The weekend that was: Vroom-vroom & Verdi

There's every kind of reason to stay home and hunker down nowadays — the general lack of money, for one thing. But this past weekend, at three very different arts events, it was extremely heartening to see big crowds of culture vultures out and about and applauding like crazy.

On Friday night at  Channelside Cinemas, the lobbies were abuzz outside the venues for the closing night of the  Gasparilla International Film Festival, with big lines for the Guzzo brothers' Ghost of Ybor, the Joe Redner documentary Strip Club King and the race-car doc Truth in 24. My partner and I went to the latter to see it on the big screen (I'd already seen it on DVD). Though the pre-screening festivities felt uncomfortably commercial, what with handouts of Audi merchandise, spiels from local Audi dealers and multiple Audi ads on screen before the movie started, Truth still rocked — with one of the most heart-stopping shots of a near-miss car accident I've ever seen.

On Saturday night at Gorilla Theatre, cushions and extra seating had to be brought in to accommodate the capacity crowd for A Body of Water, Lee Blessing's enigmatic play about a middle-aged couple who wake up in a New England country house with no idea who they are. The playwright keeps screwing with the characters and the audience, maybe having just a little bit too much fun playing God. But Larry and I left thinking that the play, written in 2005, has gained in relevance now that a lot of us are waking up with the feeling that none of the old reliables (homes, savings, jobs) can be counted upon. (And any play with a juicy role for the splendid Monica Merryman is a must-see in my book.)

On Sunday night at Ruth Eckerd it was easy to banish the clouds of uncertainty from our brains. We were part of the near sellout crowd that attended a glorious performance of a glorious piece of music: The Florida Orchestra and the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay doing Verdi's Requiem. Stefan Sanderling conducted the huge assembled forces with equal parts precision and soul, and four extraordinary soloists — Indra Thomas, Gigi Mitchell-Valasco, Jeffrey Springer and Dean Elzinga — made Verdi's passionate melodies soar.

It was the kind of night, and the kind of weekend, that made you glad to be living in Tampa Bay — and not just because of the weather.

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