Authors Posts by Holly Nadler

Holly Nadler

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An evening of comedy welcomes Boston comics back to the Island.

Local MCs Dan Cassidy, left, and John Tiernan (a.k.a. Johnny Showtime), right, will host a comedy-driven trivia contest. – Photo courtesy of Harbor View Hotel

Nothing moves on the roads, and yet far in the distance we see lights amid the frozen tundra. Villagers gather and laughter rings out. Is this a scene from Beowulf? On the contrary, it’s happening at least 12 centuries later — in fact, this Friday night, Feb. 27, at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown: It’s the (almost) annual Evening of Comedy to blast us out of our frigid-season lethargy.

The regional director of marketing for the hotel, Elizabeth Rothwell (also dear to our hearts as a graduate of MVRHS, class of ’97), first organized this event in the winter of 2012, then again in 2013. Busy with other happenings, she skipped the show in 2014, only to have avid fans clamor for a comeback.

To book the event’s trio of Boston comics, Ms. Rothwell turns to Dick and Kathy Doherty of Beantown Comedy, with two clubs, one in Boston, the other in Worcester. For decades Boston has been known for more than its tales of Paul Revere and bowls of clam “chowdah.” The town’s funnymen (and hilarious women, of course) have created a special niche for their homegrown humor: Brash, rowdy, and innovative are words commonly used to describe their style.

Boston comedian Fran Solomita devoted a full documentary to the subject, When Stand Up Stood Out. He attributes the iconic humor to a melting pot of intelligent and gritty working-class youth up against the hip college crowd: “Those two things right next to each other created an odd vibe — really smart people who also understand a dollar earned. The comedy just sort of percolated.”

Mr. Solomita referred to what are considered the glory days of Boston comedy, the ’80s and ’90s, but clearly the continuing success of comedy clubs in the metropolis and surrounding areas — including ours in Edgartown this Friday night — lets us know that Boston humor as an industry is alive and well.

Ms. Doherty of Beantown Comedy told The Times by phone this week, “Although there are fewer comedy clubs in Boston, there are just as many people going to the shows. The quality of Boston comedy remains elite at a national level.”

The Harbor View evening spotlights Orlando Baxter, a finalist in NBC’s Stand Up For Diversity Showcase; Amy Tee, who, according to Beantown Comedy’s press release, “brings boyish charm and dry wit to her experiences with alcoholism and bipolar disorder with stigma-bursting honesty”; and Shaun Bedgood, who was featured in a Boston Globe article in 2005 as “one of Boston’s best young comics.”

The main show starts at 9 pm this Friday, but for Islanders keen to clear out of their cold dark houses earlier, a new warm-up portion of the show has been added to the program. Island merrymakers Dan Cassidy, maestro for years of weekly trivia night at the Wharf, and local hotelier and entertainer Johnny Showtime (John Tiernan), the master of revels behind the Wharf’s bingo nights (“Not your grandma’s bingo night,” he calls it), will be putting together, for Vineyarders’ delectation, a comedy-driven trivia contest. (The Wharf is closed for cleaning this month, and Mr. Cassidy and Mr. Tiernan are aware of trivia addicts dying a slow death everywhere on the Island. Knowing themselves to be arguably the sole delivery system at this time of year, they’re rushing to fill the void.)

Mr. Tiernan, reached by phone this week said, “I’m not a comedian.” Then he paused for a second before adding, “But I’m very funny!” He maintains that his goal in life has always been to work as a concierge in a hotel. Not too long ago, longtime hotelier Caleb Caldwell approached him about buying the Dockside Inn together, on the harbor in Oak Bluffs. Mr. Tiernan confided, “So now I’m a concierge, all right. With a mortgage.” His dream is real, however, as in the summer he jokes and chats with his guests all the livelong day.

Tickets for Friday’s events are priced at $25. Admission along with a prix-fixe meal in the luxe and cheerful dining room of the Water Street Restaurant within the hotel is $55. For those wishing to attend without dinner, drinks and a snacks menu will be available.

Ms. Rothwell, sailing into her 11th season at the Harbor View, is pleased to see how well her open-seating arrangement has worked out for the show: “People find themselves at tables with interesting strangers or folks they haven’t seen all winter. There’s a fun meet-and-greet aspect to the evening.”

As a final memo to our communal mental health at the end of this long winter: We’re constantly exhorted to “live, laugh, and love,” and if we had to choose just one of those three activities, we’d probably, in all honesty, go for “laugh,” which in turn makes the living and loving mo’ better. Or mo’ “bettah!” as Boston comics would say.

Tickets for Friday night’s Evening of Comedy are available by calling 508-627-7000, or online at hvcomedy-show.brownpapertickets.com. Event is 18-plus.

Does the lack of a sweetie have to mean the end of the world?

Who needs a man on Valentine's Day, when Huxley's around for company? – Photo by Michael Cummo

We need a “bah humbug!” exhortation for Valentine’s Day. The minute New Year’s Eve celebrations have ended — yes, another mental toe-stub for the singles among us — retailers churn out Valentine’s ads for diamonds, chocolates, and sickeningly cute gifts, all to be given and received by a partner. And not just any partner. No, a swooning-with-love partner.

Holly bought a candle and card for herself at Sanctuary in Oak Bluffs on Valentine's Day.
Holly bought a candle and card for herself at Sanctuary in Oak Bluffs on Valentine’s Day.

Well, heck, we’ve all had those. We’ve been those. But for those of us who find ourselves shy a plus-one on Valentine’s Day, there’s a silver lining:

It can be sublime to be alone.

Some of us may use this special day of romance to uncork a bottle of bubbly (or ginger ale) to celebrate solitude.

Growing up, I thought marriage was gross. This was back in the ’50s, when actual Mad Men in flannel suits abounded, and most women, at least in my suburban milieu, were housewives who vacuumed much of the day, and served meatballs and spaghetti to sulky children at night. I vowed never to marry. So what did I do? I tied the knot at the ridiculously young age of 22.

That was a practice marriage, lasting a mere 2½ years. Down the line, I met comedy writer Marty Nadler, who introduced me to Martha’s Vineyard in 1976, and who cut so wide a social swath on-Island that people still ask me when I’m introduced to them, “Are you Marty’s wife?”

The Oak Bluffs library served hot cocoa.
The Oak Bluffs library served hot cocoa.

We had our baby Charlie here in ’84, moved year-round to our house in East Chop in ’91, and finally split the blanket — and everything else — after Charlie went off to B.U. in 2002. Yes, it was sad. So let’s not dwell on it. I had a bookstore in Oak Bluffs, then closed it after six years when the Great Recession squatted on me like a fat, unseemly toad. Somewhere along the line — was it 2009 or 2010? — I took part in a marriage that lasted for all of 13 months. This breakup was less sad, across the long saga of my lifetime. The whole experience rattled by so fast, it was like one of those movies where you ask yourself, “Did I watch the whole thing or just the trailer?”

Bottom line, I love to be alone. So did Thoreau. So did Emily Dickinson. Problem is, our culture makes no space for anything other than the attainment of couplehood. Each seeker of solitude has to find peace in his or her monastery of one.

I’ve often wondered what modern life would look like if girls and boys were told, “Some of you might find you’re attracted to being alone more often than not. Along the way, figure it out. It might save you a failed marriage. Or three.”

Not that I’m against romance per se. My idea of the perfect marriage would be for two people to own a lot with two houses set a hundred yards apart, encircled by a fenced-in area through which the couple’s pack of dogs could freely come and go. An invitation to coffee would be made by phone.

But most single people on Valentine’s Day feel bereft without a sweetheart with whom to celebrate. I’ve tried telling my anxious female friends, “You don’t need a boyfriend if you have a dog.” A dog’s median body temp burns at a hot-water-bottle warmth of 102°. Dogs make really good snugglers on a cold winter’s night. It’s not as good as spooning with your sweetie, but on the plus side, you’re not obliged to make conversation when all you want is a cup of coffee and a long perusal of the newspaper.

So here’s the bull I grabbed by the horn this past snowy Feb. 14th: I celebrated life itself, with me in it. And all the rest of you.

Even the most staunch of hermits require people time. You can get that here in spades, where everyplace you go is like the Cheers bar, where everybody knows your name.

First, I trudged up School Street in the aching cold to the Oak Bluffs library, which had a heated pot of hot chocolate on offer, along with candies and the kind of literary chitchat all readers enjoy; in fact, Jonathan at the desk sent me home with a biography of Catherine the Great by Peter K. Massie.

Drop-ins were invited to write Valentines to favorite fictional characters. I picked Bernie Rhodenbarr of Lawrence Block’s mystery series. Bernie is a bookseller by day and a burglar by night, so once again I found a perfect, unconventional partnership as I proposed, “Bernie, while you’re sleeping until noon after burglarizing posh houses, I’m up at the crack of dawn, which in turn puts me back into bed just at the time you’re planning a new raid. Do you see the beauty in this? We could have fabulous lunch dates!”

I went home and grabbed my Boston terrier, Huxley, bundled him into both his sweaters, and we popped in on friends Frank and Rita Imbimbo, who own the inspirational gift store Sanctuary on Circuit Avenue. After a bunch of laughs — Frank’s specialty — and treats for Huxley, Rita’s forte, I bought a scented pale turquoise candle and a Valentine’s card to myself, which read, “Just knowing you’re there keeps a smile in my heart.” Well, duh, if I weren’t there, there’d be no heart to smile in.

Back at home, I called two out of three ex-husbands (the first is lost to the mists of time). Number Three asked, “Have you phoned Number Two?” I told him I had, which pleased him; these guys really like each other. Both men make me laugh, which is one of the reasons I keep in close touch with them.

I’d invited my friend, native New Yorker Timi Brown, who lives a few blocks over on Samoset, to join me for homemade soup and salad and the best bread in stock at Reliable, but a new blizzard front was coming in, so we postponed.

I lit some candles and spent the rest of Valentine’s Day alone; well, alone save for my boon companion, Hux, who bundled beside me on the sofa as I picked up the heavy tome about Catherine the Great to see how the great Russian empress dealt with her own love life.

There was something about a horse, as I recall.

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Sharky’s beast is off to Chappy and soon to the Cape for restoration.

What the heck is Bruce the Jaws shark doing on the Chappy Ferry?! – Courtesy Chappy Ferry

It’s the stuff of nightmares: This past Tuesday, motorists and pedestrians on the 90-second ferry ride from Edgartown to Chappaquiddick were shocked to behold the mean black eyes and torpedo-shaped nose of a great white shark perched on a flatbed truck, looking big enough to gobble up a VW Bug, if not the truck itself. At the helm of the ferry, Capt. Brad Fligor knew a photo op when he saw it, and snapped a picture.

Bruce safely ensconced in his Edgartown perch at Sharky's, before the move. – Courtesy Sharky's
Bruce safely ensconced in his Edgartown perch at Sharky’s, before the move. – Courtesy Sharky’s

Like all great whites, this gigantic fake shark has enjoyed a wide migration. His resin-based hide was originally slapped together for JawsFest 2005 by renowned FX artist Greg Nicotero, creator of the zombies of “The Walking Dead” (thanks a lot, Mr. Nicotero!). The MV Chamber of Commerce took charge of the imposing shark figurehead, then transferred it over to the MV Museum which, wisely enough, in 2010, entrusted it to Sharky’s Cantina in Edgartown. From its stationary cafe setting, el monstro has gone viral. Sharky’s owner, JB Blau reports, “Tens of thousands of pictures have been taken of visitors posed beside our boy.”

As sometimes happens with works of art that are so photogenic and compelling — think of Michelangelo’s Pieta and Davinci’s Mona Lisa — some prickly part of the public has had its way with it. Over the years, patrons with perhaps two or more Sharkaritas down the hatch, have wrenched out the Sharky’s shark’s teeth for souvenirs. Too, the silver sides have been nicked and scratched; a restoration is in order.

Paul McPhee will restore Bruce's smile. – Courtesy Sharky's
Paul McPhee will restore Bruce’s smile. – Courtesy Sharky’s

Island and Cape Cod artist and marine enthusiast, Paul McPhee is on the case. He enlisted carpenter Eric Ropke to haul it to Chappy for safekeeping. Soon, however, in effect any minute now — this paper will keep its readers informed — “Bruce” (the name given to the first faux shark – and all subsequent faux’s used on the blockbuster adventure movie Jaws) will cross the Sound to Cape Cod where Mr. McPhee, like an artist-cum-orthodontist, will replace the missing teeth from the original molds designed by “Jaws” artist Roy Arbegast.

“I’ll use Epoxy on the implants, and I’ll also paint it all over, airbrush it, and finish it off with a matte clear coat,” he told The Times.

This sea dog is going to be gorgeous.

As virtually everyone knows, Jaws, directed by Steven Spielberg, and starring Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, and Robert Shaw, was shot right here on Martha’s Vineyard, three months over deadline, and three-and-a-half million dollars over budget (funny how that sounds like chump change now, even to this reporter who can barely afford lunch). Three mock-up sharks, all named Bruce, provided the thrills and chills that made us scream every time the Great White was ready for its close up, especially the one where Mr. Scheider, chumming the waters, comes face to face with the ultimate plug-ugly, teeth the size of old Caddy fins, and he stumbles into the cabin to drawl the iconic line, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Mr. McPhee, reached by phone on Thursday, said only a single original bust of Bruce remains, and that belongs to a fan in the San Fernando Valley who keeps his treasure out in the yard, slung between two palm trees. Mr. Nicotero, recently offered the Valley gentleman $20,000 to borrow it to make a new mold.

The answer was “No.” You’re gonna need a bigger wad of cash.

In the meantime, Mr. McPhee believes he can complete the restoration in a couple of weeks. At Sharky’s where the bar mascot will be desperately missed, the management has filled the void with a pool table. (The plan is to put together an official pool hall in a new location).

Meanwhile, eyes to the skies over the Steamship ferry in the coming days when a gummy, battered Bruce – still ferocious after all these years – makes his way, as so many of us do, to Cape Cod to get his teeth fixed.

And, for sharkomaniacs on the Cape and Islands, this summer Mr. McPhee will be opening a store in Chatham stocked with great white gear. While there, check out the beach where, oftentimes, just offshore, a shiver (yes, that’s the collective noun) of live sharks is routinely sighted.

And not eat it all?

Marguerite Cook shows Holly Nadler how to display the chocolates they've made (and not yet eaten). – Photos by Michael Cummo

You might say I chose this particular mission — prepping chocolates — as an easy way out in the “How Hard” enterprise, whose credo, if it had one, would run something along the lines of “How hard could it be for one neurotic, I-have-a-note-from-my-psychiatrist Valley Girl to attempt some new venture that takes her far out of her comfort zone?”

Solid chocolate is made into liquid chocolate, so it can be scooped and poured into molds.
Solid chocolate is made into liquid chocolate, so it can be scooped and poured into molds.

Making chocolate? Pffff! Isn’t that like how hard could it be to get a massage, or to drink Campari and soda with George Clooney?

But I’m asking one of Life’s Big Questions here, and my goal is to receive the answer after an afternoon with Marguerite Cook, accomplished chocolatier and owner of the Good Ship Lollipop at the top of Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs.

The Big Question? If you’re like me, and your control blows a gasket when surrounded by sugary treats (with perhaps the exception of Fig Newtons and a particularly dry Jewish pastry called mandel breit), how hard could it be to actually work in a candy store and resist munching one’s way through the stock (asking the proprietress, of course, to run a tab — a big tab)? And this made me wonder: How many of us go wobbly-kneed at the sight of a cupcake or even an after-dinner mint? And conversely, what percentage of us eat very few sweets? Or none at all?

Caught in the act.
Caught in the act.

Turns out, hardly anyone is able to hold back, at least according to my own double-blind study when I posed the question to Facebook friends, asking how they’d address a bag of macadamia nut cookies left over from coffee with afternoon guests. Would they scoff them all before their heads hit the pillow? (As I had done the day before.)

Out of the dozens of comments that flooded back, the plea for abstention ran something like 20 to 1 against. Respondents related sugar consumption of epic proportions, such as Carole Flanders, originally of Oak Bluffs, now of Florida, who wrote, “I recently demolished three-quarters of a carrot cake at a single sitting.” Barbara Beichek of Oak Bluffs shared, “I’ve gobbled Nestlé Quik dry ’cauz I had no milk.” Jim Bishop, also of Oak Bluffs, revealed he would polish off the cookies immediately, because “it’s not worth waking up in the middle of the night unable to go back to sleep because there are certain uneaten cookies in the kitchen.” Nancy Slonim Aronie of Chilmark bravely admitted, “I have thrown cookies into the garbage and retrieved them two hours later, let them dry out from the pickle juice and finished them off.”

Exactly three souls identified themselves in the “just say no” camp: Lynnda Blitzer from Santa Barbara wrote, “Throw them away, they’ve served their purpose.” Susan Wilson of Oak Bluffs maintained, “Leftover cookies turn to shards and crumble in my cupboard.” Debbi Kanoff of Westwood, Calif., ranked herself in the “self-restraint/deferred gratification department.” As usual, the grownups among us are few and far between.

So if most of us occasionally — or always — weaken in the grip of Back Door Donuts straight from the baker’s vat, was there any wisdom I could winnow from an afternoon of chocolate making? Could I resist munching my way through my apprenticeship?

Marguerite Cook admires the finished chocolate pops at her shop, The Good Ship Lollipop.
Marguerite Cook admires the finished chocolate pops at her shop, The Good Ship Lollipop.

I showed up at the candy shop on a freezing November afternoon. Amid festive displays of toys, stuffed animals, and every brand of candy in the known world, Marguerite already had her three Hilliard kettles rolling and gently heating to 90 degrees. One kettle held milk chocolate, the second dark, the third white. The sweet fragrance from the drums was so seductive. I was ready to plunge my face in the white chocolate cylinder and sing as I slurped, “Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo!” like the Disney character caroling away on the sound system.

Fortunately, Marguerite kept things on the sane and sanitary side. I was given a lavender scrub with cartoon drawings of Pinocchio figures. I’d already had the foresight to cover my hair in a pink bandana. We washed up at a specially designated sink, my mentor filling my dry hands with so much soap, I rinsed under hot water all the way through Annette Funicello’s rendition of “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes.”

Yes, it’s clear from the music and the memorabilia that Marguerite is nostalgic for her childhood in small-town Braintree in a family of 12 kids. Yowzer! On the same block, another family had 13 kids, yet another 15. Nowadays, she and husband David have two grown daughters and five grandkids, all of them living on the Island. Her extended family has just taken over a small city in Bavaria.

Marguerite showed me how to feed a spoonful of melted dark chocolate into trays of turkey-shaped molds. The chocolate hardens fast, so you don’t want any to spill over, and of course, mine did; I have the motor ability of Lucille Ball on the assembly line. No prob. Marguerite wielded a putty knife and slid the surplus chocolate back into the kettle where it reformatted with the sinuously swirling, bulbous ball of chocolate. She taught me to insert a white stick, twirling this way and that, before the trays of chocolate turkey pops disappeared into the cooler.

I wanted to lunge after one of those yummy treats but, well, Marguerite would notice the empty mold and, also, my right hand was encased in a latex glove, my left hand meant to mind itself. No petting of dogs or patting anyone’s bottom. Or eating the product.

Next we poured milk chocolate into a tray, gave it a few minutes to harden, then Marguerite spooned white chocolate over it ever so carefully so as not to rile up the dark layer beneath. She handed me a hammer, and I bashed candy canes into tiny crystals which we sprinkled over the top. This confection too got whooshed into the cooler, but some 20 minutes later, Marguerite retrieved it and sliced it into small squares. She gave me one to sample. Heaven. The combination of chocolate layers and the poignant dusting of mint-flavored candy was a taste bud thrill of uncommon proportions; possibly the result of nibbling nothing else in the full time I’d worked in the shop.

Marguerite packed up three turkey popsicles and six of those candy cane babies for me to take home for my Thanksgiving with my son and his girlfriend in NYC. She tied a gold ribbon around the box, and said with a knowing wink, “I’m calling Charlie to make sure this ribbon was intact when it got to him.”

The ribbon remained intact all the way up my stairs. By the time I crawled into bed, however, I’d devoured four of the squares. My tummy churned, and I swore off candy cane bark for alI  time. Conceivably I might have overdosed on sweets for the rest of my life.

Before falling asleep, I realized I’d stumbled on a major cultural breakthrough. Anyone can be treated for sugar addiction: Simply indenture oneself to a baker or a candy maker for an afternoon!

The next morning I woke up with something in my freezer with my name on it.

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Thanksgiving with a side of sit-com.

Zuma Beach, California, 1979. The scene of the great Thanksgiving mashed potato wars, with Marty and Holly Nadler. – Courtesy Holly Nadler

Thanksgiving is designed with such assembly-line precision — turkey, cranberries, that odd little green-beans-and-mushroom-soup mix —  that it’s hard to imagine any single occasion going awry. But it happens, and those become the fodder for tales we carry forward for all the Thanksgivings of the future. Here are a few gathered from friends, with a final doozy of my own.

Albert Fischer of West Tisbury — hunter, gatherer, photographer and arguably the most popular good old boy on Martha’s Vineyard, when asked if he had any one stand-out Thanksgiving memory, said, “Not really,” then followed that up with an immediate, “Although . . .” Typical somehow of Albert’s field-and-stream way of life, this Thanksgiving started out behind a duck blind. “While waiting for some ducks to fly into the decoys, I passed the time away by opening fresh oysters to eat. My cell phone rang, and my wife in a tizzy informed me that our oven, with a 25-pound stuffed turkey in it had [expletive deleted] the bed.”

Albert headed home wondering how in the blue blazes he could render this roasting, and now, not-roasting bird edible for his 20-plus guests. A legendarily resourceful guy, he phoned an off-Island friend with a summer house nearby, and received permission to finish browning his turkey in her oven. But man cannot live by turkey alone. “I cooked a squash and apple pie on my outdoor grill, and they came out not so bad.”

Barbecued apple pie? Everyone should try it at least once.

If Albert’s tale summons up a rural “All In The Family,” then Rebecca Dopp of Valparaiso, Indiana, who first visited the Island in the early 2000s because she loved the mysteries of Philip Craig and Cynthia Riggs, has a story that’s “Frazier” on steroids — canine steroids.

Rebecca says, “I think of Thanksgiving 2009 [spent in Indiana] as the doggie debacle. When my group gets together it’s always chaotic and, try as I might, I haven’t found a solution, but this one time was off-the-charts crazy.”

Rebecca’s circle consists of seven adults, all of them gathered for the holiday in Rebecca’s 1970s bi-level house with small rooms and no dining area, only an eat-in kitchen. “It’s very claustrophobic,” she admits. “Now, add to that my golden retriever, plus my daughter brought over her Australian shepherd who’s high-strung, always barking, always herding everybody, and a yippy Pomeranian. My son contributed his American bulldog which his veterinarian calls ‘one chromosome away from a pit bull.’”

If this were not enough dogs to round out the very definition of disaster, friends of Rebecca’s heading out of town finagled the favor of accommodating their elderly, arthritic yellow Lab and a black Lab puppy.

Hieronymus Bosch, if asked to paint a canine version of The Last Judgment could not have invented more frenetic visuals. The Lab puppy scored some chicken and dumplings and barfed them up all over the house. A tremendous pile of doggy doo, as if by magic, materialized on the living room carpet. And as the night follows the day, dog fights broke out, one of them with horrific sounds effects coming from the kitchen. “The bulldog had the geriatric Lab pinned to the floor with her massive jaws clamped around her neck.”

Rebecca straddled the attacker. The Lab was unscathed; it was just one of those, you know, doggy rumbles.

And so the Thanksgiving of 2009 progressed. More vomiting, more barks and growls and at one point, during an outdoor bathroom break, the old limping Lab had the good sense to flee. “We found her blocks away. It was a day of doggy mayhem, and every year someone brings it up as ‘The Thanksgiving that literally went to the dogs.’”

And then my friends Ted and Alice McCormack* (names changed to protect the tender feelings of others involved in this story) of Oak Bluffs and Maryland, had a Turkey Day straight out of a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode. A couple whose company they enjoyed on MV invited them to trek up from Maryland to spend Thanksgiving on the Island. “We loved the idea!” reports Ted.

Ted, a culinary maestro, offered to bring the turkey. “It was a free ranger already mortgaged from Whole Foods. I brined it and lovingly slow-smoked it. “By a pure stroke of good luck, last-minute ferry reservations had been secured. “We and the turkey were in the car and off to the Vineyard full of joyous anticipation.”

Ensconced in their Island house on Thanksgiving eve, Alice and Ted prepped side dishes to accompany their prized turkey. A phone call came in from the other couple: There would be no Thanksgiving. Something better had come up, a trip to New York to see a grandkid, hey fun, huh? Aren’t you delighted for us? And just so we can still enjoy a catch up visit, come with us tonight to a buddy’s house mid-Island for a pre-Thanksgiving, ‘kay?!

Deflated, Ted and Alice tagged along. The friend, who seemed deflated himself to have extra, unknown company, served luke-warm turkey chili, no side dishes. After the meal was finished Ted reported, “Our host picked up a book and announced decisively that he was going upstairs to read.” And up he went.

And here’s the clincher: The next day the other couple called and “Cheerily asked, since we wouldn’t be needing the whole turkey, could they buy half for their trip to New York?”

The only piece missing from this “Curb”-inflected story is a final gotcha! from the master Larry David himself. How’s this for a final plot twist: From the get-go, Ted and Alice had been aware they may have accidentally left out a key ingredient in brining the turkey, the lack of which could cause severe intestinal disorders in the diners (remember this is purely fictional). They’ve had a call in to a chem lab, but the answer doesn’t arrive until after the friends leave with their 50 percent of the gourmet bird. Ted turns to the camera with a look of “Oops!” that turns to a wicked grin.

My own Thanksgiving story has a certain Rhodaje ne sais quoi to it with everything but Carlton The Doorman. Back in 1980 Marty Nadler (my then future ex-husband) and I lived in a tiny condo on Malibu Beach, and my parents dwelled some 15 minutes up the road in a condo overlooking Zuma Beach. Thanksgiving was organized at my folks for an extended family of 20-plus people.

My mother had started a diet and, being possessed in those days of a bit of a Draconian personality, she sent word to the cooks, namely me and my dad, to eliminate the much-beloved and traditional mashed potatoes. (Hello! Could she simply have eliminated them from her own plate?)

The night before, there came a knock at my door. My dad, dressed in a trench coat and a fedora hat, handed me a bag of potatoes. I was to peel ‘em and slice ‘em and have ‘em ready to go on the morrow.

Well, of course, on Thanksgiving day at their Zuma pad, my mother spied the boiling potatoes on her stove: She’d been darting in and out of the kitchen to make the martinis that only Greatest Generation guys and gals know how to stir. She blew her stack, her coifed red-headed stack, loudly enough that, in the living room, all conversation ceased. My dad grabbed potholders. He picked up the pot of boiling potatoes and headed for the back door.

“I’m dumping these in the ivy!”

Immediately Marty Nadler swooped up the silver platter of turkey which earlier my dad had laboriously sliced and artfully arranged. Marty carried the tray into the living room, to the amazement of all, shouting over his shoulder, “Larry, if those potatoes go out the back door, the turkey sails over the balcony!”

My mother laughed, breaking the evil spell. The day was saved. And my mom’s vow to embark on a diet was vindicated when my half-blind great-uncle Boris (he saw colors and shapes) took his empty glass directly into the kitchen, held it out to the big golden-rod-yellow refrigerator, and asked it if he could have another martini.

My mother was wearing a golden-rod-yellow dress.

Got a great holiday story? A memorable family picture around the table from this Thanksgiving or another winter holiday? Share them with us: onisland@mvtimes.com.

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The Nutcracker will screen at the Film Center December 21. —Photo courtesy M.V. Film Center

Last winter, Richard Paradise, executive director and cinema wunderkind of the three-year-old Film Center in the Tisbury Marketplace (and the 12 year-old Martha’s Vineyard Film Society), sent an email to his more than 5,000 followers, and asked if any were interested in filmed performances of operas from around the world.

Heck yeah, was the (obviously simplified) response from several hundred audience members. Mr. Paradise proceeded to put together an opera series culminating in a July evening of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, with a live intro by opera director Wendy Taucher and her Three Ladies from The Magic Flute.

Now, a second series is afoot. It’s lead event was offered this past Saturday, Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi, which first opened to an ecstatic audience in Rome in January of 1853. Verdi’s masterpiece has proved a popular success ever since; not a critical success, mind you, which shows how completely fun and enchanting it is.

Mr. Paradise is confident that opera lovers will fill many of his seats during the series, but he also hopes the cinema version will entice a new crowd of those who’ve long considered themselves opera-phobic (we know who we are).

“A lot of people think opera is for snobbish, ultra-cultured folks,” Mr. Paradise said before last Saturday’s screening. “Now they’ll find out they don’t need to dress up, they get to sit in the dark in comfy chairs. And none of the operas we choose are over two-and-a-half hours long.”

Without a classical music background of his own, Mr. Paradise relies on a few aficionados to steer him in the right direction. “Doug Cramer of M.V. and New York is my main go-to guy,” he said.

Not only the fear of elitism drives so many away. For some, a single evening trapped before an incomprehensible opera can remain a “never again” proposition. My own opera panic occurred on a summer evening in 1971 at the old, gorgeous Paris Opera House, with Chagall murals, and steps so narrow and high they could give Edmund Hillary vertigo. The featured opera was Tristan Und Isolde by the daunting Wagner, and the entire second act devolved into an endless duet between a hefty soprano and an ungainly tenor seated on a bench, never rising, only singing, in German, naturally, for the whole seven hours (or so it seemed), in the dark. Never again, indeed.

Richard Paradise believes opera has been transformed and opened up to the untutored with its use of subtitles — now on display in opera houses themselves — but delivered by rote in  movies. Before the era of subtitles, unless one had boned up in advance on the plot, the whole mess looked like people with exquisite voices falling all over each other, wailing in Italian or German or French a version of “Wah wah wah!” and it was anybody’s guess what had upset them so. Three hours of this can be torture.

But here’s how Il Trovatore played itself out last Saturday afternoon: From the Berlin’s Straatsoper Unter der Linden, red velvet curtains parted to reveal a stage so wide and shimmering that one’s suspension of disbelief transformed it to one’s own stage set before us. Costumes were straight out of 1853 fantasyland, with balletic soldiers in shiny black boots and uniforms, a gypsy crew looking more colorfully magical than homeless, and Placido Domingo as the evil Count di Luna. And, of course, the close-up galore allow for exponentially expanded intimacy with story and characters.

It would take a Joseph Campbell to unravel all the nuances and mythologies of the story, but in broad strokes, the count’s father had once had two little sons, one of whom got sick, a gypsy sorceress was blamed and put to the stake…. Best to stop here; it must be seen to be at least partially digested. Let’s just say that the grown surviving count’s son loves the royal lady Leonora, who loves the soulful Rumi of a troubadour (the English word for Trovatore), who happens to be the grandson of the enflamed witch, but also possibly the brother of the present count.

Trovatore has everything, including luscious costuming, modern effects with video projections, choruses, duets and arias that you’ll recognize because they’re famous, and they’re famous because they’re splendid. You’ll also see the best example of that operatic trope of a character taking 20 minutes to die during which she collapses multiple times, then rises to sing with bravura abandon that brings the house down.

The point here is that an opera-phobe will arrive at a venue such as this with the intent of slipping away under cover of darkness after only an hour, and will instead sit, as Mr. Paradise has promised, in the dark in comfy seats, enrapt for the full intermission-free two-and-a-half hours.

On November 30, the film center will screen Ballanchine’s Millepied (note that the opera program includes two ballet performances).

            And here’s the remainder of the schedule for this fall / winter / spring series:

            The Nutcracker from Austria’s Mariinsky Theater, November 30.

            La Cenerentola by Rossini, January 11.

            La Forza by Kuse, February 15.

            Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci by Castiglione, March 15.

           L’Elisir D’Amore by Villazon, April 12

            Rigoletto by Viziola, May 10.

For more information and for booking tickets, log on to mvfilmsociety.com/genre/opera-ballet/.

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Eleanor Hubbard shows off a chicken purse next to a portrait of Nancy Luce at the M.V. Museum. —Photo by Angelina Godbout

The Island is known to produce rugged individualists, but in its centuries of storied characters, none has proved more individual than Nancy Luce, born in 1814. Her parents, Philip and Anna, ran a bustling farm in the Tiah’s Cove area of West Tisbury, yet they bred only one daughter at a time when rural families whelped litters of children. Some unknown illness enfeebled the Luces, and from an early age, a strapping young Nancy ran the farm as best she could.

She was also an entrepreneur. She and neighboring farm women knit wool mittens prized by seamen due to ship out under cold skies. Over nine miles of rough road lay Edgartown, the urban center of Martha’s Vineyard. There, Nancy sold the mittens to a tradesman and he in turn, at wholesale prices, plied Nancy with such coveted items as rice, indigo, coffee, and spices, which Nancy retailed back in her home territory up Island. She performed this feat on horseback, to and fro. In her young years, she loved to ride — to gallop, in fact. These were Nancy’s happiest days, in effect her only happy days.

Nancy Luce buried her chicken friends with marble tombstones. —Photo by Anna Carringer
Nancy Luce buried her chicken friends with marble tombstones. —Photo by Anna Carringer

In 1840 when Nancy was 36, some illness — we can only wonder if it was related to her parents’ years of invalidism — knocked her sideways as well. There would be no more horseback riding. She could still milk the cow, something her father could no longer manage. Nancy found his inattention to hygiene deplorable, but the necessity to care for her sick parents, plus to struggle with the farm, made life unbearable.

Her parents died in due course, and soon afterward some of the abutting neighbors — perhaps coveting her fields — and with the help of townsfolk and selectman, filed a petition to assign a guardian to Nancy Luce on the grounds of “insanity and imbecility.” The family doctor, Willian Luce, who was kind and attentive to Nancy for the rest of her life, wrote to the presiding judge attesting to his patient’s viability as a property owner.

And now Nancy came into her own. Her great passion in life was her attachment to her chickens. Indeed she loved all animals, including her favorite cow, Susannah Allen, who lived in the back room of an admittedly rustic farmhouse, and a pet goat whose death circa 1840 may have triggered a grief so profound that Nancy’s illness spun off from that. In the excellent biography Consider Poor I, The Life And Works of Nancy Luce, first published in 1984, and recently reprinted by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, author Walter Magnes Teller suggests she may have suffered from what, a couple of decades later, a 19th century doctor George M. Beard termed “neurasthenia.”

Mr. Teller writes, “Overworked women were a commonplace of the social and cultural environment then and later… exhausted, nervous, half-crazed, women like her were legion and for the most part, silent. What distinguishes Nancy is that she spoke out in her writing.” She wrote letters on chicken care to the local papers, plaintive, self-pitying, supplicating letters to Dr. Luce, and she began to compose poems about her beloved chickens.

Oh how I long to see my poor little Beauty Linna live and well,

You know not the company she was for me.

Yes, her poetry was, frankly, mediocre, but she had excellent calligraphy, and she drew block letters with decorative flourish. Her paintings, sadly, are lost to time. Being ever the businesswoman, she cobbled together her first collection of poems, Poor Little Hearts, about her profoundly lamented deceased hens, found a publisher in New Bedford, and sold countless booklets to tourists who flocked to visit her.

How to explain the fame part of the Nancy Luce saga? Following the Civil War, the Methodist campground, with its adorable gingerbread cottages shaking their heads above tent platforms like new hydrangea blossoms, attracted huge numbers of summer visitors, essentially America’s first vacationers. On their itinerary was the day-long wagon-ride to the Gay Head Cliffs. A good half-way pit stop was the farm property of the Island’s most colorful madwoman, the one with the marble headstones for three of her dear “friends,” Ada Queetie, Beauty Linna, and Poor Tweedle Dedel.

Nancy Luce sold portraits of herself with her chickens to tourists. —Photo courtesy of the M.V. Museum
Nancy Luce sold portraits of herself with her chickens to tourists. —Photo courtesy of the M.V. Museum

Nancy Luce was admired (and with that admiration came a dash of pity) by many, and jeered at by rude boys who learned she hated loud noises; during the Ag Fair, they organized parties to bang pots outside her windows. But lots of people bought her little books, and later the photographs she was canny enough to commission of herself and her hens.

Her legend lives on: no one visits the Island for longer than a few days without coming across an account of her. And now the Nancy Luce story, with a great number of artifacts, has been artfully assembled at the museum on School Street in Edgartown.

The first sight one comes upon is the iconic gold-and-sepia toned photograph of Nancy, her long, sad face enveloped in a scarf, as she sits on a rocker with a chicken in each hand. A painting of her farmhouse by an unknown artist gives us a sense of where her life played itself out from birth to death, in 1890. Samples of writing in the poet’s hand are on display, as well as the exquisite marble hen headstones. Artist Caryn King contributed a Nancy Luce doll in her headscarf, her long, emaciated frame in a white work-apron and blue farm dress. If this doll could be mass-produced, the museum would sell out as quickly as Nancy Luce found takers for her poetry.

The exhibit will be on display until the end of January, 2015, every week running Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm. “Consider Poor I” is on sale in the gift shop and also at Island bookstores.

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—Photo by Alan Brigish

Renowned photographer Alan Brigish of West Tisbury and beloved storyteller Susan Klein of Oak Bluffs have teamed up for a mixed-media event, on tap this Saturday, October 26, at 3:30 at the M.V. Film Center.

To discuss what precisely this dynamic duo has wrought this time around, the MV Times met up with Brigish at his home studio. We sat in his conservatory, windows open on all three sides, as the slanting rays of autumn dappled the woods, and gusts of wind drowned out all birdsong.

Brigish has recently returned from a Buddhist retreat in California. “For the first three days I hated it,” he said about the regimen of day-long meditation. “On the third day, all I could think about was escaping into town and devouring a cheeseburger. And then it hit me. I was completely caught up in it.” The glow continued, and he plans to attend a new retreat in Barre.

Brigish, now 72, developed an interest in meditation and Buddhist philosophy in 2006 when he found himself on a photographic sojourn, first to India which was swelteringly hot and physically injurious, followed by a touch-down in Bhutan. “When I woke up in the morning, the air was cool [about 50 degrees cooler], it was fragrant, quiet, I heard cow bells in the distance, I looked out the window and saw Swiss-style chalets,” Mr. Brigish said of Bhutan. “I thought I must have died. This was Heaven. And then I learned about this country’s concept of Gross National Happiness. There was a whole lot of Buddhism going on.”

—Photo by Alan Brigish
—Photo by Alan Brigish

Brigish, born, raised, and married to Joyce in South Africa, has lived in the U.K. and the U.S. since 1964. The Brigishes started coming to the Vineyard in 1979 when their son, Sy, attended Camp Jabberwocky. Alan and Joyce fell in love with the Island. They have two other kids, Hal and Jackie, and three grandchildren. They moved here year-round from Connecticut in 2005.

The Bhutan trip inspired a new photographic hegira, this one with a book in mind. With a UNESCO guide and translator, Brigish followed in the footsteps of the Buddha from Laos to Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar. His impressions and inquiries on the nature of happiness and suffering, and on the paradox of happiness achieved even in the midst of what to the western eye would appear to be appalling poverty, are captured in the 2008 photographic masterpiece, Breathing In The Buddha.

One day, as he displayed his books at the Artisans Fair in West Tisbury, a woman told Mr. Brigish crisply, “You should do a book about the Vineyard.” The woman was Ann Nelson, founder of the iconic Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven. And right on the synchronistic dot, a short time later he bumped into Susan Klein, storyteller and Oak Bluffs native. They got to talking, and Brigish mentioned Ann Nelson’s call for a new kind of photographic survey of the Island, with text that digs deeper into times past and present. Klein said in her inimitably cut-to-the-chase way, “I’ve been telling those stories for years.”

The collaboration is the incandescent 2010 release Now And Zen, still available at Island bookstores, and very likely resting on your own bookshelves.

—Photo by Alan Brigish
—Photo by Alan Brigish

Klein and Brigish went on to produce the luscious Bountiful, text and photos an homage to local farms, sponsored by the Agricultural Society. You’ve seen its striking reds-golds-and-green cover of vegetables-being-gorgeous.

The latest venture utilizes Klein’s eye rather than her written or spoken word. “Just as she’s a great editor of writing, she has the same brilliance with visual imagery,” Brigish said.

Together, Klein and Brigish poured over countless photos of flowers. “I have over 110,000 photographs in my computer,” he said cheerfully; this artist will never be caught short of material. At last they assembled a ten-minute meditation on color, form, and the eternal now.

In Breathing In The Buddha, Brigish muses, “we find safety and comfort in trying to make permanent that which is impermanent. We are addicted.” Along the lines on this reflection, this new DVD is entitled Impermanence, a vital construct of the Buddha’s teachings.

West Tisbury musician Ed Merck, also a writer (Sailing The Mystery) and a Buddhist,, provided an exquisite recorder soundtrack to the images. Mr. Merck said, “my challenge was how to portray that musically. I found, of all my recorders, the bass caught the mood irresistibly.”

Brigish explained that the seamless shifting of photographs involved two seconds of stasis with nine seconds transition. The effect is mesmerizing, one set of flowers morphing into another before the brain has time to register a pattern or the eye has time to blink.

—Photo by Alan Brigish
—Photo by Alan Brigish

The event on Sunday will unpack itself in five parts: cocktails in the lobby and an exhibition of Alan Brigish photographs. Also in the lobby, an overhead screen will play the Brigish/Klein DVD Vineyard Zen, once silent, now accompanied by Falmouth pianist Gary Girouard.

Once guests are seated in the theater, Susan Klein will provide a five-minute narrative about taking time and stopping time to kick off the debut of the ten-minute Impermanence on the silver screen, with Merck’s spellbinding music emanating from Dolby speakers. The final treat will be a pre-screening of a documentary, Monk With A Camera about New York photographer Nicky Vreeland, who turned his back on the glittery haute monde to become an ordained monk in South Asia, only to be tapped by the Dalai Lama to once again strap on his camera and photograph surrounding monasteries.

The official release will take place in New York in November so, as often happens on the Vineyard, we’ll be given a first look at something artsy, crafty, boho, or anyhoo. We’d be fools to miss this.

For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.

Walter Wlodyka and I alongside his skunkmobile, at the end of a successful, but stinky, day. —Photo by Michael Cummo

It was July of 1989 in East Chop when my five-year-old son Charlie woke me up with the question, “What’s that smell?”

If you’ve never had a skunk blast off in your crawl space which, in turn, floods through your duct system because this stuff aerosolizes like chemical weaponry, then you have no idea of how a single wild animal can cause such olfactory terror.

In our panic, we learned right away that “who ya gonna call?” was Walter Wlodyka of Chilmark.

Last week, on a new Mission Impossible for this paper, I made a date to assist Mr. Wlodyka on a day of trapping skunks and “squirrels, moles, voles and more,” as Walter says in his phone greeting. Of course it’s skunks that cause folks to place that first hysterical plea for help, such as I did 25 years ago when a family of four black-and-white ghoulies lurked under our cottage. During the siege, when Walter collected a skunk a day, he urged me to calm down: “If you keep thinking about it, pretty soon it’s gonna make you neurotic.”

Neurotic? Me?

Last week Walter rolled up in his white VW Golf. I’d expected a banged-up old Island truck, but Walter needs a frugal gas tank because mostly he drives around all day, seven days a week, checking his traps. At the back of the Golf was a compact trailer bearing two stacks of traps, eight in total. The inside of the car, packed with shuffled-off papers, coffee mugs, and other assorted domestic gear, teemed with a faint eau de skunk that comes with the territory.

Walter wore sunglasses, a white canvas jacket over a tee-shirt and jeans. We drove slowly; the trapper takes his time with everything; a true connoisseur of the moment.

“I’m a disabled war veteran,” he said without emotion, and yet, it turned out to be the key to everything.

Our first stop was a billionaire’s spread, untold acres rearing high above the northwest shores of the Island. Here moles and voles ran amok and, for these crits, the goal would be dissuasion. Walter squeezes a noxious mixture into the ground, a pale bluish-grey fluid that flows into the little beasties’ tunnels.

Walter said, “They eat it and it makes them sick.” So sick, they decamp to another billionaire’s yummy property. And it just goes to show how smart these moles and voles must be, attributing a bad day of the runs to a particular parcel of land, just the way we humans avoid the restaurant that sold the bad batch of mussels.

So far I had no trouble with this job, much as I’d dreaded it going in. My fear, of course, was of being deluged with skunk oobleck. I’d even considered leaving a bathrobe and an industrial-sized bottle of laundry detergent in my absent neighbor’s outdoor shower. But then I recalled Walter’s long-ago advice about not being neurotic, and I decided to boldly go forth, come what may.

We checked more estates in Lambert’s Cove and West Chop. Everywhere we roamed, the properties were devoid of owners, but filled with work details — contractors, gardeners. Gol-LY, it takes a lot to run these Vineyard villas. Everyone looked happy to see Walter with his skunk patrol sign on each side of his VW. “Come and get these varmints!” they seemed to say.

And then on a property off North Pines Road we did. Get a varmint, that is.

A skunk squatted in one of two traps set the day before. Walter indicated the closed door. Here’s how it works: Walter attracts the effluvious creature with peanut butter, concentrated peanut oil, and skunk pheromones dabbed along the bottom of the trap. Once the doomed crit enters, it steps on a plate, a rod snaps down, and the door slams shuts.

I made the nearly fatal mistake of approaching the oblong trap from the skunk’s behind. I saw the raised bushy tail. Walter said gently, “Come around to this end.”

I stared at an adorable being with big round glittering onyx black eyes; cute enough for a Disney film. Walter lifted the cage and set it on the trailer, the critter’s face pointed away, the back end firmly sealed with metal cladding.

As we drove to the links of the Vineyard Golf Club, Walter removed his shades. His grey-green eyes were sad, soulful.

“It’s my soldier background that trained me for this work. I have to dispose of these animals. It’s the law [he’s licensed by the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife]. I take them to a special location. I shoot them behind the head with a twenty-two caliber pistol. They go into a hole covered over with two layers of plywood. The spot is closed off by a fence with warning signs.”

It was a lot to think about.

At the golf club, we drove over hill and dale, even as white balls whizzed past. On hole number three Walter checked four traps. One of them held another prisoner. This time I decided not to look and risk forming an attachment.

For the remainder of our time together, Walter told me several times how little he liked the shooting part. I believed him. And yet I understood the necessity. I recalled the sense of defilement to our house in East Chop. Our clothes, our furniture, even our dishes, reeked for weeks. (Unitarian minister Bill Clark tells of a skunk detonation that made its way even into the bills inside his wallet). I too would have put “a cap in the hat” to each of the four stinkers in our crawl space, not so much for revenge, although that was part of it, but how could we in good faith set these creatures loose to ravage another family’s home?

On the road through the links, we hit a bump. Bang! One of the skunks shot off a stink bomb. A sickening miasma surrounded the car, then osmosed into it, attaching to clothing, skin, and hair.

Back home I showered, using up an entire bottle of Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo, alleged to be good for skunk gook. (I keep it under the sink in case my dog is slimed). I dumped my clothes, including the canvas shoes I wore especially for the day’s work, into the washing machine with a big helping of detergent and Parson’s Ammonia.

So far no one has said, “You smell a little funky.” But people never tell you that, do they?

Feel free.

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From left, Niki Patton, Tony Omer, Leslie J Baker and John Ortman read “W. Shakespeare, Diagnosis: Paranoid Schizophrenia.” —Photo by Tanya Augoustinos

Gwyn McAllister, writer, reporter, and impresario-in-spite-of-herself, is a positive Merlin at pulling things together. Give her a Victorian porch (which she owns in Oak Bluffs), a rack of vintage clothes, and a Tarot card reader, and she’ll host an impromptu yard sale. Last Saturday night she enlarged her scope and helped to transform The A Gallery on Uncas Avenue in Oak Bluffs into a mixed media event or, as Ms. McAllister called it, “a cabaret with fabulous art all around it.”

A Gallery owner Tanya Augoustinos has long been open to play readings and musicales in her space with its high rafters, concrete floors, and vast walls. Last winter, McAllister, in mover-and-shaker mode, convinced Ms. Augoustinos to put together a night debuting McAllister’s half-hour play, a spoof on A Christmas Carol starring a Bernie Madoff type as Scrooge. Along with some great contemporary art on the walls, Christmas lights, snacks, and grog, the evening was an unqualified success.

In the past month, McAllister felt drawn to mount a new show, and she and Ms. Augoustinos marked their calendars for Columbus Day Weekend. To a packed house of 60-plus people, the following performers held sway:

Milo Silva played the Mongolian horsehair fiddle. —Photo by Tanya Augoustinos
Milo Silva played the Mongolian horsehair fiddle. —Photo by Tanya Augoustinos

Young Milo Silva of Oak Bluffs mesmerized the audience with a Mongolian horsehair fiddle, the size of a long and sinewy mandolin, known to Russians as a morin khuur. Mr. Silva, tall, with a mane and beard of ginger-brown hair, studied at the University of Mongolia, and returned with an utter mastery of this distinctly unusual instrument. He set about playing a composition of his own, “Horses Having Sex,” followed by a short piece from Tchaikovsky.

Next, poet Donald Nitchie of Chilmark, also Island-reared, read several poems bespeaking Vineyard settings. One of them described a long-ago football skirmish between our home team and Nantucket’s: “Not much between us. / Their two hundred pound linemen, / our tailback like a greased pig. / Their winters even longer than ours.” And then the mood darkens as Nitchie describes the players: “same solitude we thought was all ours. / Some stick around, some go long, and don’t look back. / Some stumble into trouble and break free, some / don’t. Like fraternal twins separated at birth.”

Teen poet Claudia Taylor was among the mixed-media performers. —Photo by Tanya Augoustinos
Teen poet Claudia Taylor was among the mixed-media performers. —Photo by Tanya Augoustinos

Next on deck was 18 year-old Claudia Taylor of Chilmark, who in the past couple of years has enchanted audiences with her precocious talent for poetry. This night she read three untitled compositions with riveting lines such as: “I carve a door in you, and enter / the cathedral of your ribcage.” . . . “And now my eyes, too, / are full of blood-rivers, / small and far away / as those on a map.” . . . “Stars rot like berries. / I pick them. I eat them. They taste / like you, serpent girl.”

Ms. Taylor graduated from MVRHS last June and is taking a gap year while she decides what comes next. Her sister Paige, also in attendance, also writes poetry, and has joined a poetry group in her last year of high school.

Meanwhile, Ms. McAllister’s players took their places, and suddenly this reporter was aware of the surrounding beauty of the art making up a sort of unplanned proscenium: Deep blue tints of an oil painting by Christopher Wright, “Moonstones,” a huge oil canvas by Rez Williams of a boat at harbor, “Dawn Arrival New Bedford,” five canvases creating an effect of “Bright Blue Waves”by John Redick and, perfectly albeit unintentionally placed behind the live entertainment, an enormous bronze bas relief, “Emerging,” of a girl and a bouquet of flowers pressed against a gate, by Ilka List.

And so, the play being the thing, according to Hamlet, Ms. McAllister trotted out a sublimely clever quarter-hour one-act called W. Shakespeare, Diagnosis: Paranoid Schizophrenia (or Get Thee To A Psychopharmacologist).

Ms. McAllister poses an Elizabethan-themed world in which poor Will (read by Tony Omer, already adorned with a bardly salt-and-pepper beard), with a string of hits at the Globe behind him, has gone nuts — or perhaps was already innately nuts — as he racks his brain for new material. His maid (Niki Patton with a sublime cockney accent), his physician (John Ortman), his agent (Lesley J. Stark), and wife Anne Hathaway (Niki Patton again, this time with a more refined London-town accent — or is it Stratford-on-Avon?) all try to assuage the tormented soul with potions, naps, and even scoldings such as the hilarious, “don’t be so dramatic!”

Heather Goff sketched Milo Silva's performance from the audience on Saturday night. —Sketch by Heather Goff
Heather Goff sketched Milo Silva’s performance from the audience on Saturday night. —Sketch by Heather Goff

Through it all, Will comes up with snatches of ideas, “Hmm, a potion to make me appear dead,“ and “two brothers with the same name,” and “slain and baked into a pie” while the others look on approvingly. “He writes some of his best lines when he’s delusional,” says his doc. “He makes up words, it’s part of his disease.”

Does the play end with Shakespeare all set with a new blockbuster hit? Maybe not, but Ms. McAllister has definitely polished her own play to a fare-thee-well and a hey-nonny-nonny.

The evening wrapped up with two more Mongolian fiddle pieces from the brilliant Mr. Silva, traditional folk songs evoking a mystery that carried us to past centuries over bare Mongolian steppes (or at least one presumes they’re bare: the melodies suggest a stark landscape.)

Ms. Augoustinos plans more of what she calls “multi-performing events,” but first she’s redefining the gallery design. In an email to The Times, she wrote, “I’ve acquired an additional room in the building to set up a sizable storage area. The part of the gallery that presently serves as a storage area I can reclaim for more exhibition space.”

Stay tuned for the next theater and music evening; a wonderful way to come in from the cold and have all the senses dazzled.