Theatre-Inspired Dance Show this Saturday, August 23

Nantucket Ballroom | Nantucket | MAAfter the success of Nantucket Ballroom’s 2013 show, Don Juan Around the World, Nantucket Ballroom owner Mr. Andrey Stanev presents the never-before-seen, theatre-inspired dance show, Mystery on the Orient Express.

Master Detective Hercule Poirot seems to have a knack for attracting tantalizing mysteries, no matter where he goes. Aboard a luxury train from London to Istanbul, he makes the acquaintance of Mr. Ratchett, a well-known millionaire with a fishy background. When Mr. Ratchett is murdered aboard the train, Poirot is called to action to investigate the diabolical turn of events. Is it merely a coincidence that most of Ratchett’s ex-lovers are also passengers?

Nantucket Ballroom | Nantucket | MAJoin Nantucket Ballroom for an evening of mystery and a journey of love and jealousy. The story will feature dynamic music, world class dancing, exotic costumes, dazzling special effects, and of course, alluring women, each with her own motivation to kill.

The Mystery Express is departing on Saturday, August 23 at 7 p.m. at the Dreamland Main Stage. After the show, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres will be served in the Dreamland’s exquisite Harborview Room. Tickets are available at nantucketdreamland.org. This is a ride you don’t want to miss…All Aboard!

A Feel-Good Family Comedy

At the heart of any great play is quality storytelling, and Tom Dudzick’s Miracle on South Division Street delivers. In choosing to show this play alongside A. R. Gurney’s Family Furniture, White Heron Theatre Company juxtaposes the lower-middle class normalcy of Dudzick with the well-heeled waspishness of Gurney.

White Heron Theatre Company | Nantucket | MA

We begin Miracle in a kitchen that may have once been fashionable, but hasn’t been updated in decades. The yellowed wallpaper is speckled with brass fish-shaped wall hangings, among other tchotchkes indicative of a lifetime of bargain shopping. There is not enough cabinet space to house the teakettle, which consequently remains on the stove. The blender’s home is atop a fridge stocked with Pabst Blue Ribbon, beer of the modern undergraduate. Set designers Michael Kopko and Lynne Bolton have avoided Architectural Digest perfection and planted us in a real American kitchen. The characters are as ordinary as the set; it’s their story that is unusual.

The Nowak family experienced a miracle. Well, the late Grandpa Nowak did, back in 1942. After the Virgin Mary appeared to the Polish immigrant in his barbershop, Grandpa Nowak erected a backyard shrine in the Blessed Virgin’s likeness, and Catholics from near and far have been frequenting the statue ever since. Grandpa Nowak’s daughter Clara, now in her 70s, has attached herself like a barnacle to her father’s tale, and takes great care to maintain the holy ground. Her three adult children have joined her in this endeavor and, like tour guides, have memorized an illustrative speech for the statue’s visitors. Matriarch Clara, in her ratty pink slippers and floral apron, rules a roost that consists of her son Jimmy and daughters Ruth and Beverly. Each of the four Nowaks has their own reason for giving credence to the shrine. When a tremendous family secret is unearthed, the Nowaks must rethink not only their belief in a backyard miracle, but their entire worldview.

Peggy Cosgrave is the actor who originated the role of Clara at the Penguin Theater in Stony Point, NY in 2012 and has reprised it several times since. Cosgrave, who is no stranger to Broadway, is so thoroughly immersed in her role that it seems even she believes she is Clara Nowak. Clara’s Catholicism permeates every aspect of her life, to a fault (which specifically, is anti-Semitism). To Clara, the shrine is not only a way to honor her god, but also to maintain her father’s legacy. Playwright Tom Dudzick praises Cosgrave’s rendering of his Polish-American matriarch: “Oh, it’s right on the money,” he says. “I grew up with these types of women. They didn’t come from the old country but seemed as if they still had one foot in it. Peggy just portrayed that beautifully.”

White Heron Theatre Company | Nantucket | MA

Sassy bleach-blond Beverly (LeeAnne Hutchinson) bounces onstage in big hoop earrings and bright red sweatpants that are as loud as their wearer. Despite her outward inclination for exoticism, Beverly literally slams a door in the face of change. She makes an honest living in a condiment bottling plant, and refuses to extend her dating pool beyond the fold of the Catholic faith. Beverly seems to believe that as long as the shrine is intact, she herself remains righteous. Hutchinson is as convincing as Beverly as she is the WASPy Claire in WHTC’s production of Family Furniture.

Grubby hand towel in his back pocket and scuffed work boots on his feet, Jimmy Nowak (Conan McCarty) has a dirty job and makes no apologies for it. A garbage man by day, he’s also proud to put his handyman skills to work when his mom’s household items break. Jimmy is a simple guy who thrives when he knows his place in the world, and the shrine serves as a meaningful post. McCarty’s heavily dramatic expressions and booming voice lend themselves to Jimmy’s teasing sarcasm.

Though all the characters undergo changes by the end of the play, it is aspiring actor Ruth (Brandy Zarle) who experiences the most dynamic arc. In the beginning of the play, she is uptight as she calls a family meeting. Yes, she has some upsetting news but it seems she is just plain uncomfortable around her mother. But by the end of the show, Ruth has opened herself up to her family in a way she didn’t expect she could. Zarle is an actor playing an actor, which is surely harder than she makes it look. Her enunciation and graceful, elongated movements enhance her character’s place as the refined one, the ambitious one. For Ruth, even if she is no longer a mass-going Catholic, the shrine means hope for a brighter future.

The cast members are all very much telling the same story, thanks to cohesive direction by Lynne Bolton. There is a large amount of movement by the actors, but the director had her ducks in a row and swimming to all the right spots onstage. Bolton’s blocking was very intentional but still felt real. I have seen a handful of Bolton’s plays over the years, and Miracle showcases her best directing work yet.

Of course, no cast or director can pull off a great show without a great script. Playwright Tom Dudzick says, “The shrine in this story is based on an actual statue that is in my old Buffalo neighborhood. It’s 20 feet tall, right next to what was once a barbershop. Legend had it that the Blessed Mother herself appeared to this barber. When we kids were growing up there, it didn’t strike us as odd that the Blessed Mother was in a mid-calf dress with hair flowing down to her shoulders. So I just made up a story to go along with the statue.”

Tom Dudzick | Nantucket | MA

The intention behind each of Dudzick’s plays is largely the same: “I just want to tell a funny story,” the playwright says. With its single room set and rising mountain of one-liners, Miracle is stylistically evocative of the situational comedy. But unlike a 20-minute sitcom, Miracle is not a show that can be watched sporadically as you cook dinner; it is linear and thematically rich. It is also denser than it may seem on the surface; lines in the first half are for character establishment, and few of them could be omitted from Miracle without stealing a slice from the story. In just over one hour, Miracle tells a beginning-to-end tale that beckons us to ponder how we handle major shifts in our beliefs, and why we sometimes hang so tightly onto what we are fed as truth. It makes you want to latch onto what matters and release that which does not. In this world, who doesn’t need a warm serving of feel-good every now and again?

Miracle on South Division Street plays until August 30 under the tent at 5 North Water Street. It runs 75 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $42.50 at www.whiteherontheatre.org. See website for show dates.

Sarah Teach

TONIGHT’s show of The Moth is SOLD OUT

From the days of cave paintings through the Middle Ages and on to era of iPhone ubiquity, storytelling has remained a central part of human culture, even as our methods have changed. At the forefront of modern methods is The Moth, a New York-based organization dedicated to the art of storytelling. They produce a blend of onstage storytelling performances and those aided by technology such as radio shows and podcasts. On Monday, August 18, Theatre Workshop of Nantucket brings The Moth’s live show to the island.

“Audiences are drawn to the stories, like moths to a flame,” writes The Moth’s founder George Dawes Green, a poet and best-selling novelist. According to TheMoth.org, “[Green] wanted to recreate, in New York, the feeling of sultry summer evenings in his native Georgia, where he and his friends would gather on his friend Wanda’s porch to share spellbinding tales. There was a hole in the screen, which let in moths that were attracted to the light, and the group started calling themselves The Moths. The first New York Moth event was held in [Green’s] living room, but word spread fast, and the events soon moved to cafes and clubs throughout the city.”

Today, 17 years after The Moth’s launch, its storytellers cover a variety of ground, from the difficulties of being a young Mormon in NYC, to discovering the art of pickpocketing in New Orleans, to surviving a brutal, random act of gang violence. From TheMoth.org: “The Moth celebrates both the raconteur, who breathes fire into true tales of ordinary life, and the storytelling novice, who has lived through something extraordinary and yearns to share it. At the center of each performance is, of course, the story, and The Moth’s directors work with each storyteller to find, shape and present it. Moth shows are renowned for the great range of human experience they showcase. Each show starts with a theme, and the storytellers explore it, often in unexpected ways. Since each story is true and every voice authentic, the shows dance between documentary and theater, creating a unique, intimate, and often enlightening experience for the audience. Moth stories dissolve socio-economic barriers, expose vulnerabilities, and quietly suggest ways to overcome challenges and see with new eyes.”

Hosting The Moth on Nantucket will be Rachel Dratch, who was a cast member on Saturday Night Live for seven seasons. Before that, she was on the Mainstage at Second City in Chicago for four years. She currently performs in Celebrity Autobiography at the Triad Theater. One of the evening’s storytellers is Taylor Negron, an accomplished standup comedian who starred in his own HBO special. He performs regularly across the United States and is one of the founding members of The UnCabaret, dubbed “the Mother show of Alternative Comedy” by the Wall Street Journal. Negron also works as a director, and created the award-winning PSA What Kind Of Planet Are We On?, selected as 2010′s Most Innovative Non-Profit YouTube video. He has appeared on a number of TV shows as well as in films such as Stuart Little, The Last Boy Scout, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Aristocrats and Punchline, alongside Sally Field and Tom Hanks.   Another one of the evening’s storytellers is Bethany Van Delft, a founding member/producer of “Colorstruck: Women of Color in Comedy,” New England’s first and only women of color comedy showcase. She has been featured in the Boston Comedy Festival, New York Underground Comedy Festival, and The Greater Boston Alternative Comedy Festival and is a core member of the touring show “5 Funny Females.” She was a finalist in the inaugural Comedy Leagues at The 2010 Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal and can currently be seen on Comedy Central Mobile’s “Funaticos.”

Nantucket Bookstores Preserve Isle Magic

Mitchell’s Book Corner, with its classic structure, heralds your arrival on Main. Across town, Nantucket Bookworks’ homey front lures you in like a warm cup of cocoa. Mainstays of island life since 1968 and 1972, the two stores continue to differentiate themselves from each other, and from other bookstores more generally, thanks to their passionate team led by Wendy Hudson.

Nantucket Bookworks

Nantucket Bookworks | Nantucket | MAHudson has been a dominant figure in the island book scene since 1995, when she first began working at Nantucket Bookworks, which was then run by its founder Patty Claflin. “When I came to Nantucket,” recounts Hudson, “I worked at Bartlett’s Farm on the farm truck, and I spent all my time hanging out in Bookworks and I just loved it. I mentioned to the owner that I’d love to work there if they ever needed anybody. A couple years later that worked out.” 1995 turned out to be the year that a lot of things worked out for Hudson: she married husband Randy and the couple founded Cisco Brewers, another island favorite. “I was a philosophy major,” jokes Hudson, “so I always say: books and beer—the good life.”

After five years of working under Claflin, Hudson became the proprietor of Bookworks. Suzanne Bennett, who worked with Claflin in the 80s and continues to serve as Bookworks Manager, says, “Patty and [her husband] Prenny, had been looking for a buyer and they wanted to make sure they handed it over to the right person. I think when Wendy came along they were like, ‘We’ve got the right person.’”

During the next decade and a half, Wendy and her co-workers have cultivated Bookworks into a store known not only for its book selection and whimsical accessories, but also its devotion. “Bookworks,” says Gennifer Costanzo, “has always been the one that stays open until 10 o’clock. In the winter when lights are out, at least you know the lights are going be on at Bookworks.”

Mitchell’s Book Corner

Mitchell's Book Corner | Nantucket | MAOn the other side of town, a few years after Hudson took over Bookworks, Mitchell’s Book Corner went through a similar adjustment. Since the late 1970s, when founders Henry “Mitch” Mitchell Havemeyer and Mary Allen Sargent Havemeyer passed away, their daughter Mimi Beman had run the store. Beman, who passed in 2010, sold Mitchell’s and its property to ReMain Nantucket in 2008, after three decades of operating this town favorite. “She was an exemplary, outstanding human,” Bennett says about Beman. “She was an incredibly brilliant woman and an amazing reader. She was the kind of person that you could walk into the store and she’d put a book in your hand and you would love it. She knew her customers really well.   Wendy, also, is very good at that.”

So good that Hudson now successfully lends her prowess to both Bookworks and Mitchell’s, where she has worked as Head Reader since 2012 after partnering with ReMain. Hudson and staff members, though, are quick to assure customers that the stores are to retain and grow their distinct identities. Hudson describes the two: “At Mitchell’s I’d say we have more of the Nantucket/regional history emphasis that we’re building every year. And maybe more on the adult, literary content. Then with Bookworks we do more and more business with the kids, which we absolutely love.”

Bennett sees the differentiation of the stores as a guiding focus. “For Wendy, it’s been really important for Mitchell’s to keep its personality and for Bookworks to keep its personality.” Bennett expands on Hudson’s desire to foster the two store identities: “I think it serves the community better and makes these two bookstores as independent bookstores able to survive [by] keeping things different, so Bookworks definitely does have a more eclectic mix of interesting sidelines. Whereas I think Mitchells might have globes and leather-handled magnifying glasses, very beautiful things, we’ll stay doll chandelier and sarongs, all that kind of fun stuff.”

Nantucket Bookworks | Nantucket | MA

One way in which Hudson plans to continue to develop the two stores is through events and marketing. Now working as Events Coordinator is Gennifer Costanzo, who returned to the island two months ago. Costanzo first began working with Hudson for the inaugural Book Festival in 2012. In its three years, the Festival has rapidly grown to become a hallmark event that attracts authors with commercial and literary credentials. Hudson credits the success of the Festival partially to the partnership with ReMain. “It’s created the opportunity to do the Book Festival and hopefully do more outreach,” she says. To capitalize on the Festival, the bookstores enlisted Tim Ehrenberg and his company Brand New – Nantucket. The marketing consulting firm continues to lend branding and social media support to the stores, for whom the Festival is only the beginning of event development.

“The Book Festival was very successful,” says Costanzo. “It really created a buzz on books. So my primarily role this summer is to continue the buzz on books.” Costanzo already has her hands full developing new programs and bolstering the more classic events like book signings. Recent additions to the stores’ calendars are a memoir-writing group at Mitchell’s and a story time/face painting events at Bookworks.

Costanzo hopes to add story time in Spanish, as well as Teen Talks and a health-oriented series. She envisions Teen Talks as a place for teens to share their off-island adventures. “We live here as a community,” she says, “but it’s wonderful if you can share those stories of what you did when you weren’t here.”

For the health project, Costanzo plans to involve the island community heavily. “I want to look at how we define health as a community. How are we looking at our mental health, spiritual health, emotional health, physical health? With that said, we will take one month and look at one component of health, and offer different lectures and a chance for people to come in and talk about what they’re doing on the island. And with all of that, of course, we would be offering books that would help people.”

Most of these events are intended for the Nantucket Room, the second floor of Mitchell’s so-named for its locally focused selection. “It’s a community based room that can be utilized for a lot of different events and it doesn’t necessarily just have to be about a book, even though we’re a bookstore,” says Costanzo. “It’s about learning. When you read a book you learn. So it’s about doing events where people can come and learn.”

“For this small of a community, we are very fortunate that we have two bookstores,” says Costanzo. “The fact that [Hudson] keeps both bookstores open year round—that to me is a tremendous service to the community.” This idea of service is important to Hudson. “I hope to figure out what does the community want,” says Hudson. Costanzo says the same. “I’ve been trying to get a pulse on what are some of the real needs that would be beneficial for the bookstores to represent that we could offer,” she says.

Mitchell's Book Corner | Nantucket | MA

Customer relations are always on the mind at these two bookstores. “We know our customers by name. That’s important to me,” says Bennett. “I don’t care if they’re five years old, 85 years old—if they tell me something’s cool, I find it and get into the store.” Bennett recounts examples of exemplary customer service: ordering Rainbow Looms after five kids asked for them; finding the item a customer wanted and, knowing they were leaving island that night, meeting them at the movie theatre to deliver it. Bennett says on Bookworks, “It’s a community center. It’s some place to go and a place that parents feel really comfortable having their kids come.” At both stores, the staff goes above and beyond to help customers discover their next great read. And if it’s not on the shelves, the stores will order it for you.

“I think it’s old-school,” Bennett says about the stores. “The way it should be.” It’s this authentic dedication to preserving a slice of a fading world that makes the stores such admirable enterprises. Hudson explains, “A place like Nantucket—people come here because we’re holding that preservation: the architecture, the environment, the quality of life, the connection to family, the connection to community. And a physical book is an extension of that return to tradition and what’s important.”

Hudson and her co-workers, though, are obviously more than aware of the dramatic impact technology has had on the book industry. “Of course an e-book has such merit—if you are traveling, if something’s out of stock and you need to have something. I get it,” says Hudson. In fact, the stores do offer e-books through Zola Books, a company that allows you to support your independent store of choice with your purchase.

But Hudson is in the business of selling real books and that is not going to change anytime soon. “My staff just firmly believes that it’s an inferior reading experience. We are all such big believers in paper books,” she says. “I really do think you focus differently and learn differently [with paper],” Hudson explains. “I know the books I’ve read in e-format, I breeze through and I don’t retain the same level.”

“We don’t do it for money, we do it for love,” she adds. That being said, love can only take you so far. “Its very important for people to realize, especially when you come in a store and you see a book and talk to a bookseller, it is just so urgent that that sale stay with the person that recommends it, and that institution.”   Hudson is referring to the tendency for people to browse stores and buy on Amazon—an understandable tactic, she concedes, but one that is particularly damaging given the hardships publishers face working, or not working, with Amazon. On Mitchell’s front counter are stickers reading: ‘I didn’t buy it on Amazon.’

For the moment, though, the stores are bustling and Hudson says future plans are to continue in the same vein. “Look at me,” she laughs, “I’m selling books like mad here! That’s what’s so great about summer.” Hudson, however, will be making a few changes more permanent than the robust event line-up Costanzo is working on: the beloved Bookworks building is due for an update. “I do have to renovate that building,” says Hudson, “so I’m in the process of trying to get as much feedback from the community as possible. It’s an opportunity to tweak the model with probably more space for the non-book stuff that people love. Every year that gets to be a little bit bigger,” says Hudson. “As the price of books rise, we want everyone to have a reason to come in and get different things.”

Bennett, like many customers, voices the concern that Hudson is absolutely conscious of. “I hope we don’t lose that magic,” says Bennett. “I can’t tell you how many times a day I hear, ‘There’s nothing like this at home.’” Stocked with everything from The Paris Review to party confetti, Bookworks’ small space exudes a personal warmth that invites lingering. “We want kids back there lying on the carpet,” says Bennett, “with a pile of books around them, picking out what they want, as well as a cozy spot for anybody to sit with a pile of books and make a decision on which ones they want.”

Bennett prides herself on helping to create this welcoming environment of wonder. “The best compliment I think we’ve ever had,” she recounts, “is from a little kid. I remember them walking in and I heard them say to their parents, ‘Oh my gosh, this is like walking into fairyland!’” This fervor for the magic of the bookstore extends across town to Mitchell’s. As Costanzo sums up: “Great things happen in a bookstore.”

-by Julianne Adams

Editor’s Note: You will find staff book picks for August on the Bookworks Blog at www.independentandouttosea.com.