I am not a Los Angeles fan; the city is too big, too sprawling, too car-infested for me. I much prefer northern California. Regardless of the traffic, that area offers much more for me in the way of entertainment and relaxation: the Muir Woods, Carmel-by-the-Sea, the Monterey Aquarium, and Napa and Sonoma Valleys, among other things. This past week, though, Max and I braved not only Los Angeles, but also Palm Springs, where it is really hot most of the time, and where shopping and golf are much too expensive – except for shoes. Shoes from California are simply the best.
We decided to take this trip because of a couple of friends who have done something entirely new with their lives. In Palm Springs, Joanne Garcia-Colson has changed careers: no longer a lawyer, she has trained as a chef and has opened a new restaurant. And Terry Teachout has written “Satchmo at the Waldorf,” a play that opened at a theater in Beverly Hills. We wanted to eat in Joanne’s restaurant and see Terry’s play.
We started our trip in Palm Springs, enjoying sun and warm weather (remember sun and warm weather?). The evening warmth, however, was just flat out hot during the day. Lots of people say, “Oh, but it’s a dry heat,” as if that makes any difference. After May in Missouri, though, we didn’t really care.
We had dinner at Dish Creative Cuisine, which Joanne opened last year to rave reviews — and for good reason. The food was not only tasty, but also beautiful — and “on sale.” It was Restaurant Week, which meant that we ate three gourmet courses for $38 per person. Between each course, we were served an “amuse bouche” — just one bite of a tasty morsel: first, a tomato custard topped with tomato jam, bacon, and bacon cream; second, a cucumber/almond gazpacho; next, a cube of champagne raspberry ice; and finally, a layered lemon and basil ice cream push-up.
The next morning, we drove to Los Angeles, enduring six lanes of stop and race traffic to see Terry’s play. A native of Sikeston and a college colleague of mine, Terry is now a successful writer and lives in New York. He is the drama critic for the Wall Street Journal and began writing books about 20 years ago, penning his autobiography as well as biographies of ballet pioneer George Balanchine and of H.L. Mencken, the long-ago misanthrope and editor of The Baltimore Sun. A jazz aficionado, Terry has also written biographies of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. “Satchmo at the Waldorf” is taken from his book “Pops,” detailing Armstrong’s life and music.
John Douglas Thompson stars as Armstrong, Armstrong’s manager Joe Glaser, and Miles Davis, a jazz trumpet player and frequent critic of Armstrong. Thompson’s portrayal of all three men is stunning; he quickly alters his physical stature and his voice to reflect each character.
This is one of those plays, though, that is remarkable because it is all good: the writing, the directing, the acting, the set design, and the sound and lighting. And it was perfect for the 150-seat theater, because the play is a monologue – the characters speak directly to the audience. The play is about the very private side of a very public musician who faced racism from all sides during the era of integration. I teared up as I watched it, thinking, “I know the person who wrote this!”
We met Mr. Thompson after the play, and I explained my relationship with Terry. He was touched that we had come all the way from Missouri, but I told him I wanted to see Terry’s work as well as to read it.
The next morning, as it took an hour for us to go five blocks from our hotel to the airport, I reveled in our travels — even though L.A. was involved. It had been what I had hoped: good food at Dish, Terry’s provocative and evocative play, and five days of sunshine. Unfortunately, however, one thing didn’t go as planned. I couldn’t find any shoes to buy. Next time.