Published: Jul 26, 2017
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Joseph Heller, who wrote “Catch-22,” said of his friend Mario Puzo, who wrote “The Godfather,” that “he never asked a favor, and he never refused a request.” I admire that. I don’t ask for favors… for myself. But I’m asking one now — for a theater.
Last year I stumbled onto a fantastic but little known story about the most beloved artist of the last century.
In 1942, Henri Matisse was 72 years old, living in Nice, France, and recovering from serious surgery. To care for him at night, he hired a 21-year-old nursing student, Monique Bourgeois. Their friendship was instant and powerful — until Matisse learned she was leaving to become a nun.
Five years later, Matisse had moved to Vence, a small village in the hills. So had Monique — but now she was Sister Jacques-Marie. Her convent prayed in a leaky garage. Would Matisse design a stained-glass window so they could raise money for improvements?
Matisse had a better idea. In an expression of his love and appreciation, he created the Chapel at Vence, which he called the masterpiece of his career.
This story had everything I like in a play. High-stakes emotional drama. Two great parts. A stunning ending. Was it already a play? Incredibly, it wasn’t. So… I wrote it.
The Vantage Theatre in San Diego will launch “The Color of Light” in January. They’re champions of new plays, original ideas and innovative staging — they’re not doing revivals to fill seats.
As a result, they could use some support. And I’m hoping some of you will step up.
All gifts, however small, are both welcome and tax-deductible. But in efforts like this, there should also be incentives and rewards. Okay, then, consider these:
— If you donate $100, you’ll be acknowledged in the program.
— If you donate $150 or more, you’ll be acknowledged in the program and get the DVD of “A Model for Matisse,” a terrific 97-minute documentary about Sister Jacques-Marie and her friendship with Matisse.
— If you donate $500, I’ll write a speech or letter or toast for you, or edit a story, or… something.
Gifts to Vantage couldn’t be simpler. Simply go to PayPal, and send your gift to me there at Jessekay@aol.com. And then — this is important — email your name and mailing address to me at HeadButlerNYC@AOL.com. The theater will send you a letter acknowledging your tax-deductible contribution. And, as appropriate, we’ll mail you the DVD.
It was an honor to write this play, and now to ask for your help in bringing this ambitious production to the world.
To read more about the play, click here.
For a tour of the Chapel….
Seven years ago, editors I did not know at a web site that had not yet launched asked me to do a piece about my generation. “The Boomers had great promise,” they said. “But they threw it away on sex and drugs.”
“I can’t speak for others,” I replied, “but sex and drugs are how I learned to be a man.”
“Okay,” they said. “Write that.”
Until then, I used made-up characters and celebrities in screenplays and journalism to explain how I felt. Now — for the first time ever — I was trapped into writing directly about my life. As growth experiences often are, it was humbling and painful. But it came with benefits: I was in a conversation. For a writer who works alone, in silence, that is huge.
Over the years, I’ve published often on the site. It’s been gratifying. And, over time, comfortable. Now comes a self-generated disruption: a plan for actual conversations. Certain to be uncomfortable for me. And humbling. But in a time when it’s easy to feel isolated and alone, definitely the right idea, and I support it at every level — including financially. Here’s how you can help.
Laura Harrington may have won the Kleban Award for most promising librettist in American Musical Theatre, but I know her only as a novelist. And I came to know her quite unwillingly. Would I read a novel about a girl in upstate New York whose father grows “the best corn and the best tomatoes in town?” No thanks. Her publicist persisted. A 14-year-old girl? A father in the National Guard whose unit is called up? Oh, and he goes to Iraq. I groaned. But the publicist really seemed to love “Alice Bliss.” And it was short. I let her send it.
There are books that manipulate you into tears, and then there are books that rip you apart, and you keep reading even though it hurts and your tears are raining — I mean that: raining — on the page. That was Alice Bliss for me. I’m not surprised that it won the Massachusetts Book Award in Fiction and will soon be staged as a musical.
In her just-published second novel, “A Catalog of Birds,” Harrington has taken on bio-chemical warfare and the poisoning of the innocent. She’s set her book in 1970, at the height of a war that damaged everyone it touched. Nell Flynn is a strong student, headed for college and a career in science. Her brother Billy is headed nowhere — he enlisted as a pilot, his helicopter is shot down in Vietnam, he’s the only survivor. He’d been a gifted artist, specializing in birds; now he can barely hold a pencil. The question that drives the book: Can Billy be healed? Can his life be saved?
As a writer, Laura Harrington’s instinct is to go directly to the broken places, the critical times, the glaring problems, the fraught relationships, and then to shine a light on them that is fresh and illuminating, and makes you glad you gave yourself over to her book. Because you’re not just reading a “family saga” here — you become a Flynn. Yes, it’s that good. To order the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the ebook, click here. To read an excerpt, click here.
A friend with an adorable child recommended Opal Campbell to us, and on Day One we knew we’d won the child care lottery. In 4 years, she helped our kid be a lot like her: loving, attentive, conscientious, fun. Now she’d like a job in NYC as a companion. Call her at 917-533-3487. If you want more praise, write me.
In 2015, Michael Kusek did something insane: As magazines were folding left and right, he launched Take, focusing on “New England’s New Culture” — food, art, film, theater, literature/poetry, dance, design and architecture. Take started online, then added a magazine so beautifully produced it honored the best coffee tables in New England. Rachel Maddow praised Take in the Washington Post. A media guru named Take one of the year’s hottest magazine launches. Circulation hit 5 digits. Then the money dried up, and Take retreated to the Web. In September, it returns to print as well. I’m with Rachel Maddow in my enthusiasm for this venture. If you live in New England or are traveling there, you’ll do well to visit Take.
Obligatory Blog Roll
- Country Living
- The Pitchfork
- Andrew Tobias
- Jenny McPhee
- The Midas Watch
- Roughly Daily
- Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Charles Pierce
- James Fallows
- Dominique Browning
- Speakers in Code
- New York
- Manhattan User’s Guide
- Show Biz
- Roger Friedman
- New York Social Diary