Out and About (Sort of): Two Local Events are Fulfilling by Howard Freedlander

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As Thanksgiving approaches, offering peace and tranquility prior to the madness of the high-pressured build-up to Christmas, I savor a time of year characterized by cooler weather and festive moods. The gift-buying crush remains a constant burden.

Aware that I might summon a “bag Humbug” reaction to my increasingly negative attitude to the well-documented commercialization of a rather sacred Christian holiday, I will quickly pivot to a more optimistic tone. Perhaps the omnipresent holiday music—which I love—and the incessant TV commercials selling Christmas consumption drown out the insane shootings, the political mess, and mayhem in Washington and worldwide terrorism.

Just think about it: we can escape into buying, buying and more buying. And it’s legal and maybe soothing to some.

Okay. It’s time for cheerfulness.

Last week, my wife and I partook of a “soft opening” at Mason’s Redux on Harrison Street in Easton. A few months ago, I interviewed the proprietors, Chance Negri and Jeffery Parker, along with Jutta Sayles, also an owner, about their plans to resurrect a beloved restaurant once operated by the Mason family. Like so many former devotees of Mason’s, I looked forward to the filling of a vacuum created by a former owner of the property; Mason’s failed to exist, replaced by a chop house that gained no traction and closed.

I found myself excited by the much-awaited opening of Mason’s Redux. A new chapter was being written. A hometown favorite was finding a new, though different future. A hole on Harrison Street would be filled.

I was not disappointed. In fact, I felt thrilled to participate in a new venture in an updated venue with delightful food offerings.

The new Mason’s has enlivened the food landscape in Easton. It’s added a spark on Harrison Street. Negri and Parker, supported by Sayles, have created a venue that I suspect will become increasingly popular. The kinks from the two soft opening nights will become less important.

After speaking three times with Negri following our wonderful evening, I savored his enthusiasm, his purposefulness to create a superb dining experience. He’s determined to produce top-quality food and provide excellent service. The response from hundreds of diners has been overwhelming to Negri, Parker, and Sayles.

My wife and I joined other repeat customers for Sunday night dinner. We hardly ever dine out on Sunday evening.

Another opening happened in Easton on Saturday night with the first of two performances of “Modern Warrior Live,” about which I wrote a few months ago. This unusual, powerful musical drama tells a story about a young veteran of three tours as an infantryman in Afghanistan and his sometimes tortuous effort to acclimate himself to a civilian world devoid of a constant struggle to stay alive and protect your buddies. He confronted the death of fellow soldiers and the collapse of personal relationships back home.

Poling’s story is poignant. The message is broader than his wartime and civilian experiences. For me, the underlying theme is the difficulty of melding military and civilian sensitivities in such a way that returning veterans and the families, friends, and co-workers that provide the welcoming mat understand the tension that can divide the two parties.

The music produced by Dominic Farinacci, a world-class trumpet player, three singers and instrumentalists beautifully and strikingly enhanced the power and pungency of Poling’s autobiographical story.

Sitting in the Avalon Theatre, I found myself transfixed by the message and music. Farinacci’s trumpet sang with its variations of somber and upbeat sounds. Those accompanying him on the piano, string instruments, and drums provided a magnificent blend of spellbinding music.

And the three singers provided an extension of Poling’s story, probing the depths of his utterly frank talk of deadly combat action, searing introspection about war and family, despair prompted by a complex re-entry into the civilian world and, finally, the self-satisfaction of using the past to chart an optimistic future.

As I knew from speaking recently with Farinacci and Poling, the final takeaway from the show was that veterans are not damaged goods unable to adapt to lives without combat and intense bonding. Wartime experience can and does lay a foundation for personal growth and achievement—but not without a struggle at times.

It would have been difficult, if not impossible to walk away from this performance without absorbing its celebration of veterans and their intense challenges back home.

Without the support of Richard Marks and Al Sikes, two community leaders are known for their commitment not only to “Modern Warrior Live,” but also to other local activities, this unusual music drama would have bypassed Easton on its way to New York.

I began by talking about Thanksgiving, a holiday that summons good food and good chair—and no gifts. Others share my angst about the oncoming onslaught of ceaseless Christmas promotion. The successful opening of Mason’s Redux and the exceptional performance of “Modern Warrior Redux” have provided a pleasant prelude to my favorite holiday.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

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