New Willa Cather Musical — “Kindness & Cruelty: Willa Cather in Jaffrey”

Kindness & Cruelty: Willa Cather in Jaffrey (

I’m always excited to hear about new adaptations of Cather’s work or works inspired by her. The first I heard about Kindness & Cruelty: Willa Cather in Jaffrey was via a Google alert for a performance in Jaffrey, NH this Sunday.

Here are the details:

February 11th:  4 pm at the Jaffrey Civic Center in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. There’s a $5 suggested donation at the door and seating is first come, first served. There’s a reception afterwards.

Event description from the Jaffrey Chamber website:

“Kindness & Cruelty: Willa Cather in Jaffrey” a new musical play by Tom Dunn and Will Ögmundson. 100 years ago Willa Cather, one of the truly great American novelists of the early 20th century wrote MY ANTONIA while living in Jaffrey at the Shattuck Inn for the summer. She found Jaffrey and Mt. Monadnock a place of inspiration and requested to be buried here in the Old Burying Ground behind the Meeting House. Come see this play before it opens off Broadway later in the month. This show is sponsored by the Jaffrey Historical Society with assistance from the Friends of the Library and the Civic Center.”

I was intrigued by the comment about the show opening off Broadway later this month, so did a little looking around on the internet and found there are several more performances coming up this month in NH and NYC.

From playwright Ögmundson’s website

This enthralling three woman show centers on the summer Willa Cather spent in Jaffrey, NH when she was writing  Sapphira and the Slave Girl. This show is written by William Ögmundson and Tom Dunn, and Mary Niederkorn, Jocelyn Duford and Rachel Coffin star. After the February 17th performance in New London, this show will go to the Hudson Guild Theater in NYC as part of the Midtown Theater Festival in February 2018.  

Shows are:

February 10th:  7pm at First Congregational Church of Lebanon, (South Park Street) Lebanon, NH ($10 suggested donation at the door)

February 17th: 7pm Whipple Hall, New London, NH tickets $12

February 20th at 9pm, February 21st at 6:15pm and February 24th at 3:30pm at the Hudson Guild Theatre, 441W 26th St. New York, NY [tickets $23 info here]

As most of you who are fans of an author or a particular book know, you kind of hold your breath over adaptations. That the show is contextualized around Sapphira and the Slave Girl might be bit dicey. This was Cather’s last novel and her only one set in Virginia, where she was born and spent the first nine years of her life. Some have accused Cather of being racist in this novel or of at least not interrogating the racist, slave owning South that she presents it in the novel.

Here’s yet another description of the show, this one from the Hudson Guild Theatre’s ticket page:

Famed NYC writer Willa Cather has been coming to NH for 15 years in the Fall to work, mostly in secret, on her writing. In 1938 a combination of deaths of her brother and closest friend, an injured wrist as well as the most devastating hurricane in NE [New England, not Nebraska] history has found her, for the first time in her life, unable to write.  This musical tells that story.

Phew. This sounds intense and like it could be depressing as hell. I’m not so sure how secretive her trips to Jaffrey were as she sure mentions the place as a writing destination in many of her letters to others (see: The Selected Letters of Willa Cather or The Complete Letters of Willa Cather [in progress]). She did have to protect her privacy, though, as her fame grew.

At least I’m old & wise enough not to go skipping into an adaptation expecting sunshine and kittens. And, if I’m going to get all “know-it-all-y” about Cather’s life and letters, it is important to note that she did not hold back in her writing or letters about her disillusionment with the rapid pace of change after World War I or her struggles with pain and the death of loved ones in her later years.

To view some promotional shots of the show from The Alchemists’ Workshop, the non-profit theatre company that is breathing life into this work, click here.

I hope to make it up to the performance in Jaffrey this Sunday and will report back.


  1. I’m afraid this would have me running fast in the opposite direction. I seem to be a lone voice in heartily disliking musicals, yes even those huge productions that people rave about like Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables etc

    • Ha! I love musicals. As a little kid, I was obsessed with my parent’s Broadway album of Camelot, which was my gateway show. I do have at least one other friend who doesn’t like musicals, so there’s at least two of you out there. 😉

What do you think? Leave a comment and let's talk!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.