The sixth Milford Readers and Writers Festival (MRAW), held September 22-24, proved once again that a tiny town like Milford could attract top notch, well-known, quality talent. It started in 2016 with co-founders Bob Levine, Suzanne Braun Levine, Sean Strub, and Amy Ferris who conceived the idea, developed the template, and brought speakers like Gloria Steinem, Alan Alda, Nelson and Alex Demille, and Richard C. Morais to Milford. Current Chair Edson Whitney and Vice Chair Carol McManus honored these co-founders as they carried on the tradition.
One of the speakers, Michael Worden, said, “There’s a small-town feeling, but you can connect with amazing people.”
That sentiment was followed by Barbara Butcher, another speaker, who added, “It’s refreshing to be in this town, to be in my little cabin, and then come into town and meet people who are enthusiastic about books and films and who are of like minds.”
Despite the rain, there was a warm and welcoming ambiance throughout the weekend with many excellent main stage performers, as well as free events at the library and local churches.
People were raving about the beauty of the town and its energy.
Amanda McBroom, cabaret singer and songwriter, opened the festival. She gained fame as the songwriter of “ The Rose” when Bette Midler sang it on Broadway. She defined the difference between a singer and a cabaret singer as one where the cabaret singer is free to talk about themselves, to tell a story, to introduce humor, and to more personally connect with the audience as she, indeed, did. McBroom was in conversation with Michelle Oram, who produced the session. McBroom is currently working on songs about the women of Shakespeare called “Lady Macbeth Sings the Blues,” which will premier in February in Key West.
During the typical Q&A session, which is part of each performance, a voice from the back of the theater — our very own mayor of Milford, Sean Strub, mentioned that John Berendt (author of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”) was in the audience. It turns out that McBroom wrote one of the songs for the movie version of his book. They had not met before. Imagine that in this tiny little town! Only in Milford.
The entire theater lit up when Harvey Fierstein took the stage with his constant companion, Good Time Charlie Brown — a Leonberger dog weighing about 150 pounds. Charlie was contentedly stretched out on stage by Fierstein’s side. Fierstein was totally relaxed and engaging with the audience, giving little expletive remarks as asides while keeping up the patter of his sentences. It was as if he was sitting in your living room just hanging out. This legend of Broadway and Hollywood is a playwright, a singer, an actor, a director, and a voiceover for films like “Mulan.” Some of his better-known plays are “Torch Song Trilogy” and “La Cage aux Folles.” His film and TV appearances include “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” and “Cheers.” His most recent book is a memoir called “I was Better Last Night” (Knopf, 2023).
Firestein was interviewed onstage by David Drake, also a playwright, stage director, and producer who did a masterful job of trying to get a word in edgewise.
Among the other speakers were Rob Armstrong, on the panel called “Rewriting Shakespeare.”
He and the other panelists basically came to the same conclusion that a change of words is a change of content. And that it’s not right to change an author’s words. “When you change just one word, it’s no longer that author’s book,“ Armstrong said.
The Salon on Sunday, another free event, consisted of three separate sessions: “What the Dead Know,” by Barbara Butcher, interviewed by novelist David Lender; “A lynching in Port Jervis,” by Michael J. Worden, interviewed by Christa Caceres; and “Gideon’s Revolution and the Treason of Benedict Arnold,” by Brian Carson, interviewed by Joseph Curran. All three sessions held audiences in rapt attention, but Butcher’s was perhaps the most electrifying and at once horrific and humorous. Butcher was the only woman in the medical examiner’s office in New York and her job was to work with the police and determine whether the death was a homicide, suicide, or an accident. She had to get the context of death and in the process relayed various gruesome stories of types of death. One anecdote she told was when she finally was accepted by the “guys” boys’ club in the south Bronx and they were going through body parts in an ice chest. She said, “Eddie, could you give me a hand here? Wait, I found one.”
Roseann Kalish commented, “The richness off Milford is to have a weekend like this full of art and books, and meeting people and their responses to our town. And having our people give of themselves to make our community so enriched. That’s what it’s all about.”
Only in Milford!