Authors Posts by Holly Nadler

Holly Nadler

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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.

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Sally Cohn, Jesse Keller, Sandy Broyard in "Babi Yar." — Photo by Ralph Stewart

You wouldn’t think it would work as a performance piece: 16-year-old twins dancing with middle-aged women, a sprinkle of similarly age-enhanced men, all the way up to an 88-year-old gentleman? Oh sure, you can throw in three gorgeously talented dancers from The Yard, but can a choreographer anywhere pull this off?

It turns out that, yes, this mash-up of dancers calling itself What’s Written Within, in its third annual performance at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, and under the stewardship of Sandy Broyard and Sally Cohn, works very well indeed.

“You can’t keep a good dancer down” might be the key to this process.

Sandy Broyard and Ted Box in "Duet."
Sandy Broyard and Ted Box in “Duet.”

It all started, well, it started all over the place. Dancer Sandy Broyard studied improvisation with Mary Wigman in Berlin in 1961. In the 1970s she worked with Jack Weiner in New York City at his School for Creative Movement. From the other end of the partnership, dance impresario Sally Cohn built a studio alongside her house in Edgartown, drawing in dancers and dance groups on a constant rotation. What’s Written Within (WWW) began to mobilize six years ago, as men and women formed groups meeting three to four times a week. Now the corps number 20, and they were out in force last Sunday to entertain a full house of guests.

Ms. Broyard explained in an interview before Sunday’s dress rehearsal, “We adopted the name from a class I took at The Yard a few years back with New York choreographer Michelle Mola. She told us the way you improvise is to ‘dance from what’s written within.’ That’s what we do.”

All the same, more elucidation was needed when, following the rehearsal, this reviewer couldn’t help but think the improvisations wore a look of polish and fluidity. Had they not been at least somewhat synchronized?

WWW dancer Ted Box explained: “We’ve all worked together a long time, and we all have our own language. After a while we’re speaking in full sentences.”

But how does it happen that the dancers’ styles weave so well together?

“Because we’re good,” said Mr. Box with a grin.

As this reviewer found herself poised between Mr. Box and another of the performers, Bill White, and the teenaged brothers, Skyler and Dylan Cole, it was pointed out that Mr. White, who teaches martial arts to the others, brings boys and men alike closer to the balanced movement of dance. The boys, who attend Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, were pleased to learn their martial arts moves were apparent in their dance styles.

"Free Improv" (from left): Susan Tirabassi, Carol Loud, Margaret Knight, Sally Cohn, Sandra Demel, and Susan Puciul.
“Free Improv” (from left): Susan Tirabassi, Carol Loud, Margaret Knight, Sally Cohn, Sandra Demel, and Susan Puciul.

Mr. Box, who’s also known for his sculpture, sailing, and boat building, offered that he would have trained to be a dancer had not fate intervened: “As a kid, on my way to dance school, there was a German shepherd who wouldn’t let me pass.”

Would this have stopped Baryshnikov? Again, Mr. Box grinned.

The performance included these highlights: In “Fellini,” all six men in the troupe improvised together. The Cole twins juggled balls and bats, while the eldest, Mr. Cohn, seated on a chair, bounced a ball. Mr. Box, Mr. White, and Wayne Elio sat quietly chatting, then tough-and-tumble danced with the others. At one point, one could see improv-in-action when something eventuated that hadn’t happened during the rehearsal: Mr. Cohn lost his grip on the ball, Mr. Elio chased it down – without losing an iota of grace – while Mr. Box, with characteristic dash, snagged the older man’s chair.

The three Yard dancers, Jesse Keller, Alison Manning, and Holly Jones, treated the assembly to full-on choreographed performances in “Three by Three” with, of course, all three of them being sublime, and a solo by Ms. Keller, “Til Morning,” a challenging, long and breath-taking piece, the performer decked out in a royal blue ruffled skirt and black gown.

For “Babi Yar,” Ms. Cohn choreographed the three Yard dancers and seven WWW’s in a memorial to the massacre outside Kiev in September 1941, when as many as 100,000 Jews were gunned down by Einsatzgruppen mobile squads. Whistles, train chugs, and melancholy music accompanied a poem entitled “Babi Yar,” recited in Russian by its author, Yevgeny Yevtushenko.

Ms. Broyard and Mr. Box performed a playful duet, part-jazz, part-waltz, and the rest plain goofing around. Dancers Genevieve Abbot, Erin Blake, Sandra Demel, Susan Tirabassi, and Margaret Knight brought their own elegant “words” to the group pieces. Harriet Bernstein inflected her “sentences” with a special sly humor and proto-break-dance style, while Carol Loud, known principally for piano and organ renditions, has actually from the earliest age pursued dance and, while she never studied ballet per se, at one brilliant moment, pulled wide her black harem pants, and unloosed a mean pas de bourre´ across the floor.

For the finale, the entire company, with acoustic guitarist Bruce MacNelly setting aside his instrument to dance, gave it up to the stirring sounds of The Byrds’ “Turn! Turn! Turn!” handing audience members something to hum on the way out and, arguably, for the duration of the night.

"Time," (from left) Sally Cohn, Margaret Knight, Dylan Cole, Skylar Cole, Susan Tirabassi, Wayne Elliot, Harriet Bernstein, Billy White, George Cohn.
“Time,” (from left) Sally Cohn, Margaret Knight, Dylan Cole, Skylar Cole, Susan Tirabassi, Wayne Elliot, Harriet Bernstein, Billy White, George Cohn.

Holly Nadler with students Morgan Michelski and Camilla Prata. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

The diabolical Mathea Morais invited me to spend a session with her high school history students, assuring me that I could devote the time to any timeline in the human experience. Really? The Chinese Opium Wars? Mussolini’s Horrible Architecture?

Mathea Morais, social studies teacher at the Mathea Morais, social studies teacher at the Charter School, teamed up with Holly Nadler for a day.
Mathea Morais, social studies teacher at the Mathea Morais, social studies teacher at the Charter School, teamed up with Holly Nadler for a day.

In actuality, Mathea is anything but diabolical. She’s beautiful and brilliant and was once my beloved editor with another publication whose name shall not be mentioned. Now she teaches at the Charter School, and her invitation was kindly meant, without any idea on her part that I am, in fact, terrified of teens when facing whole gaggles of them — those underage persons who, when listening to an adult — say, myself, — relate fun stories about ghosts, or gossip you’ve written for Cosmo magazine, would present faces as blank as any phalanx of flesh-eating zombies. The inability to make them crack even the faintest smile can be depressing enough to make you wish you had one of those fake beepers you can press to beat a hasty retreat.

In advance of my stint at the Charter School, a friend who works with teens told me it helps to be low key, as deadpan as they are. Well, there’s the rub. I’m way too enthusiastic.

I screwed my courage to the sticking point or, more accurately, because I haven’t got much courage when it comes to so called “young adults,” I screwed whatever passed for courage – maybe a self-bribe of ice cream later in the day – Ben & Jerry’s dulce de leche? – and entered the halls of the charter school in West Tisbury.

It’s an enchanted place, somewhere Mary Poppins might have taken her charges, to show them an alternate reality from their bland middle class lives. The wall sags with shelves of books. An array of scarves and flags hang from rafters and windows, art is everywhere displayed. Non-conformity reveals itself in a variety of attire – from baggy old garments, to brown-blazer-cum-brown-bowler hat, to a mini-skirt over black leggings and faux leopard skin boots.

Mathea introduced me to her class of 14 kids seated around a rectangular table. My fears dissolved when I saw how engaged they were and willing to let themselves be grilled: I wanted to know, individually, which period of history had so far grabbed their attention.

class.JPGBut first I confided my own passion for history. “When you have that gene, it enthralls you for your entire life. One of the great compensations for getting older is you become your own museum. You’ve lived through so many cultural eras, and through your parents’ and grandparents’ eras, you can reach back to what they’d told you for firsthand knowledge of over a century of history.”

See what I  mean about over-enthusiastic?

The first student on my right was a young woman named Bean, 15, who’s fascinated by the Civil Rights, but (I later learned from Mathea) I misheard as Civil War, an event with which I have a bone or two to pick. Inside I was screaming at myself, “Nadler, go easy on the opinions,” but I couldn’t help declaim, “If only Lincoln had been controlled enough to achieve change through nonviolence! We could have let the South secede and then, like South Africa in recent years, no one, not the North, not England nor France, would have traded for their cotton until they freed the slaves!”

The kids looked at me with that expressionless stare that spooks me, so I shut up and passed on to Lucy, 15, who loves the Renaissance. I learned the destinations for the 8th grade trip are Rome and Florence. Be still my heart! I’ve got to find a way to get in on this action; what if I brushed up my Italian? Galen, 15, also admires the Italian Renaissance, in particular the architecture and art. I was tempted to make a bad quip about the Borgias and their chalices of poison, but thankfully I got a grip.

Astrid, 16, expressed a strong attachment to Island history; she descends from one of the founding families, the Tiltons. “Oh!” I cried. “I’ve seen a lot of your ancestors in our old cemeteries.” Astrid looked pleased.

Cassius, 15, ventured his favorite periods – the Vietnam War and the Russian Revolution. Holy Heroically Interesting Kid. I had to brag about my own single degree of separation from the Bolshevik Revolution: My creative writing teacher at UCLA, Bernie Wolfe, back in the 1930s in the mountains of Mexico, had served as one of Leon Trotsky’s bodyguards. How cool was that to have on your resumé?

Whoops. Blank stares.

Mateo, 14, went one better in the uncommonly curious department: He loves Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. “Think you’ll be an anthropologist?” I asked. He nodded. I said, “Good idea. We have a shortage of those, what with ninety-nine percent of kids wanting to be rappers or movie stars.”

Isabella, 15, is smitten by the early 19th century England, through the novels of Jane Austen. My kind of girl.

Camilla, 14, is riveted by Nazi Germany. Once again my opinion machine kicked into high gear. I said, “And are you trying to figure out how evil could descend on an entire nation, not just the demented creeps at the top, but all the way down to the train station workers who watched the cattle cars of people rumble through, and everyone who serviced the concentration camps? They all lived in small towns. There was no one who didn’t know what was happening.”

Camilla blank-stared me, so I zipped it up, and turned to the last of the kids, Morgan, 15, who also harbors an abiding interest in the Civil Rights era, which I also learned belatedly I’d once again misheard as The Civil War. I had more to say about that but I pictured duct tape stretched over my mouth.

Our hour was up. We parted on good terms. We all loved history. I simply had a few more decades of it under my belt, and it had made of me a bit of a crackpot. As for these kids, fear not for the future. We’re in much better hands than we’ve ever been in our own.

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Oak Bluffs author Amy Reece and her family. — Photo courtesy Amy Reece

“Regarding Jeffrey” by Amy Reece, SleighFarm Publishing Group, December 2013. 206 pages. Available at Island bookstores and The Secret Garden in Oak Bluffs, and as an e-book.

At last it’s safe to tell stories about the 60s. A few scattered novels long ago appeared in the UN-safe zone, but mostly publishers (and filmmakers too) veered away from that era. It all seemed cheesy in the immediate aftermath – the leather fringe and the love beads, the long greasy hair and the peace signs – it was impossible to convey the wildness and the energy without it seeming hopelessly idiotic.

And then slowly, from around the 1990s onward, a 60s canon has arisen, with books such as “A Prayer For Owen Meany” and the “The Help,” and movies such as “Catch Me If You Can” and the recent “Inside Llewyn Davis”; these and scores of others have erased the stigma.

Two developments may account for this. The first and most significant is that a majority of America’s present population has lived through that heady time, and a new generation of kids – the babies of boomers – are curious about that bygone era that claimed their parents’ hearts and minds.

The second development is that writers and filmmakers have discovered it’s the human element woven through the murky tribal flashpoints that renders a story memorable and original and, most importantly, exciting.

And so it was for Oak Bluffs resident, Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School teacher and, in her private time, writer, Amy Reece, born in 1956. One morning not so long ago, as she and her teen daughter Lily drove to school, radio tuned to a classic rock station, Lily mused, “It must have been fun growing up in the 60s.” Ms. Reece began to ponder this, and soon enough she sat down to write a riveting coming-of-age tale for young adults, her first book.

“Regarding Jeffrey” begins in October of 1964 as first-grader Linda enters a new school in West Hartford, Connecticut, lost and alone, her teacher, Mrs. Anderson, “circling the playground, reading glasses slid down on her hawk-like beak of a nose as sharp gray eyes scanned the playing field for her six year-old prey.”

Ms. Reece knows how to stir the pot of empathy and alarm in equal measures. We’re folded gently and amusingly into Linda’s family of three brothers; a typically preoccupied, grey-flannel-suited father (think “Mad Men”); and a doting mother 1960s-style, dispenser of turkey sandwiches on whole grain bread, home-baked cookies, “I love you” notes stuffed in lunch boxes and, when the time comes, a trip to the department store for Linda’s first bra, a 34-A.

Linda’s mother also displays a growing, nascent feminist anger: “It was like a dam had broken and her words were the water that pushed their way to flood the landscape of our days.” This rage and resultant strength will tap memories for so many of us who lived through that militant learning curve.

At school we follow Linda through all the seasons from first grade to sixth grade graduation. The girl is occasionally and perhaps perilously drawn to the snotty popular crowd, but she’s mercifully endowed with a best friend, Annie, keeper of all her secrets (Ms. Reece in her acknowledgements thanks a lifelong bestie whose name she borrows for Linda herself).

And then there’s Jeffrey: “Jeffrey Butler never walked. He slunk. He tripped. He sprinted. Jeffrey Butler was never still. He drummed his pencil, danced his feet, and tipped his chair back until he crashed to the floor on an hourly basis.”

He’s grubby, rude, illiterate, a big tease. Linda hates him and yet, through the grammar school years of adversarial tension, and a glimpse into this boy’s tender heart, our heroine gradually and reluctantly becomes sweet on Jeffrey. Nothing beyond sweet. Have no fear. The story ends in the sixth grade, after all, and this is the Hartford of the 1960s, home to Mrs. Spenser’s Ballroom Dance School with its mandatory white gloves for all its students.

Ms. Reece adroitly spools in signs of the changing times with music references such as “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James and the Shondells, scattered sightings of odd pants called bell-bottoms, and a fateful letter for Linda’s older brother from the draft board.

This is a wonderfully rendered, God-is-in-the-details tapestry of a tempestuous epoch, highly recommended for kids aged 10 to 15, but also, surprisingly, hard to put down for this reviewer of advanced middle age (at one point, midway through “Regarding Jeffrey,” this same reviewer unexpectedly burst into tears, and the last time that happened was over the final pages of “Exodus” by Leon Uris, at 3 am in the autumn of 1963).

Several thousand roses later, Holly embraces the job. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

 Roses are red
Yours are yellow
You are loved
Very much by this fellow

Such was the poem my new boyfriend, Marty Nadler, enclosed with a pot of yellow roses which I placed on the deck of our funky apartment on what was known colloquially as Dog Beach in Malibu.

Marty and I had recently moved in together, and for our first Valentine’s Day he gave me those roses and the rhyme. You might have said he was a better comedy writer than a poet — at that time he was story editor on the hit TV show “Laverne & Shirley” — but I was enchanted by this attempt at a sonnet. If you put it up there with “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate,” it might come up short, but for the rest of our years together — 25 in all — we invoked this poem when we felt affectionate. Or needed a good laugh.

Relationships are built on memories. Inevitably there are two piles, one GOOD, one BAD, and whichever one outweighs the other is going to be the decider. Valentine’s Day presents all lovers with an opportunity to place another weight on the GOOD side of the scale.

Lots and lots of leaves to sweep.
Lots and lots of leaves to sweep.

With this idea that Valentine’s Day is more than a cheap bid for consumer dollars, I volunteered to help this past Monday at Morrice Florist in Vineyard Haven. Although I have no sweetie of my own, and find all my need for unconditional love met by my Boston terrier, I nonetheless threw myself into this heady occasion to see how things fared on the love front as signified by the purchase of flowers.

I was greeted by owner Kim O’Callahan. It was 10:30 in the morning, and she was already ambushed by lots and lots of red roses spread out on the long work table facing the eastern bank of windows. Boxes of flowers, newly delivered, were stacked up close behind her.

“This is our biggest time of the year!” she said. “It’s the whole reason to keep the heat on in the winter. We get orders coming in all this week, but most of the men come in on the 14th. They pack the store. Sometimes there’s a line out the door.”

I wondered how 99 percent of the men in the world could be Last Minute Guys? Maybe that explained why men rushed their countries into war? They sat around and stood around and played around and took meetings until in the 11th hour when they phoned their generals and said, “What the heck, let’s send in the troops and drop a whole buncha bombs!”

The rose among the thorns, indeed. Luckily, there's a tool for that.
The rose among the thorns, indeed. Luckily, there’s a tool for that.

But there was no time for further scrutiny because I was handed a few dozen roses and a clawed device for stripping down the leaves and thorns. Kim’s helper, Linda Carroll, took whole batches of flower stems and lopped off the ends in a single stroke with a pen knife. Then Kim, Linda, Laurie Meyst, and I ripped through bundles of tulips, baby’s breath, blue and white hydrangeas, lavender mums, and a ton of more red roses with a zeal that astonished me. I wondered if the indescribably sweet fragrance of flowers lifted one’s mood, and maybe even, while it was at it, healed boo boos and cured cancer.

I told the others about the roses Marty would give me all the time in our early days — until I heard how expensive they were, whereupon I said to him, “Could you just give me the cash?”

Moments like that put a weight on the BAD side of the love scale.

Out in the store, Sue Peters helped a man in his forties, tall, thin, with a black cap that read “ARMY” on it. I sidled out to meet this fellow who was ordering flowers on the early side. His girlfriend had said ix-nay on the flowers, but this smart man double-checked with his g.f.’s b.g.f. who said, “Of course get her flowers! And send them to her work place!”

Every woman wants others to see what a sweet guy she has, right?

Back in the work room, Kim related stories about her family. The business had originally belonged to her grandparents. One time grandpa was dispatched to Boston with a wad of money to buy roses. The blizzard of ’78 blew in, and grandpa filled the time by drinking. He returned to the Island with a new Camaro.

Some years later, Kim’s mom fell sick and underwent chemotherapy, but she still insisted on supervising the crew at the Valentine’s rush. When Kim showed up, her mother and her helpers, pranksters all, pretended to be engrossed in a game of cards around a folding table.

After I’d spent hours amid the scent of flowers, and with tumblers of blossoms we’d prepped now encircling the workplace, I was intoxicated. I wanted someone to buy me roses.

I dialed Marty in Florida. “Would you like to order some roses for the mother of your son?”

He said without missing a beat, “I called Morrice’s earlier. No matter how much I begged, they refused to deliver a bouquet of dead flowers.”

As millennials write in their texts, hahahahahahaha!

I could always send myself some roses, but…I’d rather have the cash.