Category Archives: Arts

Shirley Jackson’s 18 Indian Hill Road: The Sequel

CJ Hauser’s latest story on the Literary Hub website begins:

My niece is 8 months old. She was born into Shirley Jackson’s old house in Westport, Connecticut, which my sister and brother-in-law bought when they wanted to start a family. Do you know who Shirley Jackson is? I’m sure you do, but if not, what I need you to know is that Shirley Jackson was an author who most famously wrote about two things: 1) children 2) haunted houses.

Jackson was a prolific writer. Her short story “The Lottery” — first published in 1948, about brutal events in a seemingly normal village, and perhaps an inspiration for “The Hunger Games” — is an English course staple. It still spooks me.

Shortly after her story appeared in The New Yorker, Jackson and her husband Stanley Hyman — a famous literary critic — rented 18 Indian Hill, for $175 a month. Jackson described Westport as “a nice fancy rich arty community.” Eventually, Ralph Ellison joined them. Dylan Thomas was a frequent guest, and J.D. Salinger played catch with Jackson’s sons.

18 Indian Hill Road, back in the day.

In 2016 I wrote about that famous house, built in 1901 with a commanding view of Saugatuck. David Loffredo owned it then, and spent nearly 2 decades researching its history. He restored much of the interior as well.

Now he’s sent along the Literary Hub piece. It mentions some of what I wrote about 3 years ago — including the fact that in October 1950, 2 days before his 8th birthday — Jackson’s son Laurence rode his bike out of the driveway, and was hit by a car.

The accident, and the lawsuit that followed, soured Jackson even more on the town she had found “too suburban for her taste, too many picnics and Cub Scout outings, a few too many self-conscious artists around.” She moved to Vermont.

18 Indian Hill, today.

In 2017, Loffredo sold the house. The new owner’s sister is Hauser.

Her Literary Hub piece includes an anecdote about Jackson and Dylan Thomas having sex on the back porch. Today a fake historical placard commemorates the event.

The bulk of the story though is about life in a famous house — specifically, the author’s niece who is growing up there.

The house may or may not be “haunted.”

But it sure has a history with a woman who made her mark writing horror stories.

(Click here to read CJ Hauser’s entire piece.)

Westport’s Musical Canyon.

For as long as she could remember, Canyon. thought she’d be a dancer.

Growing up in the Sierra foothills town of Nevada City, California, the girl — who in 7th grade shortened her very long name to just the first one, Canyon (and added a period, for good measure) — spent most of her time on ballet.

When she was 16, her mother took her to Manhattan. She fell in love with the city, and vowed to live there.

On her 18th birthday, in 2003, Canyon. moved to the East Village. She had a job — at Starbucks, where she’d worked while in high school — and a dancer’s dream.

But she also had health issues, which made dancing difficult. On a whim, she’d brought her mother’s guitar to the city. Canyon. filled her down time writing songs.

“I never mourned the loss of dance,” she says, looking back now in wonder. “I put all my energy into music.”

Canyon. (Photo/Marion Lynott for Irish Flare Photography)

What kind of songs did she write?

“Really bad ones,” she laughs. “That’s how I processed everything. But that’s also how you get better as a songwriter.”

Slowly, her music became “less bad.” All these years later, Canyon. says, she is still honing and refining her songwriting skills. She describes her music as “chill.”

She sang at open mic sessions. “Cranky sound engineers” taught her tough but important lessons about performing.

Soon after arriving in New York, Canyon. met a model and actor named Mike Sharits. They married in 2006, and moved to Los Angeles. She got a job as a nanny for  Melissa Joan Hart. Canyon. loved the work, the actress and her family.

When Melissa was moving to Westport, she described it as an “artists’ community.” Canyon. and Mike moved here too. She worked for Melissa for a few years. She now manages an apartment building downtown, and remains close to the actress.

Coming to Westport, Canyon. says, “I was expecting Ojai” — meaning the cool Southern California town.

It’s taken her nearly a decade. But finally — thanks to friends like Darcy Hicks and Lissy Newman — she’s discovering the artsy side of Westport.

One reason she did not explore Westport earlier is that she was playing at out-of-town restaurants, house shows and small festivals.

Now — with a 20-month-old son — she’s booking more local gigs. She’s played recently at Jesup Hall, Amis, The Boathouse, Tavern on Main, Rizzuto’s and the Black Duck.

The other day, Canyon. recorded her next single: “Tooth and Nail.” Next month she’ll record 4 more.

It’s taken Canyon. a while to find the arts in Westport. Now her voices echoes with many others’.

(Click here for Canyon.’s website. Hat tip: David Wilson)

06880: Where Westport Meets The Music World

Mannequin Pussy continues to draw raves.

Rolling Stone is the latest to take note of the Philadelphia-based punk rock band — half of whose 4 members are from Westport. Marisa Dubice and Thanasi Paul graduated from Staples High School in 2005.

Marisa has “the kind of voice you can’t ignore—a punk yowl with a soul singer’s flair for raw passion,” the magazine says. And the band’s new album, “Patience,” is “one of the year’s most cathartic rock statements.” “

At 15, Marisa — whose idols were Amy Winehouse, the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs — was diagnosed with cancer. “Any free will I was supposed to have was suddenly taken away—nothing was in my control,” she tells Rolling Stone.

I was going through experiences none of my peers could relate to. I used to be very goofy and strange and it really sobered me up. Growing up in the Connecticut suburbs, it’s an environment where there is a set way to live your life. Then once that happened I just felt like, “Just just burn down all this shit. Clearly I’m not on the same path as everyone else.” So it allowed to me to rip up that script.

Marisa Dabice (center, bottom) and Thanasi Paul (far right) are Westport’s contributions to Mannequin Pussy.

Thanasi was a childhood friend. During Staples he played in bands, at venues like Toquet Hall. Marisa watched him. But she didn’t perform until she was 23.

My mom had a stroke, so I moved back to the east coast to take care of her. All of a sudden I was at the hospital every day. So I just called him and said, “I feel really lost. Would you play with me?” That became my cathartic outlet—just screaming onstage.

They became Mannequin Pussy with the addition of 2 other musicians. (Click here for the full story.)

Rolling Stone is not the only outlet to take note. The website Stereogum just named “Drunk II” — a song from their new album — the #2 “Song of Summer.” It was beaten out by Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road (Remix),” featuring Billy Ray Cyrus.

Meanwhile, here are 2 other musical Fun Facts:

Chelsea Cutler is gaining notice, for her blend of indie-pop and electronic music. Her single “You Make Me” made Billboard’s viral chart. She opened for Quinn XCII, has toured internationally, and played at Governor’s Ball in New York.

Chelsea — who has nearly 5 million listeners on Spotify — grew up in Westport, and attends Amherst College.

However, she is not a Staples alum. She graduated from the Pomfret School.

And how about this, Senor Salsa fans: Garry Dean, owner of the popular Post Road West restaurant, is Jimmy Dean’s son.

This marks the first time in history that Mannequin Pussy, Chelsea Cutler and Jimmy Dean have all appeared in the same sentence.

(Hat tips: Catherine Walsh and Jaime Bairaktaris)

Batsh*t Bride Comes Home

First came “Groundhog Day.” Then “Independence Day.”

A new film takes place on April 1. It’s not called “April Fools Day” — the title is “Batsh*t Bride” — but the premise is clear.

Just before her wedding that day, a bride pranks her fiance by saying they should break up. Unfortunately, he feels the same way. Everything spirals out of control from there.

Jonathan Smith’s indie feature — starring Meghan Falcone as Heather — debuts August 26 at Stamford’s Avon Theatre. The venue is signifcant: “Batsh*t Bride” was filmed throughout Fairfield County.

Many scenes took place right here, including Christ & Holy Trinity Church and Longshore and Pearl restaurant. A number of Westporters had roles as extras.

The first scene the filmmakers shot was Heather’s failed wedding. Cinematographer Jason Merrin worked on it while in town for his own wedding.

A local blog posted the call for extras. Expecting only a handful of people, Smith planned his camera angles creatively. However, the Christ & Holy Trinity pews were packed.

Lights! Camera and action came later. (Photo/Ellen Bowen)

Many extras were then recruited for other background shots. One was even given a line.

The ballroom and hotel scenes were all shot at The Inn at Longshore. But the production was allowed in only on Monday through Wednesday, for 2 consecutive weeks.

Smith liked Longshore so much, he rewrote several sections to fit the grounds. He added in golf and kayak scenes.

Tickets to the premiere are $10. Chez Vous Bistro offers a $25 prix fixe 2-course dinner prior to the screening, while Flinders Lane Kitchen & Bar has happy hour drink prices and complimentary appetizers after the screening (with ticket stubs).

Email batshitbride@gmail.com for tickets and dinner reservations.

Jacob Heimer Is Beautiful. On Broadway.

Jacob Heimer was a Barry Mann fan — even before he knew the songwriter’s name.

Growing up in Westport with eclectic musical tastes — he loved everything before, during and after the Elvis era — Heimer listened to the radio, and rummaged through his dad’s record collection.

“You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling,” “Walking in the Rain,” “On Broadway” — he knew them all.

At Staples High School, Jacob’s band Sally’s Place (named for the popular record shop, owned by the beloved and influential Sally White) covered “I Love How You Love Me” — a 1961 song produced by Phil Spector, co-written by Mann.

Heimer was a talented musician and actor. At 13, he was part of the the Barrington Stage Company’s professional production of “Falsettos.” His Staples Players credits include “Oliver!,” “Merrily We Roll Along” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

David Roth, Alice Lipson, James Andrew, Kevin Connors — all were huge influences on Heimer.

“I have ADD. Focusing is not easy,” Heimer says. “In theater, I could direct my energy really positively. Being in the performing arts helped my grades. And I had incredible support from everyone in my life — especially my family and teachers.”

More than a decade ago, Jacob Heimer and Mia Gentile starred in Staples Players’ “Urinetown.” She’s gone on to a Broadway career, in “Kinky Boots.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

In “Falsettos,” the youngster told an older cast member that he wanted to be a professional actor. Along the way, Heimer said, he’d probably wait tables.

“Don’t have a backup plan,” the man advised.

After Staples (Class of 2006) and Syracuse University — where he took advantage of the superb Shakespeare Globe program — Heimer searched for work.

His first paid Equity gig was a young audience’s show in Florida. Then he landed an “off-off-off-off Broadway” role in an “odd production about displacement camps, with puppets,” and had a lead in “Gold Star,” an indie movie with Robert Vaughn.

Jacob Heimer and Robert Vaughn.

Cast in a Shakespeare production, he met his wife Iris, a talented actor. (She changed careers, and now works at the Center for Reproductive Rights.)

Five years ago, Heimer auditioned for “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” It took a while, but he landed ensemble roles — and understudy for Barry Mann — in the first year of the jukebox musical’s national tour.

(Collage courtesy of Staples Players)

Thanks to his early introduction, Heimer knew more about Mann than he knew he knew. But after getting the role he read “Always Magic in the Air,” a book about the talented young songwriters who cranked out hit after hit — for solo artists, girl groups, rock bands, you name it — in the tiny, windowless rooms of Broadway’s Brill Building.

Heimer gained plenty of insights into Mann — including his relationship with Cynthia Weil, and “his own neuroses.”

Heimer calls the show “brilliantly written.” But after the tour ended, he and Iris headed to Italy for a vacation. On the last day — in a beautiful cave city with no cell reception — Heimer got a text from his agent. Could he play Barry Mann again for 2 months — on Broadway?

“It’s icing on the cake,” Heimer says of his current gig. He’s on stage through September 29. Ben Jacoby will resume the role in October, when the show closes after 6 years.

Making his Broadway debut a couple of weeks ago was “exhilarating,” Heimer notes. More than a dozen family members came to opening night.

“This is the most supportive group I’ve ever worked with. I was petrified — even though I knew the role. The cast didn’t know me. But they didn’t care that I wasn’t doing it like the guys before me. They welcomed me in.”

Playing Barry Mann in the Stephen Sondheim Theatre is a fantastic experience, Heimer adds. “This place was built for intimate music.”

With his long involvement with Barry Mann’s (and Carole King’s) music — even if he didn’t realize it at the beginning — does Heimer have a favorite song in the show?

Jacob Heimer (3rd from left) with the cast of “Beautiful.”

“The lyrics of ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ are so sensitive and vulnerable,” the King/Gerry Goffin tune.

“Singing ‘Walking in the Rain’ as a duet with Cynthia Weil is definitely a highlight.

“And ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’ is such a great song.” Mann wanted to release it himself, Heimer says, but the Animals heard it and made it one of their anthems.

So: Has Heimer ever personally met the man he plays on stage?

Absolutely.

Barry Mann is “alive and well in California. He’s a very sweet guy.” He’s seen “Beautiful” a few times — including the Los Angeles opening, where he met Heimer.

Barry Mann (3rd from right) and Jacob Heimer share a laugh. On left are Sarah Bockel (who played Carole King) and Alison Whitehurst (Cynthia Weil) on tour.

“He told me something that made me laugh out loud,” the actor says. “I’m keeping it to myself.”

On Broadway.

Friday Flashback #153

Lou Nistico is fondly remembered as part of the family that owned the Arrow — the beloved Italian restaurant in Saugatuck (it’s now Mystic Market).

In the mid-1970s though, he was also the concessionaire at Longshore. His daughter Joanne was the bartender.

At the time, Westport was the illustrators’ capital of the world. They worked at home, but socialized often.

A group of cartoonists often played golf, then headed inside for martinis. Joanne calls them a “fun and wild group of talented men.”

One day during lunch, they dashed off this collage for Lou:

Famous names are included: Tony DiPreta (who drew “Joe Palooka”), Bud Jones (“Mr. Abernathy”) and Bob Gustafson (“Tillie the Toiler”).

Dick Wingert’s “Hubert” looks half in the bag, as he raises a glass to “Lou the Great!”

But check out Stan Drake’s “Juliet Jones,” and his/her R-rated comment.

Then look at Curt Swan’s Superman next to Grace — and his wandering eyes.

They make a nice couple. Their cartoon kids would have been gorgeous.

Bistro Du Soleil Serves Up Fine Food — And Art

There are 2 types of excellent restaurants in Westport:

The ones everyone talks about. You know what they are.

And the ones that don’t get much buzz at all. Like Bistro du Soleil.

Tucked away in a corner of the old Saugatuck post office — on Riverside Avenue just before the train station, next to now-departed Westport Auction — the Mediterranean-with-a-French-flair spot is beloved by everyone who knows it.

But not everyone does.

Bistro du Soleil is a family affair. Owner Maria Munoz del Castillo works alongside her parents, Soledad and Bernardo. They came to the US in the 1980s.

Soledad was trained as a French chef. Bernardo — a craftsman as well as a restaurateur — lovingly made every table, the outdoor seating and handsome wooden bar. He’s also a playwright and poet.

Bernardo Munoz del Castillo (right) hand-crafted this handsome wooden bar.

Bistro du Soleil is more than a great restaurant. Since it opened 2 years ago, over 200 local and international artists have had their work highlighted on the sunflower gold walls.

Next up: Peter Saverine. A public reception to meet him, see his art, and enjoy wine and treats is set for this Sunday (August 4, 4 to 7 p.m.).

Like Bistro du Soleil, Saverine is a strong believer in giving back. He wants his art to be affordable, so he’s priced it at $20 to $450.

One of Peter Saverine’s works …

When he offered to donate a portion of his sales to a local non-profit, Soledad asked him to choose one supporting women and girls. Saverine selected Project Return, the Homes with Hope facility on North Compo Road that helps homeless young women rebuild their lives.

Like Bistro du Soleil’s owner, Saverine has an intriguing background. Professionally he’s director of philanthropy at STAR, the non-profit serving area residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

But he’s also a self-taught artist. His seascapes capture familiar scenes along Long Island Sound, Cape Cod and Nantucket. Compo Beach is a frequent inspiration.

… and another.

Saverine also authored a children’s book about a mermaid: “Jenny’s Pennies — A Nantucket Tradition.”

Great food and wine; fine (and affordable) art; a wonderful cause — it’s all there Sunday.

Whether you’re a Bistro du Soleil fan or never heard of the place, this is a wonderful reason to stop by.

New Pizza Place Rising In Old Bertucci’s

If you’ve been waiting for Ignazio’s — the new pizza place in the old Bertucci’s — to open…

… you’ll have to wait a little longer.

The build-out is taking a while. Owner Louis Termini hopes for September.

Meanwhile, here’s the antipasto.

Termini — a Brooklyn native — says he opened the first oven-fired oven in the Hartford area, in 1990. Luna Pizza soon expanded to 7 locations in Hartford County.

He returned to his native borough when he found a great location underneath the Brooklyn Bridge.

There was one problem: It was around the corner from the legendary Grimaldi’s.

No problem! Ignazio’s — named after his father — has been a huge hit.

So Termini is not fazed by coming into a town that has more than its share of excellent Italian restaurants.

It’s a town he knows well. On drives between Brooklyn and Hartford, he stopped here often for lunch.

“I enjoy eating out,” he says. “I think I tried every place in Westport.”

Termini grew up on the water. In February he rented a house on Saugatuck Shores. He loved sitting in his grandmother’s rocking chair on the heated porch.

This summer, he’s enjoying it even more.

A realtor friend from the Bronx helped find the Bertucci’s site. “He’s Jewish, I’m Italian,” Termini says. “But we have the same childhood memories.”

There’s another New York connection: the Westport landlord knows the Brooklyn restaurant well. His sister lives around the corner from it.

Termini learned pizza-making from his mother and grandmother. He tweaked their recipes, so his pies are “a little different” than the standard neighborhood pizzerias of his youth.

He is proud of his fresh mozzarella. And he uses the same olive oils, cheeses, plum tomatoes and sauces he grew up with.

The doors are open. But Ignazio’s is still a few weeks away from welcoming customers.

Yet Termini is more than just a pizzeria owner. He’s also an artist. He got into the restaurant business after his first child was born — because, he says, of the type of artist he was: “starving.”

So he’s pleased to share Ignazio’s space with One River Art + Design. Shearwater — the popular Fairfield coffee bar, where Termini gets his java — will be there too.

Termini will offer both thin crust and Sicilian pizza from his wood-fired oven. Of course he’ll serve other dishes, like calzones — “and a few surprises we don’t have in Brooklyn.”

He’s discovered Connecticut Farm Fresh Express, which delivers produce. He’s looking for a good Connecticut beer to serve too.

Termini definitely knows the territory. The other day, he had dinner at the new Meatball Shop. He enjoyed it.

Of course, he notes, “there’s room for more than one meatball in town.”

Calling All Young Shoots

The Westport Farmers’ Market celebrates creativity.

Every Thursday, the Imperial Avenue parking lot teems with vendors offering creative ways to prepare fresh food (and not just produce — there’s meat, baked goods and more). Musicians perform. It’s fun, funky and alive.

There’s a lot to do, and see. It’s a photographer’s paradise too.

Which is why I’m happy to promote one of the the Farmers’ Market’s more creative opportunities.

An annual contest highlights images taken all summer long. And it’s got an especially creative name: The Young Shoots Digital Photography Competition.

Get it?

“Towhead Tomatoes” — 2016 Fan Favorite winner, and 2nd place in 15-18 age group. (Photo/Margaret Kraus)

There are 3 age groups: 8-10 years old, 11-14 and 15-18. All photos must be taken somewhere on the Farmers’ Market premises. Submissions are due by September 6.

This is no rinky-dink affair. Jurors include noted photographers Eileen Sawyer and Bonnie Edelman, graphic artist Miggs Burroughs, and Westport Arts Center executive director Amanda Innes.

First-place winners in each category receive a $100 cash prize, and the chance to lead a food photo shoot with Bill Taibe (chef/owner of The Whelk, Ka Wa Ni and Jesup Hall). Second-place winners get $50.

Winners will also have their work shown in a gallery-like setting at Sugar & Olives (a favorite Farmers’ Market vendor).

Anastasia Davis won 1st place in 2016 in the 11-14 age group for this shot.

The public can also vote online for their favorite images. “People’s Choice” winners in each category get a 1-year membership to the Westport Arts Center (soon to be called MoCA), and a Farmers’ Market t-shirt. All photos will be on display this fall at the Arts Center’s new home at 19 Newtown Turnpike. There’s a fun awards reception October 4 at Sugar & Olives in Norwalk.

Click here for photo guidelines and submission info. Click here to see past submissions.

Then fire away!

Exciting New Project Is “Write Here” In Westport

The Westport Library attracts plenty of writers.

And not just in the stacks, or for book talks.

It’s a wonderful place for anyone — published author, budding writer, wannabe — of any age to sit and create.

Choose your spot: the big tables in the Forum, one of the smaller community rooms, a bench on the Riverwalk.

There are other places in Westport to write, of course. The Senior Center and Westport Writers’ Workshop offer classes. The Saugatuck Story Lab is a welcoming space too.

Jan Bassin.

But Jan Bassin believes our town pulses with places that can inspire words. To jump-start those muses, she’s teamed up with the library to offer a month-long community writing project.

Every day during August, Bassin — Senior Center coordinator of writing programs, and the library’s Maker-in-Residence — will host an hour-long write-in.

Every day, it will be at a different spot.

The Playhouse. Compo Beach. The Farmers’ Market. The boardwalk at National Hall. Longshore. The train station.

You name it — if it’s in Westport you’ll find Bassin, and writers of every age and ability, all month long.

Each “Write Here” (get it?) session begins with a brief introduction from a representative of that location. Bassin will provide a prompt. Writers will then free-write: prose, poetry, first-person, creative, whatever. At the end, anyone who wants to can share their creations.

“The act of writing connects us to ourselves and our community,” Bassin says. “When you write somewhere, you feel connected to that spot.”

One example: At Wakeman Town Farm, the prompt might spur one person to write about her memories of growing up on a farm. Someone else might react to the sights and smells of WTF itself. A third person might be inspired to create a poem about animals.

Scenes like this could inspire some great writing.

The project kicks off this Thursday (August 1, 12 noon, Westport Library). I’ve been known to write a few stories about “06880,” so I’ll join Jan Bassin to talk briefly about writing in Westport.

Then we’ll turn it over to you all, for your own words.

Every “Write Here” session is free. You can come to as many or as few as you want. You can read your writing aloud, or keep it private.

“Write Here” will evolve, Bassin expects. She may create a website for writers who want their words to live on (by name, or anonymously).

You might even be inspired to submit a “Write Here” story to “06880.”

You know: this blog, right here.

(For more information about “Write Here: Westport,” click here.)