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Cattle in the dishware department: Dread, possibility, and joy

Adair Lara and Jason McMonagle dancing

​As I write this December column, we have voted — or at least half the country has — to change the way our nation does business, and the bull is no longer merely visiting the china shop. The bull-elect and his herd now have a four-year lease on the entire store. And the estimated damage? Well, only time will tell.

No one I know is happy about this.

But here we are.

The long election cycle has ended but what has not stopped is the sort of existential malaise suffered now by so many, all of whom are stocking their liquor shelves with easy remedies for the oncoming future. There are also lots of secret Facebook groups forming, and a ton of action groups, because no one wants to sit still and watch all the gains of the Obama years disappear. We all want to do something. So, I’d like to offer two of my recent experiences as suggestions for action. Not necessarily political action. But activity that may lift the spirit and energize the soul.

Just writing about them makes me feel better.

​There is a place — magical and with a great big kitchen — called the San Francisco Institute of Possibility (3359 Cesar Chavez), popularly known as Chez Poulet. Why House of Chicken? Because it was founded some time ago by a San Francisco delight of a man named Chicken John Rinaldi, and among his other unique achievements, he put this converted warehouse together so artists of all stripes could convene, celebrate, sing, dance, write, cook, and share their art.

I had the joy of spending a recent weekend there when my writing group — led by the estimable Adair Lara — met in a two-day retreat that had us churning out all sorts of wonderful stuff. We read aloud from said stuff and when not writing, reading, or eating, we danced. There was a large floor space for movement of all sorts, and wonderful music to get us going. Adair came armed with provocative writing prompts, and we all had to participate in what she calls 15 Minutes of Fame, in which we each had the floor for that allotted time to perform something that had nothing at all to do with our writing.

One fellow writer, Laura, led us through the Time Warp from Rocky Horror, Rachel shared family photos and poems, and I, after six years staying away from such things, performed Kate’s final speech from Taming of the Shrew — and I had a blast doing it. It was almost as if I knew how to do such a thing.

​Meanwhile, late at night, some of us bedded down in the upstairs dorms, covered ourselves in the well-used blankets provided, and because I was official “coffee girl,” I got up early to grind the beans and drip the elixir. Many were grateful because Chicken John supplied such great beans. There was so much food brought by all of us, for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, that we gained pounds as well as words to add to our writing projects.

I highly recommend Chez Poulet as a place to gather your friends, cook communally, and share the wealth of whatever art you produce.

​Our retreat was special there.

Then, on a recent Sunday afternoon, I went to my first Bay Area Cabaret performance, at the Venetian Room of the Fairmont San Francisco (950 Mason Street). That room is legendary, ornate, and stunningly pretty — if you’re into the Baroque style as much as I am —  as well as being the place where Tony Bennett first sang his famous love song to our city. Dressing up a bit, entering the Fairmont’s embracing lobby and sitting with a dry martini seemed a perfect way to relax away the end of a weekend. On top of that, I got to hear the astonishing Leslie Odom Jr., fresh off his Tony Award-winning run in Broadway’s Hamilton, sing a gorgeous hour-long set. What a voice! He sang interesting covers off his first two albums, and brought before us small tastes of his Aaron Burr character from Broadway. The crowd went wild, until he finally encored with a duet with his wife, Nicolette Robinson. A soft Sunday evening breeze wafted over the entire Nob Hill scene, as we made our way home, floating on little clouds of good vodka and better song.

The Bay Area Cabaret folks have several tasty artists planned for your enjoyment, including Tony Yazbeck in December; Carmen Cusak in January; John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey in March; and Christine Andreas in April. Billy Porter, fresh from Kinky Boots on Broadway, rounds out their offerings in May. These are all solid Broadway talents I know will delight, so visit or call 415-772-5260 to make reservations for a show and the special dinner the Fairmont is offering to go along with each one.

Get out your red cape, provoke the bull if called to do so, but have some fun while doing it. And, God bless us all.


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