No one is spared when the Alexandria Bar Association (ABA) presents their annual Gridiron — not Judge Stephen Rideout, not Marian Van Landingham, not even Ken Labowitz, who made a guest appearance to make fun of himself. It’s all in good fun; no mean-spirited undertones here.
That wasn’t always the case. John Braswell, partner with Redmon, Peyton & Braswell, has worked on the Gridiron for over 20 years, and said that it used to be “very blue and very private.” When the show crossed the line in 1986, the leadership of the bar said “never again” and from then on it was “squeaky clean,” with nothing inappropriate.
Braswell coordinated the show for five years in the early '90s. When asked how much time it took, he said, “You become obsessed with it. You hear something funny and call the other writers and mull over how you can turn it into a script. It’s collegiality, very few organizations have such a sense of collegiality and warmth.”
One of the funnier routines he recalls is the one when Vola Lawson, former Alexandria city manager, and Judge E. Robert (Bobbie) Giammittorio played each other.
“Nobody could believe their eyes,” Braswell said. “There was Bobbie in a dress with a push-up bra, pearls and a big-hair wig. Vola was so gracious to poke fun at herself. People are still talking about that one.”
This year, it was Ken Labowitz who poked fun at himself. In a skit titled “The Guardian … Somebody’s cases are really starting to keep him up at night ….,” Labowitz agrees to take a new guardianship case. However, he doesn’t leave for court until he dons a bulletproof vest, arm shields and a helmet. This is reflective of his recent abduction involving a guardianship case he was handling.
ANOTHER ROUTINE that Braswell remembers is one written by Jack Duval, former Alexandria attorney and brother of Robert Duval. The routine was a take-off on a woman named Cassandra who was inadvertently left locked in the Alexandria City Jail over the weekend with no food, water or toilet facilities. She sued the city and so Duval wrote a ditty to the tune of “Maria” which became, “Cassandra, I locked up a girl named Cassandra …."
Braswell no longer directs, but is still involved in the writing and appeared in the cast this year on Tuesday, Feb. 15. He played Judge Rideout in a routine titled “The Court of Make Believe.” A mock trial had parents acrimoniously fighting for custody of their son, while a troubled youth refused help. Once Braswell, aka Judge Rideout, donned his make-believe hat, the parents no longer argued about custody, and the troubled youth admitted he needed help. Even the attorneys agreed to show up for court on time. The cast completed the routine with a song sung to the tune from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, “You’re Gonna Make It After All.”
“Who can turn the court on with his smile?
Who can take a crappy case and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
Well it’s you Steve and you should know it
With every day and every little ruling you show it
Love is all around, no need to waste it
Here’s a chance to star, why don’t you take it?
We’re gonna miss you after all …..”
WHILE JUDGE RIDEOUT wasn’t there to hear his tribute, there was no denying that there was a smile on Del. Marian Van Landingham (D-45)’s face as Tom Tyler donned a wig and skirt to talk about how she wanted to paint murals on the Federal Courthouse to make it pretty. The cast then sang a version of Sammy Davis’ “Candy Man” — “Who can make the sun shine? Van Landingham can …”
The cast included John Braswell, Caroline Costle, Cary Greenberg, Russ Hatchl, Drewry B. Hutcheson, Phillip Marston, Ron Minionis, Todd Pilot, John Rodgers, Douglas Steinberg, Kay Tibbits, Michael Tompkins and Tom Tyler.
Once again, Drewry B. Hutcheson served as the master of ceremonies. He has been involved in the show almost as long as Braswell and has also written many of the routines over the years.
“I think he did an excellent job, much more polished this year,” said Herman Lutz, Alexandria attorney who has been coming to the Gridiron for over 50 years. Nobody’s sure exactly how long the Gridiron has been going on, but Lutz said, “I moved here in 1953 and it was going on then. I don’t think I missed a one.”
While he was never in the cast, he worked behind the scenes early on, and has some of the tape recordings of old shows buried in his basement.
“I like writing lyrics, “ Hutcheson said. “I’m nervous before it gets started, but we all have a little ‘ham’ in us and I enjoy having people laugh at my jokes.”
Hutcheson attributes the success of the shows to the chairs, this year it was Doug Steinberg.
“I thought Doug did great,” Hutcheson said. “I marvel at how the chairmen pull it all together — it’s something to behold.”
FOR YEARS THE SHOW was held at West End Dinner Theatre; the closing of the theatre left the committee scrambling for a new space. They elected to hold the dinner at the Café Marianna and the show at MetroStage. To accommodate the large crowd, Charles Oppman, owner of Café Marianna, set up tables and a buffet in the space formerly occupied by Mikel’s Antiques and Interiors. Doris Reither used to move aside her merchandise, allowing Oppman to use the space for special events. He said that he will continue that same relationship with Jim Helwig, owner of Abaca Imports.
“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” Oppman said. “We feed off each other.”
Likewise, with MetroStage, who Oppman says he shares a Web site with and offers discount dinner coupons for MetroStage theater-goers. MetroStage producing artistic director Carolyn Griffin was on hand to greet the visitors and enjoy this new use of her space.
“I liked the new spot,” Hutcheson said. “It was smaller and you could hear better. This new place worked out well.”