800 or visit www.ticketomaha.com.  Due to adult language, this show is not recommended for children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

A Mystery Opens Up Second Half of Playhouse Season

Omaha, NE–The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time will open Friday, Jan 18 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  The show will run in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre from Jan 18 through Feb 10, 2019.  Performances will be held Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.

Winner of five Tony Awards including Best Play and based on the best-selling mystery novel by Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time tells the emotional story of Christopher, a 15 year old boy with an autism spectrum condition who sets out to solve the mysterious death of a neighbor’s dog.

Directed by Kimberly Faith Hickman, the play’s vusually stunning design and innovative staging boldly conveys the point of view of the young protagonist on an incredible adventure and finds his perceptions of trust and reality turned upside-down.

Tickets are on sale now starting at $24 and prices may vary by performance.  Tickets may be purchased at the Omaha Community Playhouse Box Office located at 6915 Cass St, by phone at 402-553-0800 or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.

Cast

Dominic Torres as Christopher

Mike Palmreuter as Ed

Julie Fitzgerald Ryan as Siobhan

Karri Forrester as Judy

Amanda Stalnaker as Voice 1

Steve Denenberg as Voice 2

Sheldon Ledbetter as Voice 3

Matthew Kischer as Voice 4

Daisy Friedman as Voice 5

Silvia Conley as Voice 6

Peter Frampton as Sandy

Peaceful Solitude: Beiderbecke Inn

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Today the road brought me to Davenport, IA.

I had just completed my first full stage production in nearly 6 years and I needed a weekend to wind down from it.  How to do just that?  Of course!  Road trip!!

I decided a return trip to Algonquin, IL would fit the bill just nicely.  I could get a little gaming in at the Underground Retrocade and enjoy the comfort and hospitality of Victorian Rose Garden Bed and Breakfast again.

But I needed something for that first night.  A little research led to the discovery of Beiderbecke Inn of Davenport, IA owned by Pam and Dennis LaRoque and the deal was sealed.

Getting out of town was a bit of an adventure.  When I awoke Friday morning, I glanced out the window to check the weather and found Omaha was in the throes of a winter storm.  Luckily the accumulation only amounted to an inch, but the way it was blowing around made it seem a lot worse and cut the visibility down to nearly zero.  A view of weather reports showed me that the storm was localized to the metro area so once I got past Council Bluffs I would be OK, provided that things tapered off by 11am which, mercifully, they did.

It was a little slow going getting out of the city and then my low pressure signal came on.  I rolled my eyes and pulled off to a Casey’s in Council Bluffs to pump up my tires.

After that it was pretty smooth sailing.  My MP3 was pulling up some great long unheard tunes and the driving was smooth after Council Bluffs.  My schedule was thrown off a bit by the slower driving I needed before I escaped winter’s fury so I ended up stopping for lunch later than I anticipated.

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Iowa’s Best Burger Cafe. Don’t be deceived by the appearance as they serve a great burger.

On several occasions I had passed a little gas station/café in Kellogg, IA called Iowa’s Best Burger Café which allegedly served the best burgers in the state and I decided to put that to the test.

The place serves a mighty mean burger.  I had a ¼ hamburger with the works and it really hit the spot.  Juicy, charbroiled, and just flat out good.  A side of crinkle fries completed the meal and it does come with a beverage, too, albeit no refills.  So if you’re hungry and you are close to Kellogg, IA, this place is definitely worth a visit.

From there, it was back on the road until I reached Beiderbecke Inn.

The inn is located in Davenport’s historic neighborhood and had been the dream home of Charles and Louise Beiderbecke who made their fortune selling groceries and coal wholesale.  Their home is built near the bank of the Mississippi and has a beautiful view of the river.

Beiderbecke Inn is a Victorian mansion and a classic B & B.  Stepping inside made me feel as if I was transported to the inn of The Boscombe Valley Mystery of the Sherlock Holmes tales.  I was greeted by Pam and I met her grandchildren (both official and unofficial) as they practiced a dance routine in the massive greeting hall.  The bottom floor includes the hall, dining room, library, den, and billiards room.

After paying for my stay, I met Dennis and was led to the Victorian Room which had the two things I needed for a bitterly cold night:  a fire and a Jacuzzi tub. I heaved a contented sigh and set up for the night.

Due to the lateness of my lunch and the cold outside, I decided to stay indoors for the night.  I thumbed through the impressive DVD library and selected Maverick.  I then finished a novel, started the electric fire, and drew a hot bath.

The bath felt great as the gentle jets soothed my weary body and reactivated my tired mind.  I stayed in the tub until I soaked up all of the hot water.  Then I went through my nighttime ritual and got under the covers to watch the movie, but didn’t get very far before I conked out.

The next morning, it was time for breakfast.  Waiting at the table were goblets of orange juice, milk, and water along with a dish of berries (strawberries, I think) mixed with a cream that made them oh, so sweet and tasty.  The main course was an omelet stuffed with peppers, onions, and bacon which served as great fuel for the road.

If you’re in the Davenport, IA and want to stay in a classic B & B, Beiderbecke Inn is definitely the inn for you.  And, as we’re close to the holiday season, I’m told the inn looks particularly nice at Christmas.  Hint.  Hint.

Until the next time, happy travels.

Be Part of OCP’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”

The Omaha Community Playhouse is holding auditions for the upcoming production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time on Saturday, October 27 at 11 a.m. and Sunday, October 28 at 6 p.m. at the Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass Street, Omaha, NE 68132.

• Production: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
• Roles: Christopher, Siobhan, Ed, Judy, Ensemble (play multiple roles)
• Show Dates: January 18 – February 10, 2019
• Theatre: Howard and Rhonda Hawks Mainstage Theatre, Omaha Community Playhouse
• Rehearsals: Begin December 2, 2018
• Director: Kimberly Faith Hickman

SYNOPSIS
Winner of five Tony Awards, including Best Play, and based on the best-selling mystery novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time tells the emotional story of Christopher, a 15-year-old boy with autism, who sets out to solve the mysterious death of a neighbor’s dog. As he embarks on an incredible adventure to find answers, his perceptions of trust and reality are turned upside-down. With stunning design and innovative staging, this impactful story is a must-see!

AUDITION DATES
• Saturday, October 27 at 11:00 a.m.
• Sunday, October 28 at 6:00 p.m.

AUDITION LOCATION
Omaha Community Playhouse
6915 Cass Street
Omaha, NE 68132

AUDITION INSTRUCTIONS
• Those auditioning should enter through the west “Stage Door” entrance and proceed to the check-in table.
• Actors only need to attend one of the audition dates to be considered for a role.
• Those auditioning will be asked to read from the script provided at auditions.
• If special accommodations are needed, please contact Breanna Carodine prior to auditions at (402) 553-4890 ext. 164 or bcarodine@omahaplayhouse.com.

PLEASE BRING
• All contact information, personal schedules and a list of rehearsal conflicts with which to fill out an audition form
• To expedite the check-in process, please bring a physical copy of a headshot or recent photo of yourself. Please note, photos will not be returned.