At a fashionable dinner party around the turn of the century, George Bernard Shaw was asked to deliver a toast on the subject of sex. The Irish playwright stood, raised his glass, and said, "It gives me great pleasure . . ." Then he sat down.
A hundred years later, pints will be raised to that other great American pastime-- drinking--as Akron's Highland Theatre hosts the Great Guinness Toast Finals, a sort of suds-soaked poetry slam in which fifteen toastmasters--winners of semifinals held earlier this month at area taverns--will deliver their cleverest encomiums to John Barleycorn. Attendees will hear Irish music, partake of potato soup and corned beef, imbibe from kegs of Guinness stout (whose brewer is, quite obviously, the event's sponsor), and vote for the topmost toast, whose author will win airline tickets.
Highland Theatre co-owner Ron Syroid had to persuade Guinness that his 1929 art deco movie palace was the ideal site for the contest, which in seven years has expanded to 72 cities. "It's usually held in bars," says Syroid, a former electrical engineer who bought the Highland with partner Patti Eddy three years ago, after its owner died in a sensational murder-suicide. "Patti needed a hobby," he notes dryly. "We maxed out all our credit cards, and we're still paying for it."
A contest-winning toast, Syroid explains, is "whatever cranks the crowd. And it's my understanding," he adds, "that it helps to mention Guinness."
Perhaps no one heeded that advice more keenly than Kim Diamond, 26, one of three winners of a recent round at a BW-3 bar, where she works as a bouncer. Diamond managed to work the trademark into her ode three times. She recites in a husky voice:
"Here comes a toast to friends so dear/Drinking our pints of Guinness beer./It's smooth and dark and three quarters from the top/The last quarter inch made my heart stop!/From the taste on my lips, I then swig my beer./It was love at first taste, my Guinness beer./Special brewed for your tasting pleasure/Guinness Extra Stout, a priceless treasure."
Shavian wit it isn't, and Diamond must survive the semifinals in Peninsula before qualifying for the finals. But she is confident she'll be among the anointed fifteen. "I'm a good poet," she asserts, "and I don't get stage fright."
And, she em-phasizes, unlike the other two winning toasts at BW-3, hers was G-rated. "Both of them had cus-sing," she says. "I refrained from using cuss words. I figured, if this is going to be a national toast, you're not going to be able to say 'fuck.'"
The Great Guinness Toast Finals takes place on Friday, February 26 at 7 p.m. at the Highland Theatre, 826 W. Market Street, Akron, 330-375-1824. Admission is free.