The Theatre Wing at Manchester Community College
in Manchester CT

& Fan Meeting on May 2, 1998

The Music of Leonard Cohen
Adapted by Clark Bowlen, Kathy Keena,
Deborah Simmons, Steve Starger

Review by Richard A. Straub

The program for the show explains that the piece is not biography, but rather the ensembles' response to Cohen's writings, " ... to the themes and archetypes that recur in his work, to the self-mocking disclaimers that follow his manifestos, to his spiritual quests, to his search for an unattainable lover that merges eroticism and salvation, and ultimately to his humility regarding his imperfections in an imperfect world."

And, in this reviewer's opinion, they accomplished that daunting task. WOW! This staging evoked an essence of Cohen far exceeding my highest hopes. The performance created the powerful angst, the humor, the lust, the constant con, the musical rhythms and double meanings so many Cohen fans know and love. The show provided us with a thoughtful and skillful flake of Our Man's life.

Clark Bowlen is credited as Producer/Designer, his wife Kathy Keena as Director, Deborah Simmons as Music Director and keyboard, and Steve Starger as Music Arranger and keyboard. The collaboration succeeded in creating a marvelous entertainment. The stars of the show, H.A. Shemonsky as the "The Mature Artist," and Paul Pricer as the "His Younger Self," must also have been creative assistants, as evidenced by the warmth and energy with which they acted and sang their parts. The supporting cast and crew demonstrated engaging enthusiasm throughout the show. "Hallelujah" to everyone involved.

Whether or not any biographical reality is attached, the staging and sets worked as good musical theater. Emotional ups and downs were highlighted during the show, not only by the actor holding the limelight, but also by the younger or older artist, the bit characters, and Suzanne. Similar to good movie technique, one character's reactions to events is as integral to the play's development as are other characters' actions.

While controversy could arise from having His Younger Self sing "Hey That's No Way to Say Good-by" to a young male lover, "Beautiful Losers" certainly implies sexual experimentation beyond beautiful women. Another very powerful stage moment comes when His Younger Self collapses while singing "I'm Your Man." He then anguishes back stage in a tee shirt while the rest of the cast engages in a loudly discordant rendition of "Jazz Police." Heard in the sense of emotional and artistic breakdown, that least favorite song now has new meaning to me. The play was funny-- it had us clapping and tapping feet, and it also smashed us viscerally -- Cohen's sardonic wit jerking us to different emotional states at his whim.

Many fans came so far for the entertainment, but all felt richly rewarded. Leicester, England; Portland, Maine; Philadelphia, Pa.; Westchester and Long Island, NY; and Convent Station, New Jersey were all represented. Cohen's office had kindly provided pins signifying fan membership in Leonard's "Order of the Unified Heart." Although there were not enough pins for cast and crew, all involved with developing and staging this show are clearly now honorary members. They added immensely to promoting Cohen's complex and compelling world vision, and have hopefully produced new fans.

I sincerely hope this wonderful adaptation will be produced in other venues around the world. I predict current Cohen fans would not only joyfully embrace it, but also that it will produce a whole new audience for his work. My thanks to the Manchester Connecticut artists who provided us with so much pleasure. In my opinion, Leonard would have thoroughly enjoyed the show.

We Came So Far For A Beautiful Evening

by Lizzie Madder

Geoff and Donna, April, Vicki, Karen and Michael, Lizzie, and Dick and Linda.
Click here to go to Dick's cyberTribute homepage to see more meeting photos!

It was with some nervous anticipation that I arrived at the Holiday Inn in Hartford, Conneticut on the afternoon of Saturday 2 May ... and then discovered that my room had an interconnecting door that led directly to Dick and Linda Straub's room!

So Dick and I finally met after a long time of writing emails to each other. Best of all, he'd remembered to bring along 'Dick's famous bloody mary mix', along with the limes and ice cubes ....! I've been hearing about this drink for a long time and he knew how much I wanted to try it. (Delicious, by the way!)

Then it was on to Nulli's restaurant, just down the road from the theatre, for a 5.30pm pre-theatre dinner. It was great to meet up with Cohen fans who had travelled a long way to be together for 'Came So Far For Beauty'. As always, Cohen fans just seems to connect so easily, and because of the newsgroup there is a sense of already knowing everyone.

Present were April, Vicki, Dick, Geoff, Karen et moi, some with partners, some with families, some on their own.

It was a shame that Chris Chalifonx(sp) had to cancel - but we used his place at the head of the table for Leonard's photo, so we could feel Leonard was with us in spirit if not in person (shame!)

It was a great opportunity for us all to swap "Lennie" stories and to get to know each other.

It was wonderful to receive the gifts that Mr Cohen had sent to Dick - The Order of the Unified Heart pins! And Dick and Linda had made beautiful certificates to go with these, as well as souvenir programmes for 'Came So Far For Beauty'.

From the restaurant, we made our way to the theatre, where we were met by Clark Bowlen and Kathy Keena, the producer and director of the play.

And what a play! From the opening bars of the overture, to the first lines of 'Came So Far For Beauty' to the last song, "Dance Me To the End of Love" ..... we were all totally swept along by this talented production.

After the play, I think it fair to say that the Cohenites were on a high. I don't think we had really expected this play to pick up the spirit of Leonard Cohen so well. We hadn't expected such a polished, professional performance. If I could have been in the States another week I would have seen the play again .... ah, but all good things come to an end!

It was time to return to the Holiday Inn, to party, to chat. We had already invited Clark and any members of the cast to come along to join in our evening, so it was especially good to find that they were ALL coming.

They were a fantastic crowd. I know I wasn't the only one who loved talking to them all, finding out how they saw Leonard in the light of this play and what books and music they had listened to for their background information. (For some, this was their first experience of Cohen).

In the bar, Dick and Linda had set up their video equipment to show 'interesting' Cohen videos, along with Geoff Gompers' cds and boom box.

I'd like to thank Dick and Linda and Geoff and Donna for generously offering to pay for the rounds of drinks, and the nibbles for the evening.

Another highlight of the evening was the auctioning of the one remaining Cohen-autographed shirt, from the Lincoln meeting a month earlier. It went for a record $150! And again, the money will go to the War Child charity.

I was also able to take a few orders for my 'Quotable' chiffon scarves, and sold the only one I had with me. Coincidentally, the quote on my scarf was "Came so far for beauty ......" and "Come forth from the cloud of unknowing ......" (Anyone interested in Cohen or other quotes can get more info from me at my email address!)

We were each given "Came So Far For Beauty" posters, which made nice mementoes of a wonderful evening.

By the end of the evening there was a frenzy of autograph swapping - we from the cast and the cast from us!! It was amusing to hear that some of the cast had been nervous of performing in front of us 'experts'!

Unfortunately, the bar closed at midnight but the talking went on into the early hours of Sunday morning .... as did the drinking .....

I'm sure all the Cohen fans (and their patient partners) will want to join me in sending thanks to Clark and Kathy, and to the musicians, Steve, Deborah and Curtis, to the cast - Melinda, Lori, Jeri-Ann, Andi, Eddy, James - and Herman and Paul, who did a wonderful job of portraying the old and the young Leonard Cohen, and to everyone who came along and made the evening so wonderful.

Click here for more info on the Came So Far For Beauty play