Category Archives: Westport Country Playhouse

Mike Goss Covers Westport

You can’t judge a book by its cover. But you can sure judge Westport by its New Yorker covers. Also by the 20 photos of the exact spots depicted on those covers, taken lovingly by Mike Goss and exhibited now, side by side, at the Westport Historical Society.

The photographic reproductions are astonishingly well done. They’re taken in the same season the covers were painted or sketched, at the same time of day and in the same light. The moods of each image and painting match. Taken together, they show Westport — then and now — in all its gorgeous, small town, maritime, bustling, artsy glory.

What is particularly remarkable is that Goss came late to the craft of photography. And the exhibit itself was designed long after “The New Yorker in Westport” — the wonderful book by Eve Potts and Andrew Bentley — was in proofs. It shows 50 full-size covers of Westport scenes, by artists like Charles Addams, Perry Barlow, Whitney Darrow, Jr., Albert Hubbell, Garrett Price and Charles Saxon.

Mike Goss, on the other side of the camera.

Mike Goss, on the other side of the camera. (Photo/Helen Klisser During)

Goss spent his professional career as a financial executive. After retiring in 2013, he took a few classes in one of his hobbies: photography.

Bentley — who had already written his “New Yorker” book — asked his friend Goss to take a few promotional photos.

Bentley liked what he saw. Goss took more. He showed nearly 2 dozen to the Westport Historical Society, and the Westport Arts Center’s Helen Klisser During. An exhibit was born.

Taking those photos was far harder than point-and-shoot. Each cover showed a different season. Goss created a spreadsheet, so he could take each image at the right moment. He tried to mimic the covers as much as possible, including light, color, even blurred lines.

His first photo, of Round Pond in the snow, was shot last February. Others had to wait for summer. “I drove by the beach for weeks, waiting for a lifeguard chair to appear,” Goss recalls, of another memorable cover.

Round Pond -- then and now. (Photo/Copyright Mike Goss)

Round Pond — then and now. (Photo/Copyright Mike Goss)

There were other challenges too.

“Artists can take licenses with their paintings,” he notes. “They can move buildings around, and eliminate overhead wires.”

A photographer can’t do that. As a result, he says, “some photos are not as bucolic as the covers.”

Some of the artwork was “cartoon-y,” Goss adds. A 1955 magazine cover showing construction of the Connecticut Turnpike showed a beautiful tree-lined street on one side, with steam shovels digging in a straight line on the other.

He spent hours trying to find attractive lines, before ending up one night on an I-95 overpass. That photo did not make it into the main exhibit. It’s shown instead in a side exhibit, “The Cutting Room Floor,” alongside other images that did not quite work.

The Bridge Street Bridge was a favorite spot in 19xx. It remains an icon today. (Photo/Copyright Mike Goss)

The Bridge Street Bridge was a favorite spot in 1954. It remains an icon today. (Photo/Copyright Mike Goss)

Others work fantastically. Goss loves his Round Pond shot, tinted blue and with the sun shining through trees. He’s also very proud of the deli counter at Oscar’s. Those 2 could stand on their own, he says.

Others would not. A dark picture of the train station is “ugly” — just like the original cover. Yet “complementing each other, they’re very interesting.”

The entire process taught Goss the value of a collection. “If we just did one cover, it might not have been interesting. But when you put them all together, you get a real sense of what Westport is all about.”

There’s a certain sense of history — but also timelessness — at the Historical Society exhibit. The bunting in Goss’ photo of the Westport Country Playhouse balcony matches Helen Hokinson’s 1936 painting almost exactly. The rafters and balustrade are almost identical too.

The Westport Country Playhouse -- yesterday and today. (Photo/Copyright Mike Goss)

The Westport Country Playhouse — yesterday and today. (Photo/Copyright Mike Goss)

Another strong image is of the railroad tracks in Saugatuck. A 1963 cover captures the beauty, in a strong black and blue painting. Goss does the same.

Just as there is whimsy in New Yorker covers, some photos elicit smiles. Next to 1961 artwork of children reading comics on a green Sunday morning, Goss captured his own kids in the same sort of setting — reading iPads.

Goss spent 6 months on this project, and took thousands of photos. You can see them at the Westport Historical Society through October 26 (weekdays 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturdays 12-4 p.m.).

They’ll also live forever on his website:

(Interested in the “New Yorker in Westport” book? Thanks to the generosity of Andy and Fiona Bentley and the Potts Book Fund, every cent of the $40 cover price goes directly to the Historical Society. Click here to order.)

The cover of Eve Potts and Andrew Bentley's book.

The cover of Eve Potts and Andrew Bentley’s book.

Annie Keefe, Arthur Miller And Marilyn

Westport Country Playhouse associate artist Annie Keefe has had a legendary life in theater.

Before coming here, she spent more than 20 years at Long Wharf. In 1994 she worked on the world premiere of “Broken Glass” — a riveting story of Kristallnacht and Jewish identity. Playwright Arthur Miller was there for most rehearsals.

Annie Keefe and Arthur Miller. (Photo/T. Charles Erickson)

Annie Keefe and Arthur Miller. (Photo/T. Charles Erickson)

Keefe recalls:

The material was fascinating, dense and complex, and we were the first people to explore it. It was thrilling to watch the actors, along with Arthur, tease out the plot and build the characters. It was a complicated and difficult birthing process.  Director John Tillinger and Arthur were longtime friends, and there were post-rehearsal conversations I wish I had had the sense to focus on. But there were production notes to be sent and schedules to be made and things in the rehearsal hall to reset for the next day.

On Wednesday (October 6), the curtain goes up on the Playhouse production of “Broken Glass.” Keefe looks forward to artistic director Mark Lamos’ interpretation.

She’s also thinking about Arthur Miller. The legendary playwright’s connections with the Playhouse — and this area — are strong.

This will be the 6th Miller production at the Playhouse. “Death of a Salesman” was 1st, in 1966. “The Price,” “All My Sons” (twice) and “The Archbishop’s Ceiling” followed.

In the late 1950s, Miller lived here with his then-wife, Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller.

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller.

A few years ago, Daniel Brown wrote about the couple for the arts journal AEQAI.

One morning, when he was 12, he saw Miller and Monroe at Weston Market. She wore blue jeans and sunglasses. A babushka covered her head. Brown wanted an autograph; his mother said no, she deserved privacy. He could, however, say “Good morning, Mrs. Miller.”

She replied, “Hello, little boy.” But she looked unspeakably sad.

Brown left the store with his mother.

“Mom,” he asked, “why did Marilyn Monroe look so sad? Doesn’t she have everything she wants? And who is that old guy she’s with?”

(For more recollections from Keefe, click here for the Westport Country Playhouse blog. For information on “Broken Glass,” click here. For Daniel Brown’s full recollection of Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, click here. For Mark Lamos’ thoughts on Miller, click the YouTube video below.)

(Hat tip: Ann Sheffer)

Together At The Playhouse Table

In today’s always-connected, over-scheduled world, many family traditions are lost: sharing meals. Going to live performances together. And talking about them afterward.

Which is why the Westport Country Playhouse‘s “Together at the Table Family Dinner” is such a fantastic idea.

Created to make live theater accessible to more families — and introduce young audiences to the Playhouse in a warm, informal atmosphere — the program begins with a 5:30 p.m. communal dinner in the rehearsal space next to the theater.

Actors and directors wander in, for casual conversations about the show everyone is about to see.

The meal is wonderful — and not just because kids, parents and other adults are actually eating and talking together. When the show begins, there’s a palpable connection between the audience and the actors they’ve just met. The strong feeling continues through the entire play.

Sharing a meal before the show.

Sharing a meal before the show.

A recent attendee said, “Sharing a live performance with my kids is thrilling. It’s like taking an imaginative journey together.” The shared experience is far beyond watching TV or a movie together.

On the car ride home, she added, her children could not stop talking about the play. They kept asking when they could come back.

Jim and Libby Liu of Westport have taken their 8- and 6-year-olds to the Playhouse’s children’s productions. This year, they brought them to 2 adult shows: “And a Nightingale Sang” and “Love & Money.”

Libby says the program is a great way to get younger audiences involved in mainstage shows. Her kids loved asking questions of the actors during dinner, before they got into costume.

She appreciates both the early start time (7 p.m.), and the price: $10 per ticket, which includes the pre-show meal.

Playhouse logo

Erin McAllister calls the Playhouse’s program “a rich cultural experience for the community. Without programs like this, the arts would be inaccessible to many individuals and families.”

The next 2 “Together at the Table” events are “Bedroom Farce” (Tuesday, September 1) and “Broken Glass” (Tuesday, October 13). Both are appropriate for ages 14 and up; younger at a parent’s discretion.

There are only 2 rules for “Together at the Table”:

  1. At least one family member must be a student-aged child.
  2. Have fun.

(To purchase “Together at the Table” tickets, call 203-227-4177. For more information, click here.)

Samantha Flint: A Stage Manager Comes Home

Countless students discover a passion for theater in Westport.

Many find themselves on stage. Others prefer to work in the wings.

From a young age, Samantha Flint — whose mother was in actor Christopher Lloyd’s class at Staples, and whose grandparents also attended the school — danced. At Bedford Middle School, director David Roth cast her in shows. When he and she moved on to Staples together, she joined Players.

At the end of freshman year she tried stage managing. That’s where she found her true love.

“You’re part of the process at every point, from the first auditions to the closing performance,” she says. “And there’s so much to do.”

Roth challenges every Player, at every level. Flint’s last show at Staples — “City of Angels” — was “incredibly difficult, technically,” she recalls. “When I tell people I did it in high school, they’re floored.”

Samantha Flint, hard at work.

Samantha Flint, hard at work. (Photo/Matt Pilsner)

She heard about DePaul University — Roth’s alma mater — from the director. There were only 4 students in her year in the stage managing program. “It was like working in regional theater, but getting a degree,” she says.

A good stage manager must have many skills, she explains: organization, communication, flexibility, sensitivity. All contribute to creating a “safe environment, where actors feel they can create art.”

After graduating magna cum laude from college, Flint returned east. She’s served as production assistant, assistant stage manager and production stage manager on Broadway, off Broadway and in regional theaters like Williamstown and Hartford Stage. Her credits include “Venus in Fur” in its Broadway debut, “Camelot” (with director David Lee of “Cheers” and “Frasier” fame), and “Barefoot in the Park.”

She spent 2 summers at Shakespeare in the Park, working with William Shiner and Michael Greif. Flint calls it “an amazing experience. When everyone was on the subway dressed for the office, I was there in shorts and a t-shirt, headed outdoors to make theater.”

At the Adirondack Theater Festival, she helped bring “Avenue Q” and “Next to Normal” to an area that is starved for shows. “They embrace what we do,” Flint says. “A lot of audience members come back more than once.”

Flint does not forget her roots. Recently, she taught 2 master classes in stage management for Weston High School’s Company.

Samantha Flint (right) with Weston Company stage manager Lilly Fisher.

Samantha Flint (right) with Weston Company stage manager Lilly Fisher.

This month, Flint was back in her home town. She was assistant stage manager for the Westport Country Playhouse production of “And A Nightingale Sang.”

It was a homecoming of sorts. At 15 years old, Flint had apprenticed there. The building has changed, but the “lovely people” and thrill of helping produce a show were the same.

On Thursdays, Flint shopped at the Farmers’ Market, and brought fresh food for the cast. “They were amazed — they never knew it was there!” she laughs.

After “Nightingale,” Flint heads to Bucks County Playhouse, for “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

“That’s the beauty of what I do,” she says. “I never know what’s ahead.”

Though she also never forgets Westport, and what is behind.

“And A Nightingale Sang” In Westport

The Westport Country Playhouse‘s current production — “And a Nightingale Sang” — is a love story about a working-class British family in World War II.

Though the effects of war were felt much more strongly in Europe, the US — and Westport — was hardly unaffected.

Theatergoers are reminded starkly of that, thanks to a video the Playhouse produced. It drives home the play’s central theme: that in times of personal and historic unrest, the human spirit still grows.

The video includes Westport Town Crier newspaper clippings (with many familiar names, like the 8 Cuseo brothers who served); ration books; a Connecticut War Garden card, and air raid instructions for our town.

The play’s title is based on a popular 1940s song, “And a Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.” It’s a haunting tune — and an equally powerful video and show.

(“And a Nightingale Sang” runs through June 27. For ticket information, click here.)

Now Starring At The Playhouse: Westport

One of the great perks of living here is the Westport Country Playhouse.

And one of the great perks of the Playhouse is the chance — once a year — to go behind the scenes.

Today was that day. The annual season kickoff party featured food, music, and a very cool opportunity to visit the dressing rooms, costume and set shops, and green room.

And — this is very, very cool — to stand on stage, gazing out at the historic house, just like Alan Alda, Tallulah Bankhead, Sid Caesar, Carol Channing, Richard Dreyfuss, Will Geer, Dorothy and Lillian Gish, Uta Hagen, June Havoc, Helen Hayes, Hal Holbrook, James Earl Jones, Eartha Kitt, Bert Lahr, Gypsy Rose Lee, Hal March, Grouch Marx, Liza Minelli, Paul Newman, Ezio Pinza, Basil Rathbone, Gloria Swanson, Joanne Woodward and thousands of others have done right in Westport, for 85 exciting years.

Standing on the venerable stage is a rare treat.

Standing on the venerable stage is a rare treat.

Associate artist Annie Keefe explains the Playhouse's inner workings.

Associate artist Annie Keefe explains the Playhouse’s inner workings.

The green room isn't green. But just think of all the famous actors who have hung out here, waiting for their scenes. (The television shows a live feed of the play.)

The green room isn’t green. But just think of all the famous actors who have hung out here, waiting for their scenes. (The TV offers a live feed of the show.)

Remembering Joe Cocker

We’re getting to that age when the rock stars who didn’t die young are dying old.

In the wake of Joe Cocker’s death, “Howlin’ Doc Trulove” posted a memory on Facebook.

“Howlin’ Doc” says that back in the day, the raspy-voiced, air guitar-playing singer auditioned musicians for his upcoming Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour of Australia at the Westport Country Playhouse.

If you’ve got a Joe Cocker/Westport story, hit “Comments” below. We’ll get the complete version of his local connections — with a little help from our friends.

Joe Cocker


Fred Cantor’s Timeless Westport

As an alert “06880” reader, Fred Cantor has seen comments on every side of every debate about the changing nature of Westport.

As someone who came to Westport in 1963, Fred has seen many of those changes himself.

An accomplished attorney, film and play producer and writer, Fred has spent years taking photos around town. Recently, he asked Staples grad Casey Denton to help create a video of those shots.

Fred’s goal was simple. He wanted to document his belief that the essence of Westport’s beauty and small-town New England character — which his family discovered upon moving here over 5 decades ago — remains alive and well.

The video opens with long-ago Westport scenes. There are photos of mom-and-pop stores, the kind that filled Main Street back in the day. Obviously, that’s changed.

But most of the photos are from the recent past — many taken within the past year. And, Fred notes, they are “timeless Westport scenes.” Churches, barns, the Saugatuck bridge, the Minuteman and Doughboy statues, the Mill Pond and cannons — we are surrounded by wonderful history and spectacular beauty.

Fred knows that family businesses are very much with us. From long-time establishments (Oscar’s, Mario’s) to relative newcomers (Elvira’s, Saugatuck Sweets), there are more here than we realize.

Finally, Fred wanted to show that institutions like the Library, Westport Country Playhouse and Levitt Pavilion have been significantly upgraded over the years. The entire community benefits, Fred says, from “the strong commitment to the arts that existed when my parents brought us here over 50 years ago.”

Fred knows this is the perspective of just one near-native. But, he says — as health problems limit how far he can go from home — he is glad he can notice and appreciate more than ever what is right around all of us.


Breaking Restaurant News: Positano’s Replaces Dressing Room At Playhouse

Old Mill’s loss is the Westport Country Playhouse’s gain.

Positano’s — the much-loved-but-too-seldom-visited restaurant kitty-corner from Elvira’s — is closing at its Old Mill Beach location. “06880” broke that news 2 months ago.

Positano's, at Old Mill Beach near Elvira's.

Positano’s, at Old Mill Beach near Elvira’s.

But it’s reopening in February, next to the Westport Country Playhouse. That’s the space was occupied for 8 years by The Dressing Room. The Paul Newman-created restaurant closed last January.

The Dressing Room, next to the Westport Country Playhouse.

The Dressing Room, next to the Westport Country Playhouse.

Positano’s has been owned and operated by the Scarpati family for more than 15 years. Owner Giuseppe Scarpati was born on the island of Ponza, Italy. He learned to cook from his father, who studied with master chefs in Italy and was one of the island’s leading fisherman. Giuseppe focuses on all-natural cooking.

Under chef Michel Nischan, the Dressing Room was Fairfield County’s 1st farm-to-table restaurant.

So Positano’s stands poised to carry on that natural tradition — right next door to the 83-year-old Playhouse, with its own venerable history.

But the question remains: Will the tradition of an Old Mill Beach restaurant now be history, replaced by a large and imposing private home?

Paula Poundstone Pounds The 1 Percent

Paula Poundstone owes me a new pair of boxers.

I peed myself laughing at her Saturday night show. The comedian — best known for her regular appearances on NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” — rocked a sellout crowd at the Westport Country Playhouse.

It was a benefit for Homes With Hope. Between ticket sales and a live auction, the event raised huge bucks — 12% of their annual budget — to help fight homelessness. As a brief video by 4th Row Films pointed out, it’s a problem even in this prosperous town.

Paula Poundstone

Paula Poundstone

Poundstone knew her audience. She picked a few random people. There was, incredibly, former Homes With Hope director Pete Powell (he’s an Episcopal priest — as an atheist, she had great fun with that), as well as a CPA, and a guy in budgeting for a film company (with, to Paula’s great delight, several assistants).

The theme throughout the night was Westport’s affluence. She joked about the difference between the pledges made at the Playhouse (2 people offered $20,000 each) and her kids’ PTA event (“we start at $1, and go down from there”).

She asked what the main industry in Westport is. “Money,” someone said. All night long, Poundstone returned to the idea of folks in the audience taking care of each other’s money.

It was all in good fun. This was a well-heeled crowd, but they were raising funds for their much-less-fortunate fellow citizens, who live here too.

Let no good deed go unpunished.

The theme of Paula Poundstone's jokes -- and some Facebook comments.

The theme of Paula Poundstone’s jokes — and some Facebook comments.

As a public figure, Poundstone updates her Facebook page often. Just before the show began, she posted: “I’m in Westport, Connecticut. I’m trying to reach out to the disenfranchised members of the 1%.”

Her fans responded. “You just keep taking care of the comical needs of those poor uptight old white folks Paula,” one wrote. “We appreciate it.”

“Good luck,” another said. “I hear that crowd is too lazy to work for a living.”

A woman in Westport on business huffed, “wouldn’t you know, the 1% grabbed all the tickets for themselves! Typically entitled, these folks are, I swear.”

“Talk to ’em straight, Paula,” a fan commented. “They need to hear from you what’s really going down outside their protected bubble.”

Over 700 people “liked” the post. Presumably, they liked her dig at the “1%.”

That’s fine. We loved Paula Poundstone. She loved Westport — and gave a great hour-long performance. And everyone loved raising oodles of money for Homes With Hope.

But she still owes me a new pair of boxers.