Monday, May 23, 2011


Norman Rockwell and Mark Twain are icons in the world of art and literature and their fascinating lives are being intertwined in an exciting new exhibit opening this week at Hartford’s Mark Twain House and Museum.  Running through September 6, the day after Labor Day, the show will include paintings, illustrations, prints and sketches that unite the artist and the writer in significant ways.

This unique exhibition will include rare viewings such as two original oil paintings by Rockwell from The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Missouri, sixteen limited edition prints of Rockwell illustrations of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” from the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and a set of limited edition lithographs of Rockwell’s pencil drawings commissioned by MassMutual Financial Group for a national advertising campaign.

A special section of the exhibit is entitled “Innocence at Home” and ties the artist’s visually comic views with the writer’s clever narratives, reflecting on childhood and the slightly mischievous way each man experienced daily life.  As pranksters who always saw the humor in a situation, both men exemplified the Peter Pan principle of never quite growing up.

In the exhibit, you’ll see such gems as “Girl with Black Eye,” a proud tomboy awaiting her punishment outside the principal’s office and “Boy Reading Sister’s Diary” where a freckle faced lad sits at his sister’s dressing table, gleefully being privy to her most secret thoughts.  Both men created fantasies of how they wanted life to be, what they felt childhood should be.  Their perceptions were formed by Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post magazine covers and by Mark Twain’s writings of growing up in America’s mid-west.

With humor and a playful sense of adventure, each man embraced pranks and tomfoolery as a respected way of life, whether it involved conniving friends to whitewash a fence and pay you for the privilege, swinging a dead cat to scare and make curses or fishing with a bamboo pole instead of going to school.  The two oil paintings on display are Tom Sawyer Sneaking out a Window (1935) and King and Duke on a Raft (1940) from Rockwell’s work immortalizing Twain’s two most beloved books.  Also available for viewing are First Day Issue Stamps from 1972, Tom Sawyer Whitewashing the Fence, and a selection of china plates.

Both men used pets and animals to “comment on human behavior” and Rockwell, who created over 4000 pictures, was called the Mark Twain of American illustration.  He liked to record “average people doing average things.” According to Patti Philippon, chief curator at the museum who was at the heart of creating the exhibit, “Both Rockwell and Twain gave an idealized picture of American childhood. There are many links in their tricks and methods of storytelling, producing pictures and words carefully calculated to evoke emotion.  And both were masters at marketing their own public images. Both men are woven into the fabric of American life.”

Admission to The Mark Twain House and Museum, 351 Farmington Avenue, Hartford is  $16 for adults, $14 for seniors and $10 for children.  The show can also be viewed by visitors for the $6 museum only fee.  For information, call 860-247-0998 or online at

Special events include Tom Sawyer Day on Saturday, June 11 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn pretend they are pirates.  This is a free family day filled with activities and performances.

Make a date to visit the “American Storytellers:  Norman Rockwell and Mark Twain” and be charmed by this rare collection of items that illuminate their life and times and joys of childhood.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


You know him as the inquisitive conservative brother Alex P. Keaton on "Family Ties," the dedicated Deputy Mayor of New York, Mike Flaherty, on "Spin City," the voice of the adventurous mouse in "Stuart Little," the hardy Marty McFly in the "Back to the Future" trilogy and, most recently, the probing attorney on “The Good Wife.”

On Friday night, May 13, Michael J. Fox earned a new title: the 2011 Mary and Louis Fusco Distinguished Lecture Series speaker at Southern Connecticut State University and he entered the sold-out Lyman Auditorium to a standing ovation greeting. His inspirational talk "Always Looking Up:  The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist," named for his second of three books, provided insights on his journey of self-discovery and reinvention, even though he disclaimed it as a lecture.

With an acting career that began at age 15 in his homeland of Canada, he credits the faith and support of his grandmother Nana who predicted he would be famous as well as the help of his dad, a military man, who drove him to Hollywood for his big chance.  He described his father as “the first person you want to call but the last one you want to speak to.”
Fox also paid homage to his high school drama teacher who advised him “we’re all here because we’re not all there.”  When he wanted to quit high school, another teacher confided to him “Fox, you’re not going to be cute forever,” recommending he stay in school.

His first big break came with a callback after an audition for “Family Ties,” a call which he took in his “office” at a nearby chicken restaurant, at a time when he couldn’t afford the fast food’s $1.99 special.  He confesses, “I was living in an apartment so small I had to wash my dirty dishes in the shower.”

Getting success that quickly, believe it or not, can be a problem.  “I lived ‘Entourage’…It’s like throwing Miracle Gro on all your defects.”  He met his future wife Tracy Pollan on “Family Ties.”  She played his girlfriend and their relationship started with an insult (he remarked about her garlic breath after a lunch at an Italian restaurant) and ended with love (they married in 1988 and have four children).

The day Fox woke up with a tremor in his pinky finger that wouldn’t stop was the day he realized “the script of my life was not written.”  He had learned while filming the movies “Back to the Future” the important life lesson “don’t play the result.  You don’t know what’s coming.  There are lots of possibilities.”  At age 29, neurologists confirmed that shaking finger was an indication of Parkinson’s disease.  One doctor tried to comfort him with the prediction “you have a good ten years of acting left.”

Again he told himself that in getting diagnosed he shouldn’t “play the results.”  After denial and the five stages of grief, he started to work compulsively, taking every project that was offered.  When he realized he really wanted to be with his family, he stopped the merry-go-round and elected to go public with his secret.  He describes himself as a “cranky jerk” on set and felt he had to “own up and tell the public.  I didn’t think I could play to the audience the results.”  Exhausted by keeping his Parkinson’s private, he did interviews with Barbara Walters and People Magazine around Thanksgiving 1998.

The announcement was “a much bigger story than I thought.  But then a wonderful thing happened.  The story stopped being about me and began being about Parkinson’s.”  This “awakening” led Fox to create the Michael J. Fox Foundation to “seed the clouds to find the cures for the disease.”

He describes his physical condition as a “human whirligig,” often being unable, even with medication, to control the shaking or stiffness in his limbs.  “Parkinson’s is a gift, the gift that keeps on taking.”  The disease is specific to each patient with no two the same, like a “snowflake.”  He encourages patients to have a good circle of advisers, including a movement disorder specialist and calls stem cell research “a road we can’t afford not to go down.”

Michael J. fox, who claims the J. stands for “genius and genuine,” advises “don’t let someone else define your situation.  Accept the truth of your own struggle. Until I accepted my loss, I couldn’t accept my gain.  Acknowledge it.  Then move on to the next right thing.”
Clearly Michael J. Fox has moved on to many right things, like being the official spokesman for Parkinson’s disease, creating a research foundation to fund cures and being an inspiration and hope for the more than 1.5 million Americans with this degenerative neurological disorder. What else would you expect from a man whose middle name stands for “genius and genuine.”


In 2006, a trio of young writers viewed the reality television show “The Contender,” about the world of competitive boxing, that set them on a path that will culminate on Thursday, May 12 when their original musical “Cutman” opens at Chester’s Norma Terris Theatre.

With book by Jared Michael Coseglia, story by Coseglia and Cory Grant and music and lyrics by Drew Brody, “Cutman” tells the story of Ari Hoffman, a young Jewish boxer from Queens, New York, who has been trained, virtually from birth, by his father in the basement of their synagogue.

When a prominent Jewish boxing promoter Moe Green discovers Ari, he promises to make him Welter-Weight Champion of the World.  The first thing he requires of the impressionable youth is to fire his dad Eli, the custodian at the synagogue, and let Moe Green totally manage his career.

In a touching scene, the son must convince the father to alter his personal dreams and become Ari’s cutman, and stand in his corner of the ring to treat his cuts and bruises.  Eventually Ari has to make even harder choices as he advances toward his goal, learning difficult lessons about love, faith, ambition and tradition along the way.

Jared Michael Coseglia describes the process of writing “Cutman,” which he also directs, as a “six year labor of love” that is both “fabulous” and “fantastic” as it nears its first major curtain.  He and his good friends couldn’t be prouder that their work is “new, original and totally conceived by them” rather than adapted from an existing work.

To add realism and honesty to their tale, Jared began boxing early on in the process.  Now the sport is a vital part of his daily life.  “Boxing has given me a zeal for life and empowered me.  It’s an eternal discipline.”  As for “Cutman,” he considered it “ my contribution to humanity.”  Working with Cory, who plays Ari Hoffman on stage, and Drew Brody, who composed rock, pop, hip-hop and rhythm and blues tunes, these former roommates and college friends wrote the script in one week, Christmas 2006.  Since then the team, who “think each other’s thoughts,” has been refining it through staged readings starting with the New York Musical Festival in 2007.  Their long road to a full production came with new agents and a commitment by Artistic Director Michael Price of Goodspeed Musicals to bring it to the Norma Terris, considered “the little Goodspeed.”

Coseglia describes Price as “fully committed to the future of great American theater” and the Goodspeed as a “great place to give us the time and resources to work on ‘Cutman’ and develop it, to make it more mature structurally and stylistically.  Goodspeed encourages that maturation.”

As for the message of the musical for the audience, Coseglia feels it is more about asking questions:  What are you willing to sacrifice, for love, for faith, for family?”  He hopes the message will “marinate in people’s minds and cause change.”  At the core, he “feels we all deal with faith every day.”

For tickets ($45.50), call the Goodspeed at 860-873-8668 or online at  Performances are at the Norma Terris, 33 North Main Street, Chester (exit 6 off route 9), Wednesday at      7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. until Sunday, June  5.

Come enter the ring as a trio of talented thirty-somethings lend their voices to a young Jewish boxer who is willing to risk everything to become the champion contender.

Monday, May 9, 2011


On Friday, May 6, a beautiful and solemn ceremony took place at our state capitol in Hartford with the Holocaust Remembrance Day celebration.  In speeches, songs, prayers and a candle lighting, tribute was given to ten local Holocaust survivors and to one woman, Julia Kiwak, designated a Righteous Among the Nations, whose family in Poland hid two Jewish boys for years on their farm, saving their lives at great personal risk to their own. Thanks to Taube Gurland who worked diligently to see that Julia was recognized for her family's mitzvahs, good deeds. In remembering the Holocaust, we hope to ensure it never happens again.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Heroes come in all sizes.  Meet a woman, Kaziah Hancock, who raises goats and spirits in Utah.  With a palette of paints and a dedicated heart, she creates portraits of our fallen military men and women, hundreds of them, which she presents as a gift to their families. The documentary "Kaziah the Goat Woman" tells her amazing story.

Go to to see her beautiful tributes to our soldiers.


Kudos to the thirty chefs from all across Connecticut who donated their talents and time to create culinary magic at the American Liver Foundation’s recent signature fundraising event “Flavors,”at the Aqua Turf in Southington.

The chefs provided everything from appetizers to dessert for a table of twelve, linens to centerpieces, with a festive five course gourmet dinner.  A silent and live auction accompanied the meal that raised money for vital liver research and educational programming.

How wonderful that so many gifted culinary masters, under the co-chairs Dr. and Mrs. Robert Leventhal, were so generous in their support.  Chef hats off to these masterful men and women.  Over $200,000 was raised, with the supreme efforts of chapter coordinator JoAnn Thompson and her dedicated staff.

To volunteer or for more information about liver disease, (100 in number, most of which have no known cause or cure), call the chapter office, 127 Washington Avenue, North Haven, CT 06473 at 203-234-2022.


Imagine a nine year old prodigy, a classical violinist, who creates a charity Children Helping Children.  Meet Jourdan Orbach, now a sophomore at Yale, whose foundation has raised almost $5,000,000 to date for ill children through his music, Concerts for a Cure, for music therapy and neurological projects.

In 2010 Jourdan won the World of Children Award, called the "Nobel Prize for Global Child Advocacy."

He began playing at age three and composes his own music.  What a wonderful way to make beautiful music! Jourdan, play on!


Mary Jane Clark has discovered that plotting murders has been very good for her health.  She also claims that mystery and suspense writers are a bit like actual killers.  When she spoke recently at Fairfield Library, she disclosed how a Martha Stewart book on wedding cakes and her own love of baking desserts led her to write her newest series of mystery thrillers she calls the Wedding Cake Mysteries.  In "To Have and To Kill," her heroine Piper Donovan decorates wedding cakes and uncovers a corpse on the way to the reception and the happy ending.

Calling her efforts "Nancy Drew books for adults," pick up one of her thirteen novels to date for an excellent, fun and slightly scary read.


Imagine taking inspiration from a favorite book and making or baking an edible version!  That's the idea behind Edible Books, an event that takes place all over the world.  If you missed the recent delicious and edifying version at Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven, you might try to catch the one at the Orange Library on Saturday morning, Saturday May 7, for a tasty experience.  Happy reading, happy eating!


For one weekend every spring, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts invites dozens of local garden clubs to create a floral arrangement inspired by a painting in the gallery.  "Art in Bloom" combines both forms of expression, in paint and in flowers, in delightful compositions.  An added bonus this year is an exhibition in glass by the master glass blower Dale Chihuly that features giant swirling chandeliers, gardens, vases of blooms, a ceiling of shells and starfish and a boat of glass fantasies that resemble a large banana split or bowl of fruit salad, you decide.  The Chihuly exhibit will be open until August 7, 2011.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


The characters who people playwright Christopher Durang’s world are all in need of serious therapy, perhaps the psychiatrists most of all.  His unique brand of humor is sweetly crazy and crazily sweet, with an emphasis on the unbalanced and out-of-kilter variety.  To know that he is actually a proponent of the therapy process, that he is an active participant and has been for decades, may help to understand the humor he brings to the subject.

Whatever side of the question you stand on, you can’t help but laugh at the delightfully funny problems Durang creates in his comedy “Beyond Therapy,” enjoying a wonderful airing at Westport Country Playhouse until Saturday, May 14., twitter and Facebook weren’t always the rage.  Long ago people relied on blind dates and going to bars to meet a significant other.  For Bruce (Jeremy Peter Johnson) and Prudence (Nicole Lowrance), their social networking vehicle of choice is the personal ad.  He wrote it, she answered it and a restaurant is their arranged place to meet.

From the first moment, it is clear that they are an inappropriate and mismatched couple.  She is shy and awkward, he is too personal.  She wants a strong man, he likes to cry.  Her instinct is to run away, his is to propose marriage.  She is often disappointed with men, he has a male lover.  Not a match made in heaven you might agree.

After a disastrous first and only meeting, the two run for comfort and consoling to their therapists.  Prudence’s Stuart (Trent Dawson) is an outwardly macho, inwardly insecure master manipulator who has rather personal and intimate plans for his patient.   Bruce’s Charlotte (Kathleen McNenny) applauds every step he takes and cheers him on, but she is never quite sure which patient she is treating for which problem.  Perhaps she should confine herself to taking care of her stuffed dog Snoopy and let it go at that.

To this weird menu of characters, add Bruce’s lover Bob (Stephen Wallem), Bob’s mother Sadie who calls and sings on the telephone, and the restaurant’s invisible waiter Andrew (Nick Gehlfuss) who finally delivers food and alternative dishes.  David Kennedy directs this involving play on the humor of psychological suffering on a clever revolving set designed by Lee Savage.

For tickets ($40-60), call the Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport at 203-227-4177 or online at  Performances are Tuesday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m.

Come discover if a woman who is afraid of vanilla ice cream can find happiness with a man who personally promotes the stock of the Kleenex Paper Company?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Hunter Nesbitt Spence has been participating in the Leonardo challenge at the Eli Whitney Museum in Hamden for sixteen of its seventeen years of existence.  Every year the material selected for the artists to work from changes, from ice cream spoons to playing cards to keys to tape measures.  Hunter takes it all in stride, because he makes the same entry every time: a flower arrangement.

From the first time he designed clothes pins into lilies, he has been hooked on the creativity.  Hunter, who grew up on a farm in Virginia, still speaks with a Southern drawl as he talks about his career at the Yale School of Drama where he taught masks and theater props for decades.

His entry this year, floral of course, is named Mirabella and features glass flowers fashioned from mirrors.  This versatile man from Hamden also has a permanent job running trains at the museum from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve.

The Leonardo Challenge, a fundraiser to collect scholarship money for children to attend the museum’s summer and year round programming, is named for the grand inventor and artist Leonardo da Vinci.  Each year one hundred artists from all walks of life, from all across the country, are invited to use their imaginations to create an entry.  All contributions are displayed and put to bid at a silent auction and gala dinner that was held on April 28.

Sally Hill, the museum’s Associate Director, was inspired to create a lamp, as she does every year, utilizing a Man of La Mancha theme.  Titled “Knight Light,” her lamp features Don Quixote on a silvery horse with a shade on his head.  She also created a chess set she dubbed “Through the Looking Glass.”

Amy Peters, an art teacher, loves color and different textures and enjoys combining them.  Utilizing her hobby of wood burning, she creates a mirror each year in a frame surrounded by funny sayings.  Her entry is called “Mirror Inspiration.”  Karen Klugman used a make-up mirror to fashion her “Tipsy Barbie” while Tim Nighswander took images and reflected verse for his “Shattered Mirror.”

On the sweet side, because she loves baking desserts, Eli Whitney Museum Manager Karen Lenahan presented “Alice’s Looking Glass Cakes,” inspired by Alice in Wonderland.  Artistically distinctive were Jean Cagianello’s “Dominoes and Dice,” eye glasses and glass dominoes that an Elton John might favor.  The artist Salvatore Dali influenced Jayne Crowley’s distorted face in glass while Linda Lindroth and Craig Newick went polka dot happy making a black with silver dotted ottoman they named “The Dottoman.”

New Haven’s David Moulton, an air conditioning contractor, let his imagination go wild creating “Infinity,” a unique wooden square ceiling hanging lined inside with mirrors.  Having entered every year since the year of the beaded chains, he knew instantly what he wanted to create and build in one weekend.  It took longer for the glass to be ordered than it did to construct it.

The award for the most entries easily goes to husband and wife Keith Murray and Delari Johnston of Stamford.  He is an accountant and she is a former costume designer for the theater who now manages a spice shop.  The pair agonized for months over what to create and then crammed their entries into the last six weeks, when Keith is busiest doing tax returns.

Using their dining room table as their studio, they bought wooden mannequins from an art supply store and dressed them in hand- sewn costumes as Alice, Chinese kings and bishops, cleverly calling them “Peking Through the Looking Glass.” Keith’s handmade frames also used Swedish and French toast to make bread and butterflies.

The full array of entries will be on display until Sunday, May 22.  The museum is closed Monday and Tuesday, and open Sunday and Wednesday to Friday from noon – 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.  The museum is located at 915 Whitney Avenue on the New Haven/Hamden border.

Come see how wood, egg shells, leather, sea shells, feathers, tree bark, marbles, paint, prisms, embroidery and, of course, mirrors translate into objets d’art worthy of a Leonardo da Vinci.