Willa’s Coming to Lebanon: Kindness and Cruelty

Original musical captures author’s ties to the Granite State

Wait, what? Willa Cather, famous Pulitzer Prize-winning author, is buried in New Hampshire? Yes. How that came to be is the subject of Kindness and Cruelty: Willa Cather of Jaffrey, New Hampshire, an original musical that is coming to Lebanon  on Saturday, February 10. See it before it heads to the Hudson Guild Theater in New York City on February 20.

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Tom Dunn of Henniker NH and William Ogmundson of New London NH teamed up to write and produce this piece after a random conversation with someone during one of their Alchemists' Workshop performances in Jaffrey NH. An audience member asked them whether they knew that Willa Cather was buried across the street. Dunn and Ogmundson were understandably surprised; Cather is most-often associated with the Great Plains and Nebraska, where she was raised and which served as the settings for many of her novels, including O Pioneers and My Ántonia. 

Willa Cather, writing

News of Cather’s burial site inspired Dunn to investigate further. Apparently Cather often traveled to Jaffrey NH, where she liked to write outdoors under a tent. Kindness and Cruelty is based on the author's 1938 visit, when she was experiencing her first case of writer's block. Mary Niederkorn portrays Cather in this three-woman play. Rachel Coffin is Cather's companion, Edith Lewis, and Jocelyn Duford plays Nancy, a local girl employed at the Shattuck Inn in Jaffrey.

Some books by and about Willa Cather that live in my office. One of her best known, My Ántonia, is lost somewhere amid my many and impossibly overstuffed bookshelves. 

Following its Lebanon NH performance, Kindness and Cruelty will be part of the New York Theater Festival, and will continue to tour. Ogmundsen says that "Nebraska, Ireland and Scotland are being booked as we speak."

See it Saturday, February 10, 2018 at 7:00 p.m. at the First Congregational Church in Lebanon NH, just off of Colburn Park. A $10 donation is suggested. For further information, go to http://alchemistsworkshop.org. For recent news about the upcoming publication of thousands of Willa Cather’s letters, see http://www.startribune.com/pulitzer-winner-willa-cather-s-letters-to-be-made-public/467869163/

Postscript: I myself was shocked and delighted to learn that Cather’s grave is in my adopted state of New Hampshire. In researching this article, I became aware of yet another surprising coincidence. Cather taught English for 10 years in my hometown of Pittsburgh PA, and most amazingly, in a school in my very own North Side neighborhood. 

(Featured photo, top, of Emmy-nominated Will Ogmundson and the cast of Kindness and Cruelty. Left to right, Jocelyn Duford, Ogmundson, Mary Niederkorn, and Rachel Coffin)


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