Arsenic and Old Lace


Scott Chapman, Director

Westcliffe Center for the Performing Arts has done again. Following the theater’s tradition of opening the season with an American classic,  director Scott Chapman, chose ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, an oldie but goodie by Joseph Kesselring. The original play opened in 1941 and after 1,444 performances, closed in June of 1944.


The play is a dark comedy. 12 deaths are at the loving hands of Abby and Martha Brewster, played by Lissa Miller and Bev Allen. The maiden aunts put single men out of their misery with a sip of elderberry wine laced with strychnine and “just a pinch of cyanide.” The sisters mean no harm; rather, they think that they are relieving the loneliness of men without family.

Abby and Martha are helped by their brother Teddy Brewster, played by Tim Stodola. Teddy believes that he is Teddy Roosevelt, and in that capacity, he is digging the Panama Canal in the basement of the family home. To Teddy’s mind, each corpse is a victim of Yellow Fever, and the canal proves to be a handy place for disposing the bodies.


Would you trust “Frosty” Frostman as your plastic surgeon?

A second brother, the malevolent Jonathan Brewster, is played by Dan Hiester. Jonathan is also into killing. Jonathan’s sidekick is Dr. Einstein played by “Frosty” Frostman. If you are killing people, having a plastic surgeon at your beck-and-call is handy for inventing a new identity.


The third Brewster brother is Mortimer, a drama critic. Clif Loucks plays Mortimer. Mortimer loves Elaine, played by Jenna Smith, but how can he marry Elaine when his entire family is deranged?

Not to be a ‘spoiler,’ I stop with the synopsis. What fun to think of the 1944 movie starring Cary Grant as Mortimer, Peter Lorre as Dr. Einstein, and Raymond Massey as Jonathan.

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A cuppa tea? And would you like anything in it?


The set, designed by Scott Chapman and Scott Foster, is fabulous. There is the door to the outdoors, the door to the kitchen, the door to the basement, and steps leading up to the second floor. All those doors! And not once did a slamming door shake the entire wall! A first for community theater! The set pieces and the props are lovely and appropriate to the period. The cast is most excellent. In particular, Lissa Miller, Jenna Smith, Clif Loucks, Dan Hiester, and “Frosty” Frostman shine.



What nice period detail.

If you have heard that the play is long, that is true. Remember, the play was written before instant messaging and cell phones and self-driving cars. When the play first opened, World War II was underway. Sitting in the theater… in a creative space far removed from tanks, trenches, and warfare… was an escape that moviegoers whished to gone on forever.


Slow down. Take the time. Go see the play. Arsenic and Old Lace repeats next weekend, Friday May 19 and Saturday the 20th at 7:30 and Sunday the 21st at 2:00 p.m. And if you have not thought about buying a season ticket, consider doing so. If you are out-of-town for a particular show, pass your ticket on as a neighborly token of affection.





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In Concert

2017 03 30 012Today, the very last day of April, the snow is melting and sloughing off the eaves. Beware! If an icicle does not fall and cleave your head in two, heavy, wet sloughing snow will thump you on the head and drip down the collar of your coat. Although I’m chomping at the bit to garden, the moisture is welcome, and the drought is officially over.

Music always lightens life, and hearing the Colorado Chamber Players on stage at The Jones today did just that. Led by Barbara Hamilton on the Viola, the trio to include Paul Nagem on the flute and Emily Levin on the harp brought the full house to a standing ovation.

2017 04 30 002Dan Epperson, master of ceremonies, introduced the musicians after reminding the audience that in this, In Concert‘s 14th season, ticket prices were still only a modest 15 dollars. Continuing, Epperson added that it would be nice to feature a pianist in the future, but ticket sales do not cover bringing in pianists’ preferred instrument, a Steinway grand. If you missed the concert and Epperson’s suggestion, you might think about a donation. Check your bank balance. Two thousand dollars will bring a Steinway up the Hardscrabble.

As for the concert, I sat in the second row, maybe only 18-feet from the beautiful harp which was in itself a work of art. And I admit that during the first few selections, the music played second fiddle to the harpist’s arms and hands which were as expressive as those of a person signing for the deaf. It was easy to imagine her siren arms seducing sailors to jump overboard to their death by drowning.  Levin, Principal Harpist of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, was amazing. Watching her fingers fly across the strings, I could see her standing at a conveyor belt – plucking feathers in a commercial chicken processing plant. I imagined an old-time, black and white movie – a comedy in which the conveyor belt kept going faster and faster. And then I flashed on something more poetic – her hands were like Hummingbird wings. The bird metaphor is good because the thumb of her right hand was masterfully trilling.

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Not that there is anything wrong with old people, but it is so refreshing to see young artists. With her asymetrical light brown bob, and black lace dress over a nude colored slip, the harpist was definitely hip. Of all the music on-offer in The Valley during the summer, I think that Jazz Camp is my favorite. Watching fun-loving, focused and talented youth in performance, coming together as one, gives me hope for the future.

I love when musicians give some background – put the music in the context of the composer or the times. Such was the case when introducing the piece by Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996). War loomed in 1939. Leaving Warsaw, Weinberg first found himself in a Displaced Person’s Camp. From there he went to Moscow where he was befriended and inspired by Shostakovich. Meanwhile his family was sent to one of the Nazi death camps. Mieczyslaw Weinberg was the sole survivor.

Listening to Weinberg’s music, in this case “Trio for Flute, Viola and Harp, Op 127,” you can hear the impending doom. I heard a movie score of sustained suspense. Maybe it was a pending thunder-storm; maybe it was a man with a knife; maybe it was a slithering poisonous snake. Probably it was the war and the Holocaust.

As a trio, the three musicians played as one. I’ve often said, “In a small town, if no one falls off the stage, the cast gets a standing ovation.” More often than not, in Custer County CO, every standing ovation is well deserved. Thank you to In-Concert, and if you love live classical music, consider donating to the piano fund.








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Stoned and Comatose


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On the deck – Promontory Divide, Centennial Ranch

We have recently hosted several sets of friends from England. As as one does when hosting friends from out-of-town, we took them to all the key local attractions: The Owl in Canon City, Bishop’s Castle, Lake DeWeese, and the real (not to be confused with ComedyCentral’s) South Park.


The highlight of Brian Docherty’s visit (and nearly as exciting as his attending Austin’s International Poetry Festival prior to flying on to Colorado) was being on-hand for daily life in Westcliffe.

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Taking advantage of the mild, warm weather, we took our Border Collie out to Lake DeWeese. Given that it was a weekday and no one was nearby, I let Oogie off his leash to play at the water’s edge while Brian and I did the lizard thing of soaking up the sun on a hot rock. The serene landscape and the sound of water spilling over the dam lulled us into complacency.


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Oogie prior to chowing down.

Returning home, I noticed that Oogie was unusually quiet. An hour later, Oogie  was staggering and unable to stand. He could barely lift his head and was unresponsive. By now it was after hours on Good Friday, and with the exception of Dr. Kit Ryff, who was busy with two, pending calf calls and could not see Oogie immediately, no other vet responded. Luckily, one vet’s answering machine recommended calling the Pueblo Area Pet Emergency Hospital at 1-719-544-7788.


I’m including directions to the hospital because it has been my experience that pet emergencies always occur after-hours, and it is good for pet owners to know that 24-hour service is nearby. Take State Hwy 50 east to Pueblo. Immediately before the entrance to I-25, turn north on Elizabeth. Take the first left after Motel 6. The pet hospital is on the left at 712 Fortino Blvd.

Given that Oogie (at this point comatose) had been uncoordinated and staggering, had dilated pupils and gazed into nothingness, had a slow heart rate, dry gums, and was dribbling urine, the vet determined that he had ingested marijuana.

I was elated. Oogie was not dying; rather, he was stoned.  He had found an edible out at the reservoir and eating like a dog, he had pigged-out.


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Baby, It’s Cold Outside!


My crocus has croaked beneath a layer of snow.

Those of us who live in Colorado never question the adage IF YOU DON’T LIKE THE WEATHER, WAIT 10 MINUTES. After weeks of buying into fake news that predicted rain and/or snow, after weeks of wearing my fattening, flannel-lined jeans only to be overheated, Westcliffe got snow. Watching the fat flakes flurry in nearly white-out conditions, I felt the same thrill that I did when I was six: the snow was fresh, and I had a new American Flyer.

The drought had persisted so long, that I began to think of more primitive times: would a sacrifice satisfy the gods who wanted some recognition of their powers? And if so, what sacrifice would satisfy? Wayne Ewing writing in the March 30 edition of The Wet Mountain Tribune cited the National Weather Service: Although the current and predicted precipitation has nudged our immediate area out of ‘drought persists’ to ‘drought remains but improves,’ there is still room for concern.” As of March 27th, we were 40 percent below average. Scary stuff.


DSCN4240By Monday night, the weather gods decided to flex their muscle and the long anticipated snow fell. Donning our winter wear, we went for a twilight walk down the alleys and along the bluff. The scene was magical – made more so by the recognition that beyond the snow’s beauty was its utility. Walking back to the house, I was struck by the wreath on our front door: having just replaced winter’s Bittersweet berries with artificial Forsythia, I was a good month too early to celebrate spring. I could hear the gods laughing at my expense.

It’s good to be reminded that we aren’t as smart or powerful as we like to think we are.

I’m reading Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Published in 1937, the book follows one black woman’s transformation into selfhood. The author of nine novels, Hurston was ahead of her time as a writer, anthropologist and folklorist. Both black and white critics were critical of Their Eyes. In particular, Hurston’s brand of feminism did not sit well with men. Following publication, Their Eyes was out of print for 30 years. The novel only came back in 1975 thanks to Alice Walker whose article,In Search of Nora Neale Hurston,” was published in Ms.

DSCN4252No one writes an extended metaphor better than Hurston. Quoting the very first paragraph of Their Eyes: “Ships at a distance have Man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.”


I’m left wondering if Hurston had second-sight. Did she know her end or was she just a realist? For certain her dreams were mocked. In October of ’59, Hurston was forced to enter the St. Lucie County Welfare Home where she died in January of 1960. She was laid to toss-and-turn in an unmarked grave in the Garden of Heavenly Rest, Fort Pierce, Florida. Her grave was finally marked in 1973 by Alice Walker. Finally, Hurston was at-rest.


Drought… Snow… Success… Failure. We scratch our heads, but the Buzzards on Second Street know the secret. We are supposed to spread our wings so we can dry out and fly.

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Stations of the Cross – San Luis, Colorado

You don’t have to be Roman Catholic to appreciate the Stations of the Cross in San Luis. If you are leaving from Westcliffe, the drive south on Hwy 69 is always Wolf Springs buffalo-good, and the Pass Creek cut-off at Gardner is always spectacular. Then it ‘s Hwy 160 west to Fort Garland and 159 south to San Luis, the oldest town in Colorado.

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If you know the San Luis valley at all, it is probably in the cont2017 03 sanlui 074ext of its potato crop. But there is more. Four miles west of San Luis on Hwy 142 is the 1860s Mission of San Acacio. With its 24-inch adobe walls, it is the oldest standing church in Colorado.  San Acacio is also one of nine historic churches on the Sacred Circle Tour. (See should you be interested in visiting under the direction of a tour guide.)

In addition to the mission, San Luis is home to “The People’s Ditch,” Colorado’s oldest irrigation system. The acequia, a concept brought from Spain and North Africa, brings irrigation water via slowly sloping ditches from the Culebra River. Originally the ditches were dug with wooden shovels by the entire community. All farmers have equal responsibility and access to the 66 active acequias.

The Stations of the Cross are spread out along a mile-long dirt path on San Pedro Mesa above the town of San Luis.  Climbing the rock strewn and cactus covered mesa, your mind travels back to the early settlers – only community, their work ethic and their beliefs sustained them. Below the mesa, the newly minted greening Valley is springing up thanks to through the labors of those early Spanish settlers.

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In addition to stones, visitors have dropped rosaries, sunglasses, hair ties, and Sweeties. Some youngster gave up her sweets. How sweet is that!

The Lenten season seemed to be a good time to visit the Stations of the Cross. In my case, this week’s visit was somewhat of a sentimental journey. I have a wonderful memory of walking the Stations of the Cross in Malaga, Spain. My husband and I were staying at a B&B above the city, and our host suggested that we join the neighborhood priest as he and his  parishioners walked the Stations. “And,” she added, “don’t forget to take your stones.” Stopping at each station, the priest would give us pause to reflect on our past sins. And having reflected, we should drop one of our stones thereby lightening our load.

I love this idea. No so much that we are forgiven our sins, but we recognize them and vow to 2017 03 sanlui 041try harder. As sort of a sidebar (and my regular readers know how I love to wander) I might add that in contrast to the Seven Deadly Sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony, there are the Seven Virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, courage (or fortitude) faith, hope and love. On this week’s visit, I dropped my stones, not so much for forgiveness but for my desire to live a more virtuous life.

The bronze statues that illustrate each station are the work of San Luis native, Huberto Maestas, who studies engineering and science at Adams State but switched his major to art. Today his bronze work (secular as well as religious) can be found in Taos, Santa Fe and beyond to include The Vatican. The statues are moving. The lifelike physicality of the sculptures takes you back in time. You are there.  Your back aches under the weight of the cross. You have fallen. You strive to rise. The hammer is raised; the nail is in place; you are about to be crucified.

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Walking up the mesa, you see Capilla de Todos Los Santos, built in 1986. Although the chapel is new, it has a warmth that transcends time. We will return.

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Purgatory is that halfway place where you are sent to atone for your past sins. I’m not sure that my definition is a dictionary definition, but when I picture purgatory, I see myself in a rocky, barren place. The sun sizzles. My skin blisters, and I have no water. The Purgatoire River south of La Junta, Colorado is wet, but it is bile green: I wouldn’t want to drink it.

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The river is just below the bluff.

The legend of the Purgatoire is that Spanish treasure-seeking soldiers died on the site without the blessing of a priest. In the 16th century, the river was named El Rio de Las Animas Pedidas en Purgatorio. Next, French trappers seeking beaver pelts shortened the Spanish to Purgatoire. More recently, Anglo travelers on the Santa Fe Trail could not pronounce the French, so they changed the name to Picket Wire.


Although the map above shows the Santa Fe Trail in red, I checked the Western History and Genealogy Department of the Denver Public Library. Between Bent’s Old Fort and Raton, some 48 short-cuts are listed and several ran along the Purgatoire River. Not everyone took the road-most-travelled.

Today, The Picket Wire Canyonlands Dinosaur Tracksite is known for having the longest stretch of dinosaur footprints in the United States. 1300 footprints made 150 million years ago follow 100 separate tracks east of the river. During the Jurassic period, southeastern Colorado was a vast, shallow, inland lake. Walking along the muddy shore, the dinosaurs left their footprints.

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Broad Brontosaurus prints indicate that the 70-foot long, 33-ton ‘Gentle Giants’ travelled in herds. Larger and smaller prints running  parallel to one another are unexpected evidence of social behavior between adults and the younger dinosaurs.

The carnivorous Allosaurus tracks are smaller and three-toed. Only 25-feet tall and weighing in at only four tons, the solitary hunters made up for their small size with speed and massive jaws.

My most recent trip to the dinosaur tracks was with Steve Bauer and the senior hikers. With good reason Steve suggested that we go early in the season. The canyon is unbearably hot in the summer. Two quarts of water per person are recommended.

2017 03 14 purg 024The hike along the river is flat – it is 3.7 miles from the trailhead to the old Spanish settlement at The Dolores Mission and Cemetery and 1.6 miles farther to the dinosaur tracks. The mission and cemetery are well worth a stop. Not that very much is left of the community, but looking at the isolation and the unforgiving landscape, it is easy to time travel. Sitting with my back against the stone and adobe walls of the mission, I can feel the fatigue of the men and women who claimed the land and built this mission with their own hands. I can hear the hungry baby crying as its mother carries stones to the construction site and later plasters the walls with mud and straw. In 1889 Damacio Lopez sold his land to the Denver Diocese for $1.oo, and the mission church was built soon after.

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If you plan to visit, on your return home to Custer County, I recommend your taking Rt. 10 west from La Junta to Walsenburg at twilight. Doing so you will see Pike’s Peak to the north, Greenhorn to the west, and the Twin Peaks to the southwest – all three in silhouette rising up from the dark plains. The otherworldly wind power turbines are just as seductive as the mountains.

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Is it Angst or Ennui?

I posted a blog Sunday – the first in over a month. To write that ‘I have been ill’ sounds too dramatic because I haven’t actually been sick. Sick-at-heart maybe, but nothing that calls for medical intervention. Every time President Trumps tweets, my heart seizes and stems my blood flow to a crawl. Lack of blood leads to lassitude and hiding my head-under-the-covers. I’m not available: even a dog’s wet nose can’t arouse me.

beautiful 35 year old woman stands in front of the window

Image credit: ISTOCK

Trying to name my condition, I wanted to use the word ennui, but I didn’t know how to spell it. (I was so far off that even spellcheck was no help!) So I typed ‘angst’ into my search engine and ta-ta! I was led to a great site:’ve-got-angst-ennui-or-weltschmerz.

Referencing the site, ‘Angst’ is the word ‘fear’ in German, Dutch and Danish. Kierkegaard described it as a feeling “that disrupts peace and contentment for no definable reason”. Freud used it for generalized anxiety – “brooding about the way the world is.”

The word ‘ennui’ came into use as early as the 13th century, but during the 19th century, the term “implied feelings of superiority and self-regard, the idea being that only bourgeois people too deluded or stupid to see the basic futility of any action could be happy.”

Not to think myself superior, I’ll forego ‘ennui’; I’ll stick with ‘Angst.’ Either condition leads to self-medication. Drugs and alcohol are popular. I have no personal experience but I’ve heard that wild and reckless extra-marital sex is an antidote. I’ve noticed that if a person is so inclined, social media to include chat lines can keep one busy and in denial. Some people eat to dull their senses.

As for me, a bookstore nearly always lifts me up. So many books! The number of productive, creative writers never fails to inspire me. Leaving Barnes & Nobel with my books, I looked at the plastic, carry-bag the clerk had given me. A student’s book report of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was on one side. On the other side of the bag, the words: “Call me Ishmael.” I don’t remember reading Herman Melville‘s Moby Dick since high school. The text swept me away. Such beauty… the kind of beauty missed by high school students studying for character, plot and theme. I took a photo. You can read the words for yourself.

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The last sentence certainly speaks to my angst: “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet…” Maybe I’ve inadvertently channeling Melville! His words perfectly captured my past state of mind. How beautiful! I will read the novel again. Pencil in hand, I will read, re-read, underline and make margin notes.

After  visiting Barnes & Nobel, I caught The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD at Tinseltown. Verdi‘s La Traviata was on the big screen. Regardless of the opera playing, I never fail to find myself inhabiting the actors on-stage and being lifted out of my funk by the soaring music. The three leads were Sonya Yoncheva as Violetta – a popular courtesan who is dying; Michael Fabino as Alfredo – the man who truly loves Violetta; and Thomas Hampson as Alfredo’s straight-laced father who ends the love affair.

la traviata setThe acting and the singing were superlative, but Willy Decker‘s set design was cutting edge inventive. It was very exciting. With the exception of a large clock and a couch (red in Act I; flowered in Act II; and white in Act III) the stage was bare. The clock – maybe 10 or 12-foot in diameter – represented passing time. An old man, who I initially thought was Father Time, sat near the clock. In reality, the old man was Violetta’s doctor.

traviata-met-clockThe semi-circular shape of the stage apron was the same shape as the base of the backdrop – a backdrop that approximated industrial, corrugated metal. Above the backdrop was an oppressive, circular, black hole. Circles and more circles. During intermission I heard a number of heated discussions as to the set. Some thought it too stark. Others thought that the starkness underscored the theme.

Quoting the set designer, his set “strips away period detail and sentimentality […] leaving behind a harrowing account of how a woman who defies sexual mores is marginalized and eventually destroyed by a disapproving patriarchy.”

But there is more. My favorite image was in Act III when Violetta collapsed on the clock in a crucifix position. What a stunning production! If you have never seent The Metropolitan Opera streaming live from Lincoln Center, you need to give it a try. I have never been disappointed.

My angst is on-hold; my mood is on ascending.  It’s another unseasonably warm and sunny day here in Colorado. (I’ve put distressing thoughts of global warming on the back burner.) Melville and the Met, my drug of choice, will Prozac me through the rest of the week.

















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