Monday, March 29, 2010

New Program Offers Volunteers a Chance to Learn Organic Farming

The Sisters of Charity of New York are launching a new volunteer opportunity at their Sisters Hill Farm in central Dutchess County, NY. For the first time, they are offering a volunteer week at their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) site in Stanfordville, NY, for those interested in learning about organic farming from the ground up (so to speak).

The volunteer week runs from Saturday, July 24 through Saturday, July 31. Room and board (meals) are provided. A day trip to New York City will be part of the experience. Volunteers are responsible for any travel expenses getting to and from the farm.

After working side-by-side with farmer Dave Hambleton and his two interns – planting, weeding and harvesting – volunteers will come away with a greater appreciation for the sacredness of the earth and learn about the values that may shape our planet’s future. In an average year, these three harvest 60,000 pounds of produce from five acres.

Volunteer qualifications
Men and women over the age of 18 are eligible to apply for this weeklong opportunity. No previous experience is necessary, although a strong interest in/appreciation for organic farming is expected. Candidates should be in good physical condition, able to bend, kneel, lift and work outside in the fields in the heat of a July day. They must be self-motivated, reliable and adaptable, and be ready, willing and able to get up early and get their hands dirty.

Volunteers will live on the farm and take meals with two nuns who are Earth Connections Consultants, including Sr. Mary Ann Garisto, SC, the Director of Ecological / Global Concerns for Sisters of Charity of New York, and the farm’s founder (in photo).

About the farm
Sisters Hill Farm is just one of the Congregation’s ecological ministries. The farm’s mission is "to grow healthy food which nurtures bodies, spirits, communities and the earth." It provides its 200 shareholders with nutritious, chemical-free, organic food at a reasonable cost between late May and early November.

In an average year, the farm grows more than 100 varieties of some 50 organic vegetables (no fruit), all chosen because of their superior taste and nutritional health. Its only “livestock” is a small flock of chickens. It is entering its 12th year of operation.

One of the farm's main goals is to share a portion of each week’s harvest with those in need in the local community, both directly to families and to soup kitchens and food pantries.

For more information
Contact Sr. Mary Katherine Hamm, SC, the Director of Volunteer Services for the Sisters of Charity of New York.

- Call: 718.549.9200 x 264
- email:
- write: Sisters of Charity Center / 6301 Riverdale Ave. / Bronx, NY 10471-1093

You can learn more about the farm and the Sisters at

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spring Clean Your Spirit

By Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

Spring is a time for renewal. Use these steps to be refresh your spirit and be the person you were meant to be.

1. To live in this world you have to be strong. Start developing inner strength in mind and spirit by affirming the great fact that God built strength into your nature.

2. Practice praying during the day. Talk to God as you drive your car, as you make dinner. Wherever you are - it's always the perfect time for prayer. Imagine the Lord is there for you. He is!

3. No matter what your situation is, be hopeful! Raise your sights and see the possibilities—always see them, for they're always there.

4. Your thoughts and words have a strong impact on how you feel. Focus on thinking and speaking positively, even when you feel down.

5. Release your fear to God. He will give you faith, and faith is always stronger than fear.

6. Don't limit your future with small thinking. Pray big, believe big, think big.

7. Remember: what you think you will become—good or bad, weak or strong, defeated or victorious, so picture yourself strong, happy and successful.

8. Be thankful. Let your prayers consist of all the wonderful things that have happened to you. Name them, thank God for them and make that your whole prayer. You will soon find that these prayers of thanksgiving grow longer and longer, and you will have more and more things for which to thank God.

9. Rest in the fact that God is watching over you and protecting you. Praise him for helping you grow and bloom.

10. Be patient. Change doesn't happen overnight, but in time, with faith, you'll feel refreshed and ready for any challenges or opportunities that come your way.

This article appeared in Guideposts magazine.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mr. & Mrs. Fitch

I was so sleepy as I settled in for this world premiere of Douglas Carter Beane's Mr. & Mrs. Fitch that I wondered how I’d make it through the next two hours. Not to worry. I perked up the moment John Lithgow and Jennifer Ehle entered, laughing as their stumble into their colorful Manhattan loft in the wee hours of the morning after a night on the town. And I stayed engaged as their glitzy world unfold in this cocktail of a show, directed by Scott Ellis at Second Stage Theatre.

Tony winners Lithgow and Ehle play the title characters, a gossip columnist and his wife chronicling New York’s theatre luminaries and other members of the glitteratti. This particular night, however, their shiny world is threatened when their column comes up short. On deadline, having exhausted their notes for tantalizing details, they resort to quoting a press release, written in anticipation of the party they’ve just covered, that a famous actress was there, living it up and looking great. They hadn’t seen her, but it was crowded and so they go with what they’ve been fed by the publicist.

But just after Mr. Fitch presses the send button to file his column, he notices an online announcement that the actress had died earlier that day. Needless to say, Mr. Fitch’s editor is irate, and tells him to fill out the piece with another item ASAP.

What to do? Mrs. Fitch has an idea. Create a mysterious character new to the Manhattan party world, and make it sound as if he’s fast on his way to becoming the latest It guest on the social scene. Anything goes as they make up this divine young man, pictured in lush detail and christened Jamie Glenn.

When this imaginary character becomes so intriguing to their readers that he assumes a life of his own, however, their little deception threatens to bring them down.

If this play were a 1930s or 40s movie, which it resembles, it would be labeled “a sophisticated comedy.” It’s a refreshing change from most contemporary works that take their cue from TV sitcoms, with that inane one-liner humor made for laugh tracks or studio audiences primed to chuckle at the pause after each insipid joke.

Mr. & Mrs. Fitch, the play, nicely reflects the world of Cole Porter, whose song of the same name is about a poor couple who strike oil, become the toast of society, only to be shunned quickly when they lose their fortune in the stock market crash (the first one, that is, in 1929). I had a Bobby Short recording of this delicious little song, and was delighted when Lithgow sat down at the couple’s grand piano to play and sing it, with Ehle lounging atop, joining in occasionally.

It’s a perfect touch for a couple who seem always ready to hop into a gown and tux at a moment’s notice, as they do when they receive, in response to their Jamie Glenn item, a last minute invitation to “the semiannual ass-kisser’s ball.”

Jeff Mahshie’s costumes are splendid. As are Allen Moyer’s set, Kenneth Posner’s lighting and Lewis Finn’s original music, all of which contribute to the twinkling world of Mr. & Mrs. Fitch. It’s delovely!

Mr. & Mrs. Fitch continues at Second Stage Theatre, 305 W. 43rd St, through April 4. Call (212) 246-4422 for tickets or visit for more details.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Patti LuPone, winner of three Drama Desk Awards as Outstanding Actress in A Musical for her performances in Evita (1980), Anything Goes (1988) and Gypsy (2008), will host this year’s 55th annual Drama Desk Awards ceremony on Sunday, May 23 from the stage of the LaGuardia Concert Hall at Lincoln Center.

The Nominations Ceremony will take place at a news conference at the New York Friars Club, 57 E. 55th St., on Monday, May 3 at 9:30 a.m. A continental breakfast will be served at 8:45 a.m. Once those nominations are announced, it’s as if a starter pistol has gone off for all of us voters. We pounce on the phone and start calling the press agents, trying to fit in the nominated shows we haven’t seen yet among all the shows opening during the craziness of awards season.

The Drama Desk, an organization of theater critics, writers and editors that honors excellence in all areas of New York theatre, including Broadway, Off Broadway, Off Off Broadway and not-for-profit theater, was organized in 1949. The organization presented its first awards in 1955.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

“Just think, you’re not here by chance, but by God’s choosing. His hand formed you and made you the person you are. He compares you to no one else -- you’re one of a kind. You lack nothing that His grace can’t give you. He has allowed you to be here at this time in history to fulfill His special purpose for this generation.”
-- Roy Lessin

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Shortest Distance

By Sue Monk Kidd

We were two strangers on a ferry.

We leaned on the rail, side by side, watching the African landscape fade into the river. I eyed her with a sideways glance. She was Kenyan. I was American. She had beautiful black skin and her head was coiled with bright kitange cloth. I, white-skinned, wore blue jeans.

She had bare feet. I had on tennis shoes. Our eyes met briefly, then we looked away as we shrank deeper into our own separate and distant worlds. The only thing we seemed to have in common was our wariness of each other.

The boat lurched. A wave popped against the side, dousing us with water. We looked at each other in surprise, mouths open, faces sopping wet, both of us dripping, and suddenly we burst out laughing.

She unwound her headdress and dabbed first at my face, then her own. We smiled at each other, pointing to our wet clothes and chattered our way across the river with smatterings of Swahili and English. Like magic, we became friends, drawn together by the ribbons of laughter.

It must be true what Victor Borge said: "Laughter is the shortest distance between two people."

This article is excerpted from Firstlight, published by GUIDEPOSTS.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Today is the one-year anniversary of the skiing accident that killed Natasha Richardson. Please keep Natasha, Liam and the boys in your prayers.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Miracle Worker

A more representative name for this production would be simply Worker because little sense of The Miracle is apparent in this first Broadway revival of William Gibson's 1959 play about Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan. Prime responsibility for this failure lies with the director, Kate Whoriskey, who creates a busy, noisy first act and an anticlimactic second. What a disappointment.

I had really been looking forward to this revival for a number of reasons. I love the 1962 movie starring Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft. I’ve been impressed by Alison Pill’s work on and off Broadway, as well as in the film “Milk.” I thought she would make a strong Annie. I also was curious to see Abigail Breslin in her Broadway debut as Helen, a blind and deaf child in 1880s Alabama so different from the charming cutie she played in the movie “Little Miss Sunshine.” I wanted to see how she handled the challenge of live theatre in such a physically demanding role.

Unfortunately neither actress lived up to my expectations, although I think they could with better direction. Breslin needs to push to a deeper level, to manifest the profound rage Helen feels trapped in a world in which she can’t understand or communicate. Breslin’s Helen is merely a petulant child. She seems comfortable on stage, which is an accomplishment in itself for a newcomer, and she has a handle on the physical aspects of Helen’s anger, but she comes off as more spoiled little girl than a desperate soul trapped in a world of silence and darkness.

An essential element to the story is the relationship between Helen and Annie, but I never felt a strong bond. Pill is more a stubborn woman doing a job than a teacher driven to unlock Helen’s mind. She goes through the motions, repeatedly spelling out words in Helen’s hand, tackling her to the floor when necessary, but I didn’t feel the passion in the relationship. The director should have discerned this missing ingredient.

She also should have brought the volume down a good bit. Throughout the first act the actors shout at each other. Yes, it’s stressful having a daughter like Helen, but anger and frustration can best be expressed with only occasionally raised voices, not with nearly every sentence at top pitch. The worst offender of this is Matthew Modine, making his Broadway debut as Captain Keller.

The actors don’t just shout, they also move around so much that the stage takes on an almost Grand Central Station swirl. All this noise and busyness signaled many in the audience that they were watching a comedy. This was most screechingly inappropriate in the dining room scene, where Annie has dismissed the family and is locked in alone with Helen to teach her how to sit at the table and eat properly. It’s harrowing in the movie to watch the battle of those two wills, with Helen throwing spoon after spoon, hurling food and plates across the room. The audience perceived this as if watching a teen movie about a food fight in the cafeteria. It’s a grueling scene, not a comic one, but hilarious laughter rang out. It was disturbing to hear.

They laughed again at the poignant exchange between Captain Keller and Annie when he asks her, “Do you like the child?” and she replies: “Do you.” It’s as if Helen is the comic bad girl, not an intelligent human being trapped in disabilities.

Had Whoriskey set a different tone by sharpening her actors’ performances, this wouldn’t have happened. I expected more from her too, having been deeply moved by her staging of Ruined last year.

Another problem is Derek McLane’s set. It’s difficult to design for a theatre-in-the-round like Circle in the Square, so maybe the space is more to blame, but I missed a great deal because my view was blocked by a door frame that signifies the transition from inside to out. Even when scenery wasn’t in the way, the nature of theatre-in-the-round being what it is, actors often had their backs to me. I was shut out of the crucial scene of Helen’s breakthrough, when she finally understands that the movements Annie has been making on her hand spell words, and those words have meaning. Breslin faced away from me so I couldn’t see the revelation that should have transformed her. Circle in the Square is one of my favorite Broadway theatres, but this show would have been better off somewhere else.

The one element of the story that does come off well is Jennifer Morrison’s portrayal of Mrs. Keller. She captures the conflict of a mother torn between the desire to cuddle and spoil her child and the desire to help her learn to communicate. This is her Broadway debut and she should be proud of it.

As should members of the creative team. Paul Tazewell’s Victorian costumes are lovely and Kenneth Posner’s lighting is effective. For the most part, Lee Sher has done a good job with the physical coaching and movement. Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen create original music and sound designer.

The original 1959 Broadway production starred Bancroft as Annie and Duke as Helen. It won six Tony Awards, including Best Play in 1960. They repeated their work for the film version, each winning an Academy Award. I made the mistake of pulling my copy of the movie off the shelf over the weekend and watching it. That certainly contributed to my displeasure with the Broadway revival. Duke expressed Helen’s fury so fully, and the intense relationship between Helen and Annie is portrayed beautifully by Duke and Bancroft.

Duke later played Annie in a TV film of the work, with Melissa Gilbert as Helen. A theatrical sequel, Monday After the Miracle, also by Gibson, showed Helen and Annie as adults. Gibson died in 2008.

Keller died in 1968 at 80. While the play stops with her childhood discovery of words and their meaning, her learning did not. She went on to Radcliffe College, becoming the first blind and deaf student to graduate from a major university. While there, she wrote her first book, The Story of My Life, an account of her childhood on which The Miracle Worker is based. She went on to write another 11 books.

An activist for many causes, she was a close friend of Mark Twain, who is the one who dubbed Sullivan “a miracle worker.” She was an early suffragette, campaigning for women's rights and becoming a champion for birth control when such a position was considered scandalous. 

She spoke out for the rights of working people and, God love her, was one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Her friendship with Sullivan continued. When Sullivan got married, Helen lived with her and her husband. The two women traveled extensively, visiting nearly 40 countries. Sullivan died in 1936 at 60.

Tickets for the 50th anniversary production of The Miracle Worker are available by calling Telecharge at (212) 239-6200, visiting or from the Circle in the Square Theatre, 235 W. 50 St. For additional information, visit MiracleWorkeronBroadway.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

“O God, I love Thee -- not out of hope of heaven for me, nor fearing not to love and be in the everlasting burning. Thou, my Jesus, after me didst reach Thine arms out dying -- for my sake suffered nails and lance, mocked and marred countenance, sorrows passing number, sweat and care and cumber, yea and death, and this for me -- and Thou couldst see me sinning. Then I, why should I not love Thee Jesu, so much in love with me? Not for heaven’s sake, not to be out of hell by loving Thee, not for any gains I see, but just the way that Thou didst me I do love and will love Thee. What must I love Thee, Lord, for then? For being my king and God. Amen”
-- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Monday, March 8, 2010


The life force, such an important element in a George Bernard Shaw play, is missing in the Irish Repertory Theatre's dull revival of Candida, which opened last night under the direction of Tony Walton. I felt I was at an early rehearsal rather than a full production.

Walton, who also designed the set and costumes, sat in front of me, laughing repeatedly. My reaction was quite the opposite. I had to fight to stay awake in the overheated theatre, and did nod off a couple of times in the dry, talky first act.

Ciaran O'Reilly, as the middle-aged clergyman James Morell, gives the strongest performance as a happily married man assured of his beliefs and his place in the world. The play, though, should belong to his wife, Candida (Melissa Errico), but I didn’t feel Errico hit her stride until the final scene when she has to choose between her husband and Eugene Marchbanks (Sam Underwood), the awkward young poet who is enamored of her. Given Underwood’s over-the-top performance, you will have no trouble guessing her choice, even if you don’t know the play.

I also felt Brian Murray (in photo with Errico), as Candida’s father, was a bit uncertain of his lines, especially at the beginning. Xanthe Elbrick as Morrell's secretary and Josh Grisetti as his curate are serviceable.

Walton makes excellent use of that tiny Irish Rep stage, creating an ornate Victorian parlor rich in details. We got to tell him how much we liked it during the intermission when we had fled to the sidewalk to get some cool air. He said his method is to crowd in as much as possible, which would seem an unlikely approach to working with such a small space, but which works beautifully. I just wish he had given as much attention to his actors so they could shine as well.

Candida continues through April 18 at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 W. 22nd St. Tickets are available by calling (212) 727-2737 or online at

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Jim Brochu at the National Arts Club

Growing up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Jim Brochu thought his Lady of Angels parish was the center of the universe and from it he would achieve greatness.

“I knew I was born to be the first Brooklyn-born pope,” he said yesterday, speaking to our Dutch Treat Club luncheon group at the National Arts Club. Instead of playing ball with the other children, he liked to pretend he was at the podium at St. Peter’s in Rome dispensing blessings to the crowds.

That early dream has partly come true. Brochu is dispensing blessings nightly, but not in Rome and not as pope. He performs his sacred duties Off-Broadway at the DR2 Theatre where he stars in Zero Hour, the award-winning one-man play he wrote in tribute to the late actor Zero Mostel.

Brochu says he’s living proof against F. Scott Fitzgerald’s notion that there are no second acts in American life. “Here I am, an Irish Catholic playing Zero Mostel.”

His Irish charm was on full display as he filled the dining room with stories of his life in show business. He was 13 in 1959 when the lure of the theatre hit him. His father, a Wall Street bond trader, had a business friend named Ed Zimmermann who gave young Jim and his father house seats to a show his daughter, Ethel, was in. That was, of course, the one and only Ethel Merman, who took Jim onstage after the show so he could gaze out from that perspective on the darkened theatre. Suddenly the thought of Pope Brochu vanished from his mind.

“I have never had a religious experience in any church like I had in the theatre,” he said. “That day my life changed forever. I knew my church from that day on would be the theatre.”

Ethel was the first of the greats he got to know. He would go on to watch his father in a spontaneous sing-along with Judy Garland one night at Jilly’s, later he introduced his father, who had lost his wife when Jim was 3, to Joan Crawford, with whom his father had an affair for three years. While selling orange drink -- his first job in the theatre -- he met Tammy Grimes, who just happens to be one of our Dutch Treat Club members and who was sitting at the table in front of him yesterday, a nice moment of coming full circle.

And, also at 13, he was wowed by Zero Mostel in A Funny Thin Happened on the Way to the Forum. “I could feel myself go back in my seat like someone had stepped on an accelerator.” He went backstage to meet Mostel, who became his “godfather and mentor.”

In time, Brochu took the plunge into acting, in one case it was a literal plunge. Appearing in his second show, an Israeli revue called To Be, or Not to Be, What Kind of Question Is That?, in what he calls “the worst show ever,” he tripped and fell center stage, smashing his head so hard he “saw stars.” In his review the next day, Clive Barnes wrote that you’ve all heard of a play within a play. “Last night we witnessed a flop within a flop.”

Brochu did go on to win approval. The New York Times has hailed him as a “Man of the Theatre” and he keeps in his dressing room a signed photo of Mostel inscribed “To Jim, with my admiration.” He created Zero Hour as his way of saying “To Zero, with my admiration.”

Originally scheduled for a 12-week run at the Theatre at St. Clement’s, Zero Hour has been so well received by both critics -- this one included -- and audiences that it has now moved to the DR2 Theatre for an open-end run, and talk is mounting about a move to Broadway. The show has been blessing people in unexpected way. Brochu, like Mostel, is also an artist. Each night on stage he paints a picture and those works have been sold or auctioned, with the money going to the soup kitchen at St. Clement’s and to the Actors Fund.

What a delightful man. I was glad to have the chance to tell him after his talk how much I enjoyed Zero Hour. I do hope it moves to Broadway. It deserves to be there.

As always, our afternoon had began with a musical performance. Our very own Mark Nadler, a superstar in the New York cabaret world, treated us to a selection from “Beyond Words,” his new show of the work of Ira Gershwin that he’ll be premiering at the Algonquin starting Tuesday, costarring with our DTC president and cabaret darling, KT Sullivan. Mark was joined onstage by another DTCer, composer Jon Weber, who popped up from his table, as he is apt to do, to pump up the action. For the next 12 minutes their four hands leapfrogged across that one keyboard for a rousing Concerto in F, with the two men switching seats or jumping up to tackle the music standing or stooping over the keys. Brilliant!

Another Tuesday, another engaging lunch at the National Arts Club. As we who belong always say, it’s the membership that makes the Dutch Treat Club so special. But the entertainment sure ain’t bad either.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Common Ground: Learn about some of the charities "Today show" news anchor Ann Curry reports on

This follow up by Celeste McCauley appeared in Guideposts online newsletter.

In her cover story An Act of Faith, "Today" show news anchor and Dateline NBC anchor Ann Curry talks about reporting from some of the world's most dangerous places to shed light on injustice and give voice to the voiceless.

"Journalism is about changing the world, isn't it?" she said. "It's about giving people the truth so that they can change the world. The world is evolving, I believe, into a more compassionate place."

Ann exuded a calmness that contrasted with the stories she was telling about the injustices she witnessed in Sudan, Congo and Serbia. Yet despite the troubles in the world, she remains hopeful.

"My travels have convinced me that no human being is really foreign to another. We have so much in common. The truth is, we are surrounded by our sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, each life precious. It is time for us to stand up against the suffering caused by genocide, war and ignorance. If we care enough about our human family, we can change the future."
A postscript to Guideposts’ story: Twenty-four hours after they finalized the piece with Ann, Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake. The very next day Ann was reporting live from Haiti—again on her quest to help others through her reporting. Again putting her beliefs into action—just like she talks about in their story.

Check out Ann's suggestions for ways to help the people she reports on.  "If you can't give money, donate your time and volunteer," she says.

International Rescue Committee  
Provides relief, respect and renewal to refugees and victims of armed conflict around the world.

Save the Children  
Creates lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world.

Mercy Corps  
Turns crisis into opportunity for families in some of the world's toughest places.

Doctors Without Borders  
Medical humanitarian organization assisting people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe.

Ann writes on her Twitter page that "journalism is an act of faith in the future." Follow her posts at