Authors Posts by Holly Nadler

Holly Nadler

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Singing in German and smiling at triumph.

Holly Nadler joined opera professionals (from left, in red sweater) Erika Person, Nora Graham Smith, Sarah Callinan and Glenn Seven Allen. — Photo by Susan Safford

It defies credibility how I get into these jams. For my next How Hard challenge I signed up to take a workshop for aspiring performers of all types, to be taught by internationally revered choreographer and opera director Wendy Taucher of New York and Martha’s Vineyard. I planned to kick-start a monologue in the Spalding Grey tradition (meaning you get to sit at a desk and read from index cards) about me and, um, Anne Frank. (I know, it’s a stretch, but give me time).

Michael Fennelly and Kelly Crandell.
Michael Fennelly and Kelly Crandell.

You’d think that was scary enough, but Wendy emailed me: “Why don’t you come rehearse with some opera singers? We’re gearing up for ‘The Magic Flute.’ Wouldn’t you love to be an opera performer for an afternoon?”

Well, no. Of course, like everyone, I fantasize about opening my mouth and having a rich coloratura emerge, “Il dolce suono…” Who among us who taps “play” for an Opera Hits CD doesn’t, in the privacy of her own home, fling out her arms and allow Cecilia Bartoli to open all the stops?

And yet Wendy issued the invitation as if I could sing.

Here’s a conclusive story about how I unequivocally cannot sing: It was 1968 at the Pasadena Playhouse where I was taking two of my many gap years to study theater arts. A scout for a musical rep company in Laguna caught me in “Twelfth Night” and tried to recruit me.

I shook my head. “I can’t sing.”

“Anybody can sing!” she chirped, offering to drive up to Pasadena weekly to give me lessons.

After the first session, she plunked down the piano lid, and announced, “You can’t sing!”

Holly discusses details of "The Magic Flute" with  Erika Person, one of the "ladies" of the opera.
Holly discusses details of “The Magic Flute” with Erika Person, one of the “ladies” of the opera.

So what was I doing in a rehearsal hall tucked down a long West Tisbury lane, as I came upon Wendy, an upright piano presided over by a tall bespectacled man named Kelly Crandell, another man with a baton, musical director Michael Fennelly, and three gorgeous young women who Wendy introduced to me thusly:

“These are the Three Ladies of ‘Flute’ [as they call it in the biz]. We’re adding you as the Fourth Lady. Ready?”

“I-I can’t sing!” I gasped.

Michael escorted me to the piano. “Let’s just see about that.”

If the following events appear like antic farce where people pop in and out of ungodly situations — just as they do in “Flute” — that’s exactly how it happened: How else do you get a hapless non-singer to participate?

A page of music was spread before me on the piano top, with lyrics highlighted in yellow. Gristly, unreadable German words. Ach du liebe!

The Four Ladies of The Magic Flute.
The Four Ladies of The Magic Flute.

The ladies crowded round with smiling faces: Sarah Callinan, petite, with copper-red hair in a bun, eyes jade green, dressed in a lacy dress over black leggings; Erika Person, with black bangs, wearing a long-sleeved red silk blouse over black leggings; and Nora Graham-Smith, with to-die-for halfway-down-her-back dark blond curly tresses, herself in a black and white polka-dot blouse and, surprise!, black leggings.

Like all elite opera stars, they had studied German, Italian and French, and now they articulated the line we’d be trilling: Strib, ungeheurt, durch unsre Macht! For the uninitiated that means, “Die, monster, through our power.” Say what?

I hadn’t been forced to sing yet (drat! where was that cyanide capsule that spies of the Cold War era used to tuck inside a molar?), but now, just speaking these words was agonizing. Sarah, Erika, and Nora enunciated each syllable sounding like Klingons translating some impossible Earth lingo, all the while beaming at me as if I could now deliver this line as snappily as I could, “Jingle bells, jingle all the way!”

Kelly rumbled the piano keys, nodding at me to sing. Everyone gazed expectantly as I mangled the die monster bar of music enough to make Mozart, thousands of miles away in his grave, not only roll over, but perform a convulsive gavotte.

But here’s the thing: No one shuddered! Wendy simply nodded and slotted me in to pitch my notes to Nora: “She sings mezzo, so you’re all set.”

Was I?

We began. Kelly raised thunderous music. The drama unfolded within the most ferocious part of the story (and I entered into this part of the fray why?) as, sprinting behind Sarah, with Ericka and Nora close behind, we charged at the monster, he for the time being invisible, but scheduled to be played by a ballet dancer. We scampered around him once, twice, then raised our swords (also imaginary for the rehearsal) and jabbed him hard, then dug in our spears, shaking them around to make sure his organs got agitated into a nice green shake.

As we stabbed that bad boy, we sang the “stribe, ungeheurt” bit with all our might (don’t worry, I was basically lip synching here although, admittedly, it’s easier to reach some of those notes when three of New York’s premier opera singers fill the air around you.)

Holly takes notes next to opera choreographer and director Wendy Taucher.
Holly takes notes next to opera choreographer and director Wendy Taucher.

Next we stepped free of the monster mess to chortle, “Triumph! Triumph!” (it’s a German word too — cool, huh?), holding our fists high like Wonder Woman after a similar success.

And then, be still my heart, Wendy stopped the scene, and said, “I like what Holly is doing here. She smiles on the second ‘Triumph.’ That’s the happy moment the Ladies would savor after this victory. We’ll make that a part of the blocking. Thank you, Holly.”

Thank you, Holly? This in the midst of rehearsals with what Michael called “The top one percent of the one percent of opera talent in the country”?

Afterwards I watched rapt as baritone James Martin in the part of Papajeno, half-bird, half-man, and tenor Glenn Steven Allen, a prince from a faraway land, get acquainted over the slain ungelheurt.

The opera is scheduled for August 1, 2, and 3 at Featherstone. Wendy invited me to attend. Of course I’ll be there! I want to see if Sarah, Erika, and Nora smile on the second ‘Triumph!’

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Peter Oyloe stars as Paul Clayton at the Martha's Vineyard Playhouse. — Photo by MJ Bruder Munafo

Playwright Larry Mollin has opened a lost passageway for boomers, to a time that both liberated and frightened the stuffing out of us.

If we’ll recall, those of us who entered our pre-teen years in the early 60s and exited as – most of us – pseudo adults circa 1970, the time was so fraught with its ratcheting up of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, that after some silly years in the 70s of disco and literal money- burning via rolled-up bills for snuffling cocaine, we donned business suits and morphed into a new species called “yuppies.”

The whole cast, from left: Jared Weiss, Ereni Sevasti, Jaime Babbitt, Chic Street Man, Peter Oyloe, and Stephen G. Anthony.
The whole cast, from left: Jared Weiss, Ereni Sevasti, Jaime Babbitt, Chic Street Man, Peter Oyloe, and Stephen G. Anthony.

The 60s was never the elephant in the room. There was no elephant.

And then slowly, as the decades buffered us from our youthful stupidities, we’ve began to excavate the kitchen midden of that era, item by item, examining each with a renewed sense of wonder.

First we unearthed the Vietnam War — the tragedy that inspired our elders to make cannon fodder of every last draft-worthy male in our country — as books, novels, and lectures streamed forth. Next we re-discovered hippie attire, marijuana as a certifiable medication and a tame recreational drug, and biopics about 60s icons such as Jim Morrison, Ray Charles, and Tina Turner arrived in theaters. Now, at last, we’ve seized hold of an old relic we’ve avoided because it tugs so fiercely at our heartstrings, we fear it might unravel us.

I speak of folk songs.

For his new play, now running until August 9 at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, and directed with bold polish by Randal Myler, Mollin focuses on a folksinger well-known in his time, now a mere footnote regarded chiefly for his mentorship in the early 60s of that supernova, Bob Dylan.

Born in New Bedford in 1931, Paul Clayton, played by Peter Oyloe, jammed at home with his musical, quarrelsome mother (Jaime Babbitt) and aloof father (Stephen G. Anthony), who divorced when he was 12. The young Clayton followed his bliss to UVA in Charlottesville, where he majored in folklore, mining the hills and “hollers” of Appalachia for forgotten songs.

Jared Weiss as Bob Dylan and Ereni Sevasti as Suze Rotolo
Jared Weiss as Bob Dylan and Ereni Sevasti as Suze Rotolo

By the early 60s in Greenwich Village when he met Bob Dylan, fresh from Minnesota and dying for a break, Clayton had already recorded 11 albums with major record labels. He coached Dylan in the ancient art of “borrowing” from old melodies, making them better with the twist of one’s own talent, then copywriting the new work to gain one’s own royalties. Thus Clayton’s “Who’s Gonna Buy You Ribbons?” (taken from an old-as-the-hills and none-too-commercial “Who’s Gonna Buy You Chickens?”) underwent Dylan’s brilliant rewrite “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”

Mollin, within the parameters of our own evolved age, drop-kicks Clayton’s forbidden love for the young and vibrantly hetero Dylan, who bobs and weaves away from all overtures, yet hangs with Clayton until he’s been properly elevated to the spotlight.

At the gorgeously refurbished Playhouse, still redolent with freshly-milled wood, and under the artistic direction of MJ Bruder Munafo, the Village folksinger-cum-protest era is brought to life with no more than a platform, guitars on stands, and a curving screen that shimmers with projections of city lights, newspaper headlines (“3000 Beatniks Riot In The Village”), and backgrounds of the shabby New York streets that housed such iconic nightclubs as Café Wha, Kettle of Fish, and The Gaslight.

A group of talented actor-singers has been assembled: Ms. Babbitt, in addition to playing Clayton’s mother, also incarnates Village den mother Carla Rotolo. Mr. Anthony is both Clayton’s dad and another lost figure of the era, Dave Van Ronk, whose grim homage to New Orleans street life, “The House of The Rising Sun,” was first hijacked by Dylan then turned into a mega-hit by the Brit rock group The Animals, basically — and unintentionally — cutting Van Ronk off at the knees.

Ereni Sevasti plays Dylan’s early-Village-days girlfriend Suze Rotolo, and also the woman who steals him away from Suze, none other than the great Joan Baez. Performer Chic Street Man resurrects another forgotten figure of the Village scene, the Rev. Gary Davis and, whenever Chic joins the ensemble, a new level of soul, blues, and church-style reverence propels audience members to clap in time and shout “Halleluiah!”

Jared Weiss tackles the young, irrepressible Dylan, singing with the gravelly sound that shocked a nation raised on crooners such as Frank Sinatra and Paul Anka, a radical new style that Joyce Carol Oates later described, “as if sandpaper could sing.”

Was the early Dylan a thief and a rotten friend? Mollin makes a convincing case for that. But it wasn’t only gay Paul Clayton who had fallen in love with him. An entire country of under-aged, substance-starved Americans made Dylan a prophet and, later, a rock and roll superstar.

Arguably Dylan’s first ballads were stolen and reformatted, but in swift order he unfurled original lyrics on the level of a modern-day William Blake, such as:

Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far from the frozen leaves,
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
– Mr. Tambourine Man, 1965

Another star of “Search: Paul Clayton” is musician and composer Fred Mollin, picking away at guitar and banjo in the shadows, and lending rich textures to the production as musical director.

This show will thrill boomers willing to take a dip in the bathos of our youth, and for succeeding generations who’ve added their own unique layers to the midden.

And now let us root in old boxes for Cat Stevens, Donovan, Buffy St. Marie, and Judy Collins on vinyl and 8-track cassettes, then see if we can find machines on which to play them.

“Search: Paul Clayton” 7:30 pm, Wednesdays–Saturdays through August 9. $50; $40 seniors; $30 students. For mature audiences only: sexually explicit, adult language, and scenes that depict drug use. For more information and for tickets, visit mvplayhouse.org or call 508-687-2452.

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Times reporter Holly Nadler checks Marko Ivkovic's ID as security guard Len Clark looks on. — Michael Cummo

In the Mission Impossible series, that nifty little tape recorder — you know, the one that vaporized after the agent listened to it — used to amend its covert operation (like “capture a cell of terrorists protected by landmines and 900-pound tigers”) with the comforting words, “should you choose to accept this assignment… ” This gave the agent an out. Obviously, the agent never opted for the out or there’d be no story that week, but my own recent mission impossible — how hard could it be to work as a bar bouncer? — tempted me to opt out.

Yet, what’s the worst that could happen? I’d tell some sozzled dude who’d punched his friend that it was time to go home, and then he’d punch me? And what was so bad about that? Well, it would hurt like hell. A doc might want to sew my 66-year-old puss back to its pristine condition, whereupon I could cajole, “And how ‘bout a nip ‘n tuck to my jawline?”

It was hard to find a bar that would hire me for a night. I don’t have bouncer on my resume, just writer, book dealer, mom. There’s nothing in there about the ability to kick derriere. I’d dropped round the Lamppost several times, a busy pub with a dozen bouncers patrolling on any given weekend night. The owner wouldn’t say ‘yes’ to me, and he wouldn’t say ‘no’, which pretty much sums up my interaction with men.

I finally found a lovely bouncer to take me on as his sidekick at the Island Bar & Grille. I know the words ‘lovely’ and ‘bouncer’ go together about as organically as ‘pistol-packing’ and ‘librarian,’ but Lenny Clark, 47, with tattoos up and down his arms (and Lord knows where else) like flocked wallpaper, bald with a pointed grey beard, has an air of peace about him like Mahatma Gandhi’s right-hand man.

“I always use diplomacy,” he said in his soft voice. “I never want to get into it physically because bouncers have to pay their own hospital bills. If things get out of hand, we wrest the rowdies to the ground and call the cops. The O.B. cops are fantastic. They come immediately and take charge.”

When I arrived at the bar last Thursday around 9:45 pm, Lenny was not yet there, so I sat at a lonely table beside the wall and watched the scene at the U-shaped bar. I realized this was a wholesome place, with gaggles of girls — all of them blonde for some perverse reason, all of them laughing loudly as girls tend to do when they imbibe a glass of chardonnay. Guys swapped jokes, eyes darting to the obligatory flat screens flashing sports events, celebrity tweets, and subtitles of breaking news, none of which any of us cared to contemplate past sundown.

All the patrons, the three bartenders, and the male acoustic guitar player were under 30. This made me invisible, deliciously invisible, to tell you the truth, because as an earlier version of myself, I feared the bar scene and the constant irritant of young men pestering young women as if they cared deeply, whereas you knew their ulterior motives were salacious to a high degree.

I also had this exhilarating thought that once Lenny arrived and I was put to work as an enforcer, my age would be an asset. To these young people I was, undoubtedly, the vision of Eve “Our Miss Brooks” Arden in the movie “Grease.” I was the principal! If they didn’t do what I asked, I could send them to Saturday detention. I’d get full cooperation just by saying, “Now, children…”

Lenny walked in the door. We sat down so I could download all the scuttlebutt about his job. I learned from Lenny and the manager, 36-year-old Sonu Chhiber, that the only outbreaks of violence occurred at bachelor parties where young men knock back one too many shots and start rumbles with beloved college buddies.

And, yes, the heavy-hitting bars require bouncers with fists of fury. Lenny told me about a friend who worked the Lamppost who took a break one night to grab Thai food at The Ritz. He encountered a crunk customer (I found “crunk” in Urban Dictionary) in the doorway pounding the owner.

Here’s what I thought Lenny said: “So he gave the guy an apricot. It knocked him sideways.”

Me: “That’s so cool that an apricot could do that!” I was thinking of the old 60s Love-ins when we handed out fruit and flowers.

“No, not an apricot, an upper cut.”

At the mellower Island B&G, Lenny keeps customers on the safe side of their drink limit. Bartenders are the first line of defense. Lenny and his two deputies eye the crowd constantly for that flibberty-gibbety look of intoxication, or as those subjects themselves might say, “aniahalation,” They also block already-wasted peeps from entry.

And finally they check ID’s at the door to protect their liquor license from imbibing minors. (Just as a tiny aside, no one carded me; I could have been a 16-year-old with plenty of theater grease paint and a partially grey wig.)

Lenny gave me a task: Stand outside and check IDs. A young man, short, round, with a sweet face and glasses, approached.

“Can I see some ID?” I asked with my best Eve Arden impression.

He handed me his license. No matter how hard I squinted, I couldn’t read it. Shoot! If I remained in this job, I’d need reading glasses on a chain around my neck.

I explained I was a bouncer. He said, “Well, I’ve never seen such a pretty bouncer.”

I threw my arms around him. “Can I adopt you?!”

So that was my entry into the world of security detail. I told Lenny, “You can call me any time,” “Sure, I’ll call you, Holly,” he replied dryly.

So there you have it: Field notes from a hugging bouncer!

Not too big, not too small…

In the home of Anna Edey, tendrils and blossoms fill the air with fragrance. — Photo by Michael Cummo

No two people are alike in their sense of the perfect-sized home. And over a lifetime, our needs change as families expand, then shrink. Sometimes the waist-band of a home is let out once again as an elderly parent is taken in or a post-graduate needs time to explore new options.

These days, for so many of us concerned about our poor besieged planet, our priorities have shifted from showing off to maintaining a decent, honorable, non-glacier-melting carbon footprint. This too dictates our sense of what defines a Just Right House.

The Too Big House — the trophy homes that dot our Island — are on their way, let us hope, to being sneered out of existence, much the way the seaside mansions of Newport, Rhode Island’s, gilded age were derided as white elephants.

On the other end of the house-sizing spectrum these days, an idealistic movement is afoot to patch together — usually it’s a DIY job — a house so conveniently tiny, one can place it on the back of a flatbed truck and move cross-country with it. This only works for individuals with zero degrees of claustrophobia, and this narrows (no pun intended!) the field considerably, although hats off to anybody giving it a try.

Three sets of householders on Martha’s Vineyard, out of a wide population of people who’ve found similar satisfaction here, shared their Just Right homes with the MV Times this month.

Anna Edey wanted to live in a greenhouse

The iconic Anna Edey, pioneer in the Island’s long march towards organic gardening with her greenhouse, Solviva, built her house on an expanse of dewy emerald acres in West Tisbury in 1980. She raised two daughters here, both of whom come back for visits with their children and, all the while, the home has breathed in and out around the original chatelaine without an inch of its indoor space being wasted.

The absolute miracle of this enchanting warren of skylit rooms is its total sustainability from solar panels to composting toilets.
The absolute miracle of this enchanting warren of skylit rooms is its total sustainability from solar panels to composting toilets.

“I especially wanted to live in a greenhouse,” she says under the pale morning light of a ceiling-length skylight. Indeed, everywhere one looks, tendrils and blossoms fill the air with spring fragrance. Originally she’d needed to prove she could grow fruits and vegetables indoors. “For four years I had the most persistent tomato plants, big around as tree trunks. There were avocado branches pressed up against the skylight as if they had fists trying to break higher. It was crazy!”

Eventually the cultivation of food transferred to the Solviva greenhouse on the acreage below. Nowadays Ms. Edey grows only flowers and herbs in her home. Her favorite spot is a claw-foot tub set into the far corner of her narrow solarium in an Eden’s bower of geraniums and begonias. The Swedish weaver has a positive libido for color and aesthetics and every cranny holds something exquisite — a rose-hued Tiffany lamp, a copper bowl of salmon-pink roses, paintings, stacks of coffee table books, and vibrant Persian tribal rugs strewn over hardwood floors.

Ms. Edey has added a studio and an office, but the domestic sphere by itself factors down to a cosy 1,500 square feet. The absolute miracle of this enchanting warren of skylit rooms is its total sustainability, from solar panels to composting toilets with a filtration system, to her beloved Nissan LEAF which she tops off herself at home.

And let us not end this discussion here: For more fascinating information on this way of life, pick up a copy of Ms. Edey’s book “Green Light At The End Of The Tunnel: Learning The Art of Living Well Without Causing Harm To Our Planet And Ourselves.” Included are designs for similar sanctuaries (as Ms. Edey calls them) of 600 to 800 square foot patterns.

Tom and Jaye Shelby wanted a just-right life

Jaye and Tom Shelby (aka The Dogfather) bought a snug house in the Campground with just enough room for them (and their dogs).
Jaye and Tom Shelby (aka The Dogfather) bought a snug house in the Campground with just enough room for them (and their dogs).

Educator Jaye Shelby and Tom Shelby (aka The Dogfather), with an empty nest in Manhattan and Rockland County after their three grown kids followed their bliss to other corners of the country, purchased a small Victorian cottage at the western edge of the Campground in Oak Bluffs.

“We bought it for the view,” says Mr. Shelby. Who wouldn’t? The two-bedroom cottage faces Sunset Lake across the street, with the commanding vista of Squash Meadow rising high and green beyond it. Adjust your head a mere 20 degrees and you’re staring at the glittering sweep of the Oak Bluffs harbor, arguably one of the world’s most alluring seaports.

Typically, the cottage had declined for decades in the hands of an elderly lady, a situation more congenial to cars than houses. Mr. Shelby explains, “It was falling apart. We had to open it out, insulate it, put in heating, rip out the orange shag carpeting — like that.”

Similar to Anna Edey’s house, the Shelby manse expands and contracts as needed for company. A small downstairs guest room is snugged up against the front parlor. Should all the Shelby crew come for a family reunion — grown kids, significant others, and significant pets as well — then the two upstairs offices — what the Shelbys call their “man cave” and “girl cave” have sofas that fold out to beds. At the rear of this upstairs second floor, Jaye & Tom have their master bedroom under a fairy tale steepled roofline.

An upstairs balcony and a downstairs porch, crammed with wicker rocking chairs, keep the ever-loving view in focus.

And there’s another element of this Just Right House: No mortgage. Tom and Jaye love to travel and, in fact, when you’re friends when them, it’s hard to catch them between trips to the Galapagos, the Turks and Caicos and, this month, the midnight sun of Iceland.

Hmm, must be a connection between the Just Right House and the Just Right Life?

Paul Mohair downsized year-round

Paul Mohair in his downsized kitchen.
Paul Mohair in his downsized kitchen.

New Jersey lawyer Paul Mohair, now director of Edgartown Council On Aging, has lived in houses big and small. His first house here, while not a trophy home, was nonetheless a glam spread, off Tea Lane Road in Chilmark. In the classic year-round Vineyard ritual, he made his nut by renting it out in the summer, and luxuriating in its spacious rooms during the off season.

In the last few years Mr. Mohair decided to settle more organically into Vineyard life. He sold the Chilmark home and took the hugely satisfying COA job. The transition was made smooth by the adorable two-story cottage he found off a rural road in West Tisbury; close to the business district, yet “private and quiet” — his top priorities.

Sometimes a dwelling is designed with perfect feng shui, calculated or otherwise. The cottage is set back from a minimally-landscaped front yard, and a commodious stone patio behind for all of one’s entertaining needs. Indoors the small living space is divided by a long deep gourmet-friendly kitchen, a dining area to seat up to eight people, and a nook with over-stuffed cushions around a low coffee table. The single bathroom is sited downstairs, along with a bedroom.

The piece de resistance lies up a spiral staircase: a second-floor turret room with windows open to every point of the compass. Full disclosure: I lived here myself in the spring of 2010, and I did more writing, reading, meditating, wind-watching and star-gazing from this room than I’d done in the whole of my 23 years of living on the Vineyard (a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea; this room is a creativity-incubator).

Does Mr. Mohair use this tower room for dream-weaving?

Not so much; he’s an outdoor guy, in the sun and rain pedaling his bike the 12 miles into his office in Edgartown (“It’s 8 miles to my girlfriend’s house,” he cheerfully adds.) And what does he do on his days of leisure, you might ask? He makes a concerted effort to cycle 40 miles a day.

Still, the house perfectly suits his own requirements for privacy, charm, comfort and, ah, that quintessential, sublime sense of being home.

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From left: Dylan Riley-MacArthur plays Thomas Nickerson, and Christopher Patrick Mullen the first mate Owen Chase. — MJ Bruder Munafo

American playwright and screenwriter Rod Serling might have summed it up this way: “November 20, 1820. A lone whaler off the coast of South America. A deranged leviathan from the depths of a pitiless sea, and 21 sailors from Nantucket are about to meet their unspeakable destiny.”

It was the doomed whaleship Essex that left port on August 12, 1819. Only two days out, the 20-year-old vessel was battered by a squall that knocked out its beam ends and its top gallant sail, plus damaged one whaleboat and destroyed two others. Capt. George Pollard Jr. made the fateful decision to plunge on.

The Pacific Ocean had been depleted of whales by too many avid harpooners, so the Essex rounded Cape Horn. Other ships’ officers imparted the news that the west coast of South America was also stripped of their prey, but a new hunting ground had opened up 2,500 miles to the west.

Sean McGuirk, Christopher Patrick Mullen, and Wallace Bullock in a scene from "The Whaleship Essex."
Sean McGuirk, Christopher Patrick Mullen, and Wallace Bullock in a scene from “The Whaleship Essex.”

At last the men aboard the Essex found a pod of whales. They lowered their whaleboats to give chase. And…a monster from the deep found them.

Aboard the mother ship, the remaining sailors saw the beast lying far afield, eerily eyeing them. He was larger than normal, at least 85 feet long, huger than any leviathan ever seen.

A whale had never before attacked a ship, but this one charged, pulverizing the hull to stern, knocking the men sideways. And then it submerged, slowly grinding its spine beneath the wood boards with a sound that survivors reported still haunted their darkest dreams decades later.

The creature swam to starboard, turned and charged again, battering the Essex, cracking it like an eggshell. The killer disappeared as the ship began to sink. The men frenziedly removed all the provisions they could find, then took to two of the three still viable whale boats. Capt. Pollard, in the third craft, back from the chase, beheld his vessel buckling under.

“What happened?!” he cried.

First mate Owen Chase replied with typical Yankee tartness, “We have been stove by a whale.”

And this was only the start of the sailors’ Trials of Job at sea.

In “The Whaleship Essex,” New York playwright Joe Forbrich has brought this eye-popping tale to life in a way that reminds us that theater engages each audience member’s imagination. With a trio of golden sails, some ropes, some casks, a movable wooden helm, and a splendid sound and light show from Jeffrey E. Saltzberg and Kyle Kotarski, we fill in the rest as if we’re viewing a Darren Aronofsky3D biblical blockbuster, smashing waves, homicidal whale, an entire ship sinking glug-glug, and all. Directed by fellow New York theater veteran Peter Zinn, the play is opening the season for the newly renovated (and re-named) Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse,

Fourteen actors supply male vigor to the deck of the Essex. When they erupt in sea shanties, their basso male voices fill the air with an aggressive thrust: the polar opposite of the sweet soothing sounds of a Gregorian chant: It’s one of the truly impressive takeaways of this night in the theater.

The play is also packed with powerful reflections on man’s innate savagery, and the ludicrous, greedy, and soul-destroying hunt for fuel, in those days pilfered from whale blubber, now extracted from what sometimes seems like every last spare plot of ground.

The MV Times met up with the playwright on the final dress rehearsal night before last Friday’s opening. As ever when one encounters a cast and crew of theater folk, the high jinx are out of control. We found Mr. Forbrich half-hugging, half-Nelson-ing Mr. Saltzberg. Mr. Forbrich doesn’t walk, he gavottes from the box office to arrange seating for a woman arriving from Mystic Seaport, then bounds back to his interviewer, but not before smacking comically into a wall.

“I can fall backwards in this chair, then roll over and stand up,” he said.

“Oh please don’t!” cried this reviewer who, above all else, harbors a mother’s bleeding heart.

“Okay, I won’t,” he promised, and then we talked some more, and abruptly he knocked himself backwards, the chair smacked the floor, and sure enough he performed a reverse somersault and stood up as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened.

In 2009 Mr. Forbrich sailed a 16-foot boat he’d cobbled together himself, “before I knew anything about building a boat.” He later apprenticed himself to Gannon & Benjamin in Vineyard Haven. During this maiden voyage he read Nathaniel Philbrick’s book about the Whaleship Essex, “In The Heart of The Sea” and, at one point, he scrawled across a page, “It is my destiny to write a play about this!”

And so it was. The pages piled up while he acted in “Lucky Man” on Broadway with Tom Hanks. He asked Mr. Hanks if he’d play Capt. Pollard in a reading. The movie star agree and our own M.J. Bruder Munafo, artistic director of the Playhouse, happened to catch the event. Mr. Forbrich’s wife, Jennifer Valentine, produced a workshop of her husband’s new play in New York; and the rest is, if not history, then breaking news.

Another reason to flock to the theater is to savor the Playhouse’s refurbishment — double staircases, the scent of new wood, high ceilings, Victorian-style molding, fresh blue chairs, and the stage situated eastwards.

Some Vineyarders are under the impression that the arrival of the renovated Charles B. Morgan in Vineyard Haven was timed to complement the opening of this play. Ms. Munafo responded with a laugh: “If only we had that kind of influence! No, the timing was coincidental, but there’s some great synchronicity at work, wouldn’t you say?”

The single silver lining of the excruciating saga of “The Whaleship Essex” is the fact that it inspired Herman Melville to write the great American masterpiece “Moby-Dick,” astounded as he was by the concept of a murderous whale. Now there’s a second masterpiece to emerge from that tale of woe, and it enjoys its world premiere at the Playhouse from June 21 to July 12.

Theater: “The Whaleship Essex,” Wednesdays–Saturdays through July 12, 7:30 pm. Also a matinee on Saturday, July 5, 2:30 pm. $50; $40 seniors; $30 students. For tickets and more information, visit vineyardplayhouse.org or call 508-696-6300.

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Miki Wolfe, program director at the Oak Bluffs Library, and host of the monthly Cloak and Dagger Literary Society. — Ralph Stewart

Some people are born to be program directors specializing in mystery clubs at small town libraries. Really? Well, take a look at the career trajectory of Mikaela (known as Miki) Wolfe.

Starting in grammar school year, her earliest dream was to own a used book store. [A close cousin to a library, right?].” And it just so happened a template of that business plan was already in place in her family’s house of avid readers. Young Miki’s mom consecrated their attic to all the books that could be bought, borrowed, rescued, and scooped off the shelves of Warwick, R.I., and stored under the aged rafters. The extended family of dozens of cousins was invited upstairs to choose a book.

“The books were mostly fun kids’ mysteries — Trixie Belden, Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins,” Ms. Wolfe said in a recent interview in the meeting room of the Oak Bluffs Library. When I asked her about my own bar-none fave from my youth, Nancy Drew. Ms. Wolfe nodded vigorously, “Nancy Drew is out in graphic novels now and my nine-year-old daughter Riley loves them!”

Up in the Warwick attic, whenever a member of the clan finished a book, he or she entered his or her name on the front page with all the other scribbled names, and returned it to the stacks. Each book contained a history of its journey within the family.

As Ms. Wolfe came of age, her restless sense of adventure carried her off on fancy-free road trips on long bus rides around the country. But eventually she managed to fulfill part of her dream: Settling in Gainesville, Fla., she ran a used bookstore, enrolled in college, and pursued English literature, women’s studies, and social media in libraries and nonprofits. This landed her in a job with Digital Services Library in Gainesville, but her work was heavily immersed in tech training.

“I really longed to do more programming,” she said, adding with her signature grin, “My ambitions were being thwarted.”

She was 36 with a young daughter, and her formative years in Rhode Island left her aching to make a home in New England. She found a job offered online for program director at the Oak Bluffs Library. Like an inspired Meryl Streep, she rehearsed for her coming Skype interview, rigging up lights in her room, finding the right professional ensemble, all the while researching Island life in Vineyard newspapers so she could schmooze about all matters local. She could tell the Skype interview surpassed all expectations, and she was invited to come up with  Riley to scope out a new life for the two of them.

They found a house in West Tisbury and Ms. Wolfe set up shop at the palatial new library at the top of School Street. Various activities spilled from her bag of tricks, but she was most fond of her idea for a Cloak And Dagger Literary Society to meet once a month. She launched with “The Police Procedural” in September. “I realized right away that the heading was too broad,” she said. “I’ll be able to chop and dice that subject into a whole bunch more that fit under the rubric.”

I asked her, “What is it about the mystery that’s so compelling for so many of us? Is it because we know we’ll never be bored? That if people are sitting around a long dining table discussing dahlias, any minute now someone’s head is going to roll, dead, into the Waterford crystal salad plate?”

Ms. Wolfe laughed, “Well, or course there’s that. Buf for me at this very moment, it’s a great way to discover hoards of new writers.”

Ms. Wolfe boasts something of an eidetic memory and, with her trusty laptop, she reels in data quicker than anyone else can snap a stick a gum. A typical mystery club on March 18 bore the witty title, “St. Patrick Missed A Few Snakes.” The director passed out flyers of Irish mystery writers such as Ken Bruen’s “The Guards,” and Louise Phillips’s “The Doll’s House.” Between the program director’s information hot off the screen, and recommendations from the participants, we cobbled together an even richer Irish stew of mystery writers.

Ms. Wolfe follows up each club date with a list of all the new writers we’d found, including others who had just jumped into the pile after all of us had come and gone, but literary leprechauns kept leaping out of her laptop.

Ms. Wolfe believes we pursue mysteries because the form provides a rich and fertile soil for gender issues, sociological trends, and the weighty issues of good and evil, love and loss, all the while having a corpse show up inside great uncle Boris’s steamer trunk from the British raj.

The next Cloak and Dagger club meeting, at 10:30 am on June 17, will explore “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Ms. Wolfe will open the subject up to the great sidekicks of detective fiction: Dr. Watson to the bigger-than-life Sherlock, Archie Goodman for Nero Wolfe and, of course, the charismatic thug Hawk to Robert B. Parker’s Spenser.

Does she think she’ll ever run out of genres? Ms. Wolfe shakes her head. “There are some so vast I’ll have to break them down in various ways,” she said. “The police procedural, for instance. That’s huge. So is the heading of women detectives. There’s a big new market in LGBT detectives! And now there are fantastic mysteries written from all over the world, which give you an added advantage of enjoying an armchair travel weekend. July’s meeting, for instance, will be named, “Darkness In The Land of The Midnight Sun: Scandinavian Crime Fiction.”

Now that’s a dandy set of mysteries to be read in the summer. Take your beach chair down to the high water mark of Inkwell Beach as you read about Detective Wallander tramping through frozen fields at five degrees below zero, Celsius. Don’t forget the sunscreen.

The Cloak and Dagger Literary Society, Tuesday, June 17, 10:30-11:30 am, Oak Bluffs Library. For more information, call 508-693-9433 or visit oakbluffslibrary.org.

The best part of farming at Slip Away was the piglets. — Photo by Susan Safford

The first thing an idealistic and determined journalist does before she shows up for a morning of farm work is to pick out a suitable wardrobe, right down to the most cunning accessories. I decked myself out in an orange jumper that had received enough paint splotches to put one in mind of a de Kooning canvas. In place of muck boots I had my black rubber rain boots with pastel dots — $15 at a New York thrift store. I also popped on my favorite straw bonnet, an eccentric choice for a job involving mud, dust, and manure but, well, what can you do? A favorite hat to a new farmhand is like a binky to a baby.

A sunny Chappy day was perfect for a farming adventure.
A sunny Chappy day was perfect for a farming adventure.

At 8:30 on a recent Monday morning I appeared at the year-old Slip Away Farm on Chappaquiddick to begin my apprenticeship. A little under two miles in from the ferry landing, the nine acres have been cleared across hill and dale, and early crops of spinach, onions, radishes, greens and baby peas shake their booties out of the soil under pristine white tarps. As soon as these first plantings are plate-ready, a farm stand goes up alongside the road and 55 happy Chappy families will show up for their CSA shares, along with everyone else eager for random goodies

Behind the antique farmhouse, I found Lily Walter, 28, tall, thin, with green eyes and clad in faded grey-green jeans. Her two live-in co-farmers are her brother, Christian Walter, 23, and Collins Heavener, 27, a carpenter throughout the work week, making him a Saturday Slip Away wingman. Farmer newbie Kendyll Gage-Pipa, 24, has also been adopted into the fold.

American Gothic redux, at Chappy's Slipaway Farm. Farmer Christian Walter is on the left.
American Gothic redux, at Chappy’s Slip Away Farm. Farmer Christian Walter is on the left.

Christian sat atop a spanky new green Deere tractor, hauling a chicken house that looked charming enough for the witch in Hansel and Gretel to set up her infamous oven inside. Lily guided her brother in his trajectory up one hill and down another; the plan was to reposition the coop so that the 25 hens could set down fertilizer in a new spot — one of their manifold talents — and to gobble ticks and other assorted pests.

Christian invited me to help him lug three sets of scaffold-braced nets down to the hen house.

“Do I look like Arnold Schwarzenegger?” I almost asked him, but when I lifted my side of the first cage — big as a VW bug — it was surprisingly light. We humped all three units down to the hen house, and within moments the red-ruffed Red Stars and the black-and-white Baard Rocks spilled out through their front door for a peck-and-poop party on their new front lawn.

Lily pointed to a set of cabinets built into the coop and suggested I grab a basket and collect whatever eggs the little darlings had deposited in recent hours. But who needs baskets when you can fold up your jumper like an old-fashioned pinafore, and place the eggs in that?

I noticed one of the Red Stars frozen in an odd contortion on a top berth of the egg-laying shelves. Oh, my heavenly stars, she was laying an egg! I felt an urge to rush it to a tiny omelet pan.

Next we filed to the greenhouse, entering a space of diffused white light, redolent of herbs, hummus, sawdust, and the subtle fragrances of impatiens, coleus, and rosemary. We carried out flats of seedlings ready for prime time in the soil: today it was cabbage, onions, and garlic.

I was also allowed to sit on the tractor, although I lacked the nerve to turn it on. I could see myself bouncing haphazardly down the slopes, then hurtling over the road — Evel Knievel on the high ramp — to the astonishment of everyone motoring up from the ferry.

As much as I yearned to dig trenches, lay in sewer lines, and shovel doo-doo, I mostly longed to hang out with the pigs.

There were three of them, 10 weeks old, pink and wriggly and weighing about as much as my Boston terrier. They tumbled, they jumped and cork-screwed around each other, they dashed to and fro as if forgetting what they’d dashed to, then reconsidered, only to dash fro again. But their main activity was rooting their absurdly long snouts into the soil to dig for edibles of suspicious origin, thus aerating the soil and shoveling around all the effluvial nutrients deep where the veggie roots go. Each time these frenzied critters resurfaced, they had dirt up to their eyeballs — a laugh out loud sight — but then, moments later, you’d glance at the begrimed baby pig again and, holy self-cleaning!, its face was restored to its original pinky luster.

I climbed into the pen and knelt on the ground. They dashed over to see if I were, quite possibly, a walking talking Fudgesicle. They sniffed my arm, and even licked it a couple of times, but after seven seconds of ADD-addled curiosity, they charged off again to roister in their turf.

We should all have farms. Why don’t we? Our famous founding fathers were gardeners and environmentalists, every one of them, and they never could have conceived of a world where anyone traveled to a market to buy anything for dinner: dinner was right outside the kitchen door. Methinks we’d worry less about dips in the Dow if we knew we had food from our own green acres — or the acres of Slip Away Farm — to put on the table.

Lily studied anthropology, Christian attended Emerson to find out that he’d rather farm than write the Great American Novel. Collins graduated from UMass Amherst. This is the new demographic of agriculturalists: young creative people who’ve turned their back on the Tantalus of Wall Street and law degrees to get soil under their fingernails and figure out a way to make the world whole again, farm by farm.

Lord knows I’ve now done my bit.

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Tibetan Buddhist Kyabgon Phakchok Rinpoche speaks at The Yoga Barn May 20 and 21. — Randi Baird

A YouTube introduction to Tibetan Buddhist Kyabgon Phakchok Rinpoche inspires the viewer to think, “He looks so young!” at which point the realization hits, “He IS young!” Born in 1981 into an illustrious Tibetan Buddhist family, Phakchok returns for a second speaking engagement at the Yoga Barn on Tuesday, May 20, and Wednesday, May 21.

Phakchok Rinpoche (the latter name is an honorific, much as Reverend is used in western religions) enjoys dual spiritual accomplishments. The first is real-time birth in a long Tibetan leadership lineage, and the second is that more mysterious process of selection, rarely understood in the west, whereby regents of a particular branch of Buddhism divine the reincarnated status of a lama from past lives. By this method, Phakchok as an infant was identified as a lama through seven incarnations.

Training in what Buddhists call dharma studies begins at the youngest age in a monastic setting, and with the benefit of highly qualified teachers. Phakchok’s precocity took him very far very quickly, at all times impressing all who met and meditated with him. His English is excellent, his teachings cogent and accessible. At an age when most young westerners are still trying to figure out what to study, where to live, and which profession to pursue when they finally grow up, Phakchok is the abbot of several monasteries in Nepal, assists at monasteries and practice centers in Tibet, heads dharma centers in North America, and Asia, and oversees vast humanitarian projects in South Asia.

No wonder, then, that among his tens of thousands of students and devotees, a sprinkling of them have homes on Martha’s Vineyard where for the second year in a row he has been invited to lecture (as well as to provide an amusing ceremony, also for the second time, but we’ll save this explication for last).

For anyone hoping to get a sense of Phakchok Rinpoche, YouTube is a great place to start in anticipation of his coming presentation. In one of the video clips, he addresses the keys to happiness Buddhist-style, depicting how, when one feels sadness, the space of one’s mind shrinks. Problems are focused on oneself, increasing the sense of discomfort. Phakchok then describes an exercise — not precisely mediation, he explains, but more relaxed, more expansive — 5 to 10 minutes of visualizing the sky, thinking, and feeling in all four directions, up and down, until the imagination merges into infinite space. “You start to feel the spaciousness,” he assures the viewer. “Reconnecting with innate peace is possible.”

There is also a book available to read by Phakchok, “The Eight-fold Supreme Path Of Mind-Training,” available through Barnes and Noble.

In posters of the coming week’s talks found around the Island, the young Rinpoche, clad in gold and red robes, sits against a bank of vivid-hued Buddhist statues and tapestries. The Yoga Barn is located on South Road in Chilmark. The May 20 and 21 events begin at 6 pm with an introduction to Buddhist yoga, followed by Phakchok’s lectures at 7:30. Tuesday’s talk is titled Creating Space In Daily Life, and Wednesday’s is Fearless Happiness: Keys to Training The Mind.

And now to the “special ceremony” to take place on the beach at Menemsha on Wednesday, May 21, at 3 pm, when Phakchok, in a reprise of last year’s festivity, will release a hundred live lobsters back into the ocean. Although not all Buddhists are vegetarians at all times, the practice of ahimsa, meaning to do no harm, is a vital part of daily practice. Returning lobsters to the sea resonates with the veneration of all living creatures.

A random sampling of reactions to this last event from Islanders “on the street” reveal a total lack of comprehension. “But what if lobstermen put down traps and catch them a second time?” asked a lady in Oak Bluffs. A facebook friend of this reporter’s said, “Who’s going to be donating these lobsters?”

The answer to the second question is: surely no one who catches lobsters for a living. Should a harvester of the seabed be of such a mind, he or she would obviously find another way to eke out a living on these shores. One can only suggest attending Kyabgon Phakchok’s lectures and watching the lobsters’ pokey ramble back into the sea to decide which parts of the teachings make the most sense to each individual.

The lectures are free, donations welcome; lobster rolls not an option.

Free public talks with Kyabgon Phakchok Rinpoche, Tuesday, May 20 and Wednesday, May 21, 7:30 pm, The Yoga Barn, Chilmark. Prior to teachings both evenings is Intro to Tibetan Buddhist Yoga at 6 pm. Wednesday, May 21, 3 pm, Lobster Release, Menemsha Beach. Donations accepted.

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Carole Charlin models a Lorraine Parish outfit at Saturday's fashion show at Featherstone. — Angelina Godbout

An event is only allowed to call itself annual once it has occurred more than a single time, but the very first Garden Party and Fashion Show at Featherstone Center For The Arts, on Mother’s Day weekend in 2010 already had the stamp of tradition to it. It was then that now-director-emeritus Francine Kelly and executive director Ann Smith, along with their amazing team of artists and organizers, put up a humongous white tent in the green field behind the campus buildings. Pots of tea were brought to the dozen-plus large round tables, platters of tiny sandwiches and pastries lined a buffet table, and a runway the length of a basketball court was trod upon by models of all ages, sizes, and pizzazz, strutting that year’s ensembles from some of our Island’s fabled fashion designers.

Basia Jaworska modeled for Lorraine Parish.
Basia Jaworska modeled for Lorraine Parish.

On Saturday, May 10, the fifth annual Garden Party and Fashion Show number five, following on the heels of four high glam events, had the luster of the queen’s Silver Jubilee. Champagne was placed at every table, platters of canapés and desserts were brought to guests rather than guests to them, and five designers caught the Featherstone wave this year, chief among them Island fashionista for 35 years, Ms. Lorraine Parish, whose studio and shop front State Road as it climbs steeply from Main Street in Vineyard Haven.

Painter Margot Datz, a longtime friend and devout wearer of Ms. Parish’s clothes, her long Botticelli red hair aswirl around her shoulders, kicked off festivities with the observation that the Island boasts three landmarks: 1) Natural, 2) Man-made, and 3) The fabulously high concentration of talented individuals. After this introduction, show director Marla Blakey punched the music console while at the same time reeling off names of designers, models, and garments as if a single Oscar Award host MC’d all the categories and broke open every last envelope.

Saturday’s models were all 50-plus years of age “And Fabulous.” The eldest, Margot Weston, coming up upon her 100th birthday in December, looking diminutive and gorgeous in a pale green organza gown from Ms. Parish’s studio, her arm held — not that she needed any special handling, clearly — by black-tie decked Eugene Kelly.

From left: Carole Charlin, Pam Flam, Stephanie Mashek, Janice Frame, Gretchen Coleman, Basia Jaworska, and Margot Datz.
From left: Carole Charlin, Pam Flam, Genevieve Jacobs, Janice Frame, Gretchen Coleman, Basia Jaworska, and Margot Datz.

Ms. Parish’s haute couture (satin “Jackie” jackets and wasp-waisted gowns) contrasted with the casual lines of Once In A Blue Moon and Sun Dog — two  Edgartown boutiques — along with the lyrical lines of Judy Hartford’s Bananas outfits. You could almost hear the Mozart score from the movie “Elvira Madigan” as model Wendy Palmer drifted past in ruffles of pale mauve and lace. Finally, an homage was paid to Keren Tonnesen’s Vital Signs line, each item of apparel stamped with Ms. Tonnesen’s signature logo.

For those of us drawn back to this amazing event year after year, we’re all on face-to-face terms with the models, most of whom have been featured time and again. Tall, thin, and gorgeous make for a good starting point for being invited back — Genevieve Jacobs, Basia Jaworski, and Stephanie Mashek come to mind, along with and so many more — but there are also petite ladies with verve and style, such as the incomparably elegant Anne Gallagher wearing, among other ensembles, a Lorraine Parish black-and-white polka dot ladies-who-lunch number with a big white bonnet and a triple strand of extra-large pearls.

Oh, and speaking of jewelry, where would a fashion show of this caliber be without it? From Ronni Simon’s beads and gold wrought with the fine texture of lace, to Eleanor Stanwood’s lavish splashes of color, to Marie Allen’s delicate strands of multi-colored beads, the already dramatic garments could not have been better served.

Gayle-Rogers.jpgThe handful of men who have ever shown themselves to be good sports (as well as nifty runway dancers) need to be recognized too: author Tom Dresser, the insanely hot Lynn Gordon (dressed most notably on his several runway glides this past Saturday in a western hat, tan leather vest, and cowboy boots), dapper Alex Palmer, and black-tie escort both for Ms. Weston and for his wife, the lovely Chetta Kelley, and the above-mentioned Eugene. As ever, the brilliant ceramicist Washington Ledesma showed up in whatever anyone wanted him to wear, which, this past weekend included a straw boater hat and a tennis racket that he deployed to lob a few balls into the upper staging of orange and marigold yellow Japanese lanterns. A tall man in a leather vest, with a telephoto lens around his neck, and with black hair flowing back as if he were mounted astride a galloping steed, was presented to us as Luciano, no last name, but he was hardly in need of anything else to qualify him for total smolderingness.

The highest ‘tude and strut awards go to Gretchen Tucker-Underwood, Harriet Bernstein, Sandra Grymes, Anna Edey (also barefoot in her dreamy periwinkle blue Vital Signs ensemble), Jenifer Parkinson, and Gayle Rogers. Plus, because everyone was marvelous and modelicious, let us roll credits for Greta Bro, Jackie Budd, Carole Charlin, Gretchen Coleman, Mary Lou Delong, Pam Flam, Janice Frame, Fala Freeman, Carla Giles-Cuch, Francine Kelly, Kanta Lipsky, Grace McGroarty, Alida O’Loughlin, Julie Robinson, Sue Hruby, Annette Sandrock, and Marilyn Wortman.

Makeup was supervised by Patrice Donofrio, music prepared by Len Morris, and Carleen Cordwell put in a huge job of work as fashion show assistant.

Basia Jaworska wearing an outfit from Bananas.
Basia Jaworska wearing an outfit from Bananas.

Now how will they ever top themselves for the sixth annual Garden and Fashion Show next year? Perhaps they should call it the first anniversary of the fifth?

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“Scandal’s Heiress” by Amelia Smith, Split Rock Books, 315 pages.

“Eddystone Light” by Amelia Smith, Split Rock Books, 103 pages. Both available at Bunch of Grapes, Alley’s General Store, and online.

“Scandal’s Heiress” is no bodice-ripper, although a steamy make-out scene aboard an English frigate sets the plot in motion for the romance to follow. This is a Regency romance, a subgenre of historical romance novels, which means it’s set during the British Regency of 1811 to 1820 or, more loosely, the early 19th century.

Although bodices were cut low, designed to show off cleavage, the rules of deportment were set high. Should a bodice be actually ripped, a young lady would be “ruined” for decent society, although the shrewd and clever Amelia Smith of West Tisbury makes it clear that this same society was far from the perfect setting to call “decent,” much less home.

Young Hyacinth Grey is a mixed-caste young lady, her father a highly regarded naval officer in Gibraltar, her long-dead mother the offspring of a infamous courtesan of an earlier era when powdered wigs set the “ton.” When Hyacinth receives the summons to come to London to accept her grandma’s inheritance of a large estate in Wales, she’s first shipped to her aunt, Lady Talbot in London, who’ll try to render the young girl suitable for the elite — not an easy fit.

Into this mash up of class nuances comes Thomas Smithson (in actuality the reluctant heir of the aristocrat Pentlys of London and assorted country homes), a dashing and, of course, brooding young man who fled family ties and secret sins by spending the last decade in India, making his fortune and seeing his lovely — and pregnant — young Hindu mistress killed in the Sepoy Rebellion. He too has been summoned back to England, in his case to sort out his late older brother’s estate.

Sir Pently and Miss Grey take ship together out of Gibraltar, amid the shambles caused by The Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805. On top of Hyacinth’s other social impedimenta, she has an inconvenient kid brother, George, son of Capt. Grey and his late housekeeper. George is a lovable engine of havoc, as amply displayed when he dives into a turbulent sea with the stupid idea of swimming back to Spain. Thomas leaps in after him, and the already packed plot thickens.

Ms. Smith is only getting started. The welfare of our protagonists is far more threatened in London’s drawing rooms. The Island author seems to have spent an earlier incarnation in Regency England, her ear finely tuned to “polite” conversation that is really quite nasty in its subtexts. Even butlers can be dispensers of snubs — perhaps especially butlers, as we’ve seen from “Downton Abbey” — and in the world of “Scandal’s Heiress,” the reader is rooting with all of his or her heart for Hyacinth to escape this mean world and take advantage of her grandmother’s ill-gotten gains.

Reached at her home this past Sunday, Ms. Smith was busy with her two tree-climbing, garden-uprooting kids, with a rooster crowing in the background. She said that she never reads contemporary romances, but enjoys the Regency genre. “I love nothing better than to curl up on the sofa with a pot of tea, a plate of cookies, and a good historical romance.”

Uh-oh! I forgot the plate of cookies.

She wrote the rough draft in 2008 when she and her husband lived briefly in Ireland; a wonderful land for feeding the imagination about long-ago times. She has since worked the new trend in self-publishing. She blazed a trail for herself, starting out by soliciting feedback for her manuscript from Beta Readers, an Internet club of writers who provide critiques for each other. She hired a copy editor for a polished final draft, and then went on to learn both eBook and hard copy production mechanics.

The result is a hard-to-put-down novel, even without the plate of cookies. Quite honestly, I’d long ago believed I’d outgrown historical romance, but it was a mistake to put this pleasure aside. The good ones, such as “Scandal’s Heiress,” stand as the offspring — legitimate or otherwise — of Jane Austen, and once again the reader is back in a luxe drawing room as someone plays the pianoforte, and the suspense of whether or not the young lovers will ever get their stars uncrossed drives the story forward at a propulsive speed.

Ms. Smith has another book on offer, “Eddystone Light,” a novella for grownups, a fable from a folk song Ms. Smith learned as a child: “My father was the keeper of the Eddystone Light / Slept with a mermaid one fine night / from this union there came three / A porpoise and a porgy and the other was me,” an enchanting tale with a strong New England flavor.

Both “Scandal’s Heiress” and “Eddystone Light” are available at Bunch of Grapes, Alley’s General Store, and online. Ms. Smith entered her Regency romance into the Amazon Breakout Novel Award and has, of this date, made it to the quarter finals. She’ll know within a month how she fared in the next rung.