It was a hot July evening, but as we stepped into the Fort Gordon Performing Arts Center – home to the Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre – a chilly blast of air conditioning met us.
The shivery conditions helped set the mood for the night’s performance of Almost, Maine, described as a whimsical romantic comedy set on a cold, snowy night in a small mythical Maine town. My husband, Sean, and I had talked earlier this year about going to Maine for vacation, but hadn’t made any definitive plans. Almost, Maine, seemed like it might serve to fill the bill in the meantime. Plus, we’d get the bonus of dinner, catered by Gordon’s Conference & Catering Center, before the performance.
Sean offered me his coat and we joined the throng of theatergoers – mostly older couples and ladies – lining up in the small and charming lobby, decorated with posters and art. A smiling volunteer led us into the vast red theater, past the dessert tables and two buffet lines – where diners were already queuing up – and down a set of stairs to our table.
We had called the box office to order our tickets several weeks before, so we had great seats, only a few tables back from the stage, on the first of three tiers of seating. While there were a number of large tables – filled with families, supper clubs or societies (a large group of Red Hat Society ladies were right behind us) – ours was a table of four.
We introduced ourselves to our dining mates for the evening, Terry and Barbara, both of whom had attended Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre before.
Neither of us had, so Terry and Barbara quickly showed us the ropes, flagging down a volunteer to fill our teas and waters (Starbucks coffee is also available). They’d also smartly grabbed their dessert selections on their way down to the table, and were waiting for the first rush to go through before getting their salads and main course.
At the right moment, we went up the stairs to get in line. The buffet options included a green salad with three dressing options – Italian, ranch or raspberry vinaigrette – along with a small selection of toppings including bacon, cranberries, nuts and croutons. Next were four sides: rice pilaf, glazed carrots, garlic buttered green beans and summer squash casserole. Three entrée items were on the buffet: braised chicken with peppers and onions, baked cod with pineapple salsa, and teriyaki-glazed London broil. This last item was featured at a carving station, with a watery looking beurre-blanc sauce available on the side.
Together, Sean and I got a little of everything to try, and I blushed a little at how full my plate seemed, until I realized that nearly everyone’s plates were heaped as high as ours were. This crowd had definitely arrived ready to eat.
For my first course, I had crafted a green salad topped with dried cranberries, sunflower seeds and a drizzle of the raspberry vinaigrette. It was very pretty, with the bright red against the varying greens of the salad. And it was a good mix of greens – spinach with frisee, radicchio, arugula and iceberg lettuce. The vinaigrette, however, was a little too vinegary for my taste, and the sweetness of the dried cranberries wasn’t quite enough to balance it out. The more classic ranch or Italian might have been better.
The main course was certainly filling. Al dente rice pilaf, steamed carrots, glistening green beans, and a mound of squash casserole topped with a cap of melted cheddar were the vegetable counterpoints to the barbecue glazed chicken and soft white cod topped with a creamy crumb topping. The fish was a little fishy, the carrots and rice a little bland. I did enjoy the green beans, which had a nice salty kick, and the chicken, which was tender and sweet. And it was a good filling meal, for what it was.
We were among the last to get dessert – a rather dry chocolate cake and a pretty good yellow cake with white icing – before the show started. As the lights dimmed, we turned our seats to face the front, and over the next two hours, I laughed and sighed as the cast portrayed a series of vignettes about love and relationships – new love, lost love, unexpected love and love found again. In the final scene, a couple stands, smiling, together at last, as the snow falls. And we gave them a standing ovation once it was all over.
It was an enjoyable evening. And as Terry and Barbara both said, “You don’t necessarily come for the food.” And if you prefer, you don’t have to. Tickets for the show and dinner are $40 (with discounts for seniors, retirees, Army civilian employees and active-duty personnel), while the show only is $25.
It was a wonderful performance with heartfelt, sincere acting. And with some interesting plays coming up, I would certainly be interested in going back and giving Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre (dinner and all!) another try.
ON THE MENU
WHERE: Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre, Building 32100, 3rd Avenue, Fort Gordon
HOURS: Dinner, 7 p.m. Show, 8 p.m. The 2012 season includes • Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution, Sept. 21-22, 28-29, Oct. 4-6; and Harvey, Nov. 9-10, 16-17, 30 and Dec. 1.
SECOND HELPING: (706) 793-8552, www.fortgordon.com/theatre.php or find them on Facebook