A tale of two plays

I went to watch a play Saturday night.

It was the first time I attended a live play put on by professional actors since a school field trip to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

The trip I took to Montgomery with the rest of the ninth-grade class is a pleasant memory except for one thing.

I had to wear a tie.

I loathe ties, mainly because I am quite fond of my unconstricted windpipe and full range of motion in my neck.

I did understand the importance of being well-dressed for the occasion since we were representatives of our school so the top button on my shirt was dutifully fastened and my tie was pulled until I was sure it had a death grip on my trachea.

My classmates and I stood out on the curb by the side of the school and waited to board the busses to Montgomery.

I noticed the blooms on the Bradford Pear trees beside the building, but the sight of them was soon forgotten when the smell those trees put off reached my nostrils.

It is akin to the bucketful of guts Daddy always threw into the woods and left to rot in the sun after we’d cleaned a mess of fish.

I never understood why such a foul odor came from such a pretty tree, but I guess it’s true you can never judge a book by its cover.

The busses arrived right about the time I was sure I would suffocate. I had just begun to pray God would not let me lose consciousness in front of the girls.

We arrived in Montgomery and watched “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

I don’t remember much about the play except a bunch of elves and fairies hopping highly in the background on some kind of trampoline, though they could have admittedly been a hallucination thanks to a lack of oxygen to my brain.

I do remember I was impressed when I left, and I wanted to see another show.

I didn’t until Saturday night.

I heard ASF’s production of “Bear Country” was slated for the Dothan Opera House.

The play chronicles the life and career of Paul “Bear” Bryant, who played college football at the University of Alabama and eventually coached his alma mater to six national championships.

Bryant died 35 years ago, but he still looms larger than life in Alabama.

I was born two years after his death, but I have a hat patterned in the houndstooth — or maybe plaid, I don’t know — style he made famous while he roamed the sideline. Somebody handed it to me at Bryant-Denny Stadium, which is named partly in his honor.

I love football, and I love Alabama football so I bought a ticket.

A tie was out of the question, but I did pair a “nicer” shirt with my blue jeans on the advice of a friend before I drove to the opera house.

I found a place to park and the first person I saw had on a black suit.

Prior to this I had been pretty proud because my shirt had buttons on it.

I’d already paid so I walked to the door anyway.

The Dothan Opera House opened in 1915. I have lived 30 minutes away from it all of my life, and Saturday night was the first time I ever went inside.

It was a nice place, especially for a 100-plus-year-old building.

There were people dressed in an array of styles, and I was at ease when I saw a guy who had on blue jeans and a Crimson Tide T-shirt.

The lady at will call handed me my ticket. A few minutes passed and I heard her tell the man in the black suit she liked his tie.

When I stepped toward her, I saw it was houndstooth.

“I wore this to a wedding in Auburn,” he said. “My daughter said it’d be more appropriate for this.”

It turned out his remark was the first of a few jabs pointed toward Alabama’s in-state rival.

There were also a few reserved for Tennessee and a couple aimed at Yankees.

The quips got some laughs, but the play wasn’t all Southern football.

It highlighted the ups and downs of the rags-to-riches journey Bryant took to the top of his profession, which included plenty of praise and plenty of pain.

He served in the Navy during World War II, and was aboard the U.S.S. Uruguay when it collided with another vessel and several men died.

The play discussed the impact segregation, the deaths of his parents and other events had on the college football legend.

It discussed Bryant’s views of the importance of honesty, integrity and kindness.

I believe we could use a lot more of all three of those, and I now know I could use plenty more trips to see live theater.

Saturday’s performance got two thumbs up from me, one because the play was excellent and one because nobody made me wear a tie.

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