As our 30th year anniversary commences, the members of the Mercer County Top Producers Association completed 1,754 transactions, with over $726 million in total sales volume.
The MCTPA comprises the best agents from many of the local real estate firms — all of them recipients of the prestigious New Jersey Association of Realtors (NJAR) Circle of Excellence Award. Their commitments to professionalism, performance, dedication, and service to their clients are top priorities. Their purpose is to offer home buyers and sellers the highest level of service available.
When hiring a Top Producer, you are also tapping into the experience of all 66 agents; their monthly meetings give them the opportunity to share their expertise and techniques with each other, announce new listings, and listen to real estate-related professionals who keep them educated about the latest laws, practices, new products, market trends, and new technology. This ultimately helps make the many steps of their clients’ home buying and selling process a satisfying experience, and seamless for both the buyer and seller.
At the end of each year, the Mercer County Top Producers donate money to local charities, such as HomeFront, Mercer Street Friends, and the Princeton House Initiative.
If you are looking to buy or sell a home, be sure to call one of these top agents in your area.
When East Windsor resident Steve Welzer was a kid, he lived in the Weequahic section of Newark. Welzer had his first taste of cohousing, an intentional community of private homes clustered around shared space, at the Weequahic Summer Camp, founded by the high school football coach.
“All the friends and cousins went to summer camp together for eight weeks, so we had a real sense of community there,” Welzer recalls. “The bunks were around in a circle, around a lake and village green, and there were no cars — and that’s really what cohousing is like. You cluster houses together and try to keep cars on the periphery.”
At camp Welzer loved group singing, and one thing he looks forward to if his dream of a cohousing community comes true is being able to sing and make music together. “I play piano and guitar and am in a band,” he says. “But today everybody’s scattered all over the place and it’s hard to plan a rehearsal together.” To make it to a music jam in Philadelphia, he says, he “has to hassle with rush hour traffic.”
Looking at the arc of Welzer’s life — his camp experience, his tight neighborhood growing up, his high-school kibbutz experience, topped by two months living in a commune — it’s not surprising that he founded Ecovillage New Jersey, an umbrella group that wants to foster a whole network and variety of cohousing communities across the state, in part by encouraging the formation of subgroups oriented toward a specific area or property.
EcoVillage New Jersey is offering “The Cohousing Workshop: Making It Real,” led by Charles Durrett of the Cohousing Company, on Wednesday, June 5, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Hyatt Regency Hotel at 2 Albany Street in New Brunswick. Attendance at the workshop is limited to 25. The public is invited to an after-party at the Blackthorn Pub from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Cost: workshop and after-party, $149; after-party only, $20. Cosponsors are Ecovillage Alliance; Lynn Gaffney Architect; Cohousing Opportunities Group; Princeton Integral Yoga Community Center; and Blackthorn Restaurant and Irish Pub. For more information and to register, go to www.ecovillagenj.org.
Now part of Ecovillage New Jersey, its Hopewell subgroup, and a cohousing group in Pennsylvania, East Windsor resident Rosemary Stupel’s interest in cohousing also grows out of her lived experience. “I feel like all of my adult life I have been very interested [in the principles of cohousing], in terms of interactions with people — cooperating and sharing life’s joys and sorrows,” she says.
In her 20s she and two others purchased what she now calls “mini-cohousing,” a house in New York with three apartments. One of the apartments was rented to a friend who couldn’t afford to buy.
One important plus of the living arrangement, she says, was “just being there for each other.” Citing the alienation in our society, where people’s lives are so busy — rising early, commuting, rushing to finish dinner, and then it’s bedtime — she points to a quite different experience “when you have people in your life who take responsibility [for each other] and cook together.”
Her son, Noah, had a buddy in the downstairs apartment who would introduce him as “my brother.”
“The general principle is to live in proximity like we did at camp and be able to do all kinds of cultural and athletic things together,” Welzer says.“The way we live now is so atomized, it is not so easy for people to get together to do these communitarian types of things.”
Cohousing is one of three potential models of communal living: “the original kibbutz model,” where everything is owned in common; the cooperative model, where residents buy shares in the coop but all the housing is rental; and the cohousing model, where people own their homes, pay a monthly maintenance fee like they would in a condo, and share the work of administering and managing the community.
Cohousing includes communally owned structures where people usually gather for two to four communal meals a week, hold meetings and other events or other activities, exercise, and do their laundry. Teams share cooking, serving, grounds maintenance, and finance, and this teamwork creates a “kind of interdependence that makes you know who your neighbors are and care for your neighbors. Proximity and interdependence are key to rejuvenating real community life,” Welzer explains.
Early on decision-making was by consensus, where a group is committed to finding solutions that everyone actively supports or at least can live with. But, he says, “the movement is in transition away from consensus. We want to be as democratic as possible, but you can’t have everybody making every decision when a community gets too large.”
In 1991, because Welzer was involved with the Green Party, he got mail from the group that had started to develop EcoVillage at Ithaca in New York. “I loved their literature and was able to watch from its inception,” he says. He got friendly with the developers and the executive director and says, “I loved the conception, and I knew I wanted to do that.”
Because EcoVillage at Ithaca was also committed to green living and sustainability, as are many cohousing communities, the Green Party sponsored a yearly trip there “to show Green Party members and others that that was how we wanted to live,” Welzer says.
Calling EcoVillage at Ithaca “a very advanced model” of cohousing, Welzer uses it to describe the possibilities of this form of communal living. Sitting on a property of 175 acres, the community has three clustered neighborhoods of about 30 houses each, in an effort to keep the population below 100, usually somewhere between 60 and 80. The property also has two orchards and a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm. “The rest is left undeveloped, pristine; they feel they are stewarding that piece of land,” Welzer says.
Cars are parked on the periphery, with only pedestrian pathways internal to the neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has a common house that houses an industrial-scale kitchen and dining room, childcare center, workshop, gym, and guestrooms. “The idea is that your residential house can be smaller — the idea is to have a smaller ecological footprint,” Welzer says.
The community uses solar power, and the presence of the common house means private homes tend to be a little smaller. Houses, which are often duplexes, have big southern windows to make use of passive solar heat in the winter; vine-colored trellises above the windows shade them during the summer. They also have car-sharing arrangements to minimize the number of cars.
PhD student Jesse Sherry from Rutgers University has found that these efforts result in the ecological footprint of EcoVillage residents being 70 percent less than that of typical Americans.
To counter the social alienation in our society, “the atomization of these nuclear families in private homes that kind of get isolated from their communities,” ecovillages are re-enabling “the old way,” where people who lived in villages “were more interdependent, caring for each other, and looking out for each other.”
Welzer maintains that when people have “a sense of place and a commitment to place,” an ethic of sharing is a natural outgrowth. And the physical environment can enhance that. For example, kitchens in cohousing homes are in the front, facing the central area where children play. “When people are in their kitchens cooking, there are a set of adult eyes watching the common area,” Welzer says.
Welzer personally sees no downsides to living in an ecovillage, but he did cite a couple of potential challenges. “Since you are living in fairly close proximity and do a lot of work together, you have to pay attention to the issue of privacy,” he says.
The communal sense of having “a kind of open-door policy” where “people bop in on each other,” has spawned a custom to guard against unwanted interruptions: If people are visible in their kitchens or are in front of their houses, that “signals you are in a social frame of mind,” Welzer says. If not, people can close their blinds or retreat to the small patio behind the house.
Generally residential homes do not have garages or a driveway, which may be a problem for some. Parking areas are on the periphery, often with large carts available to wheel groceries or large packages to the house.
For people who may be concerned about isolation from other nearby communities, EcoVillage at Ithaca serves as a counter example. First of all, Welzer says that many people who “gravitate to social housing are socially minded.” In Ithaca cohousing residents interact regularly with others in Tompkins County and are active in community affairs. The ecovillage often hosts meetings and benefit concerts for various progressive organizations in its common houses.
Welzer says that the residents “are not isolated at all and are very aware of that issue [the potential for isolation]. In some sense they want to be as self-reliant as they can but not isolated,” he says.
The ecovillage also partners with nearby Ithaca College’s environmental studies program, providing a venue for students to apply what they are learning in class to real-life problems. The college website states that courses are taught collaboratively between Ithaca professors and EcoVillage residents “to ensure that students receive the most relevant and practical education.”
So given this enticing lifestyle, why are people not flocking to join? Because it’s tough to find the right property, getting a variance is difficult, and gathering sufficient funding for a down payment is often well nigh impossible. “Only about 10 percent of the initiatives really come to fruition in the building of a real community,” Welzer says.
Welzer shares the experience of his own group, which had its eyes on a piece of land in Andover, New Jersey, whose owner was interested in having an ecological organization on his property. But he wanted a down payment of $500,000, and the group had only six to eight households who would “commit to wanting to live there and put up a lot of money on speculation it would get built.”
And of course moving ahead after the land purchase entails many soft costs for environmental inspections, architectural plans, and the work of land developers. Although they tried negotiating a deal with the owner to pay less up front and more when the units were sold, they did not reach an agreement.
The next challenge after buying a property is to get a variance for the very different type of zoning needed for an ecovillage. Towns are accustomed to dividing a tract of land into individual lots with roads and driveways, but cluster houses have different requirements. To ensure that getting a variance is possible, Stupel says, land needs to be purchased in a place where the community’s leadership, whether town supervisors, city council members, or the planning or zoning board, would be receptive to a cohousing development.
Some years ago negotiations with a property owner enthusiastic over selling to his group died before a deal was consummated. In 2005 Delane Lipka, owner of the Mount Eden Retreat Center in Washington, New Jersey, in Warren County, came to hear then-executive director of EcoVillage at Ithaca, Liz Walker. Welzer had invited her to speak in Princeton during a book tour for “EcoVillage at Ithaca: Pioneering a Sustainable Future.” Noting the similarity between the acreage where her retreat center sat and that of EcoVillage at Ithaca, Lipka told Welzer, “I would love to have an ecovillage on my retreat property,” and because her husband, Harry, was in real estate, she said she could guarantee the necessary zoning.
What they called the Mount Eden EcoVillage Project began with visits by Welzer and Delane to different cohousing communities.
When Harry Lipka died in 2007 Delane inherited properties that she planned to sell to accumulate money for the ecovillage, but after her husband’s death Welzer says she was feeling overwhelmed, and he backed off.
Welzer got back in touch with Delane Lipka and they were on track to complete the project when in 2014 Delane Lipka died. “The property then went to her kids. It didn’t go to our projects,” Welzer says.
That left them at square one, so they initiated a new strategy. In fall, 2014, they launched a meetup, which they dubbed EcoVillage New Jersey. Their short-term goal was to educate people in order to expand their base, and thereby gather “the human and financial resources” necessary to move forward.
This is a tough row to hoe. “There needs to be a core group of people who are both very committed to the idea and have some of the skill sets needed to push it forward,” Stupel says.
Also, for groups that value diversity, Stupel says they must ensure “some level of affordability. But most people are not necessarily in a place to have assets to buy the property.” She also wonders whether the paucity of cohousing communities in New Jersey is in part due to its high property tax rates.
EcoVillage New Jersey has grown from 10 at the initial meetup to a mailing list of 600. Educational efforts have involved visiting nearby cohousing communities, reading books together, or listening to speakers on environmental and communal topics. Meetings draw between 20 and 40 people.
The group is diverse, divided between people interested in urban, rural, and suburban cohousing, with some looking at retrofitting city apartments and others seeking property with room for farming. EcoVillage New Jersey acts as an umbrella for subgoups with similar cohousing needs.
“People would love to do it in Princeton, if we could find a piece of land where we could walk to Princeton. Last fall a subgroup of about 20 coalesced in the Hopewell Area Co-Housing subgroup, and at the May meeting of EcoVillage New Jersey, they planned to explore working together with interested Princetonians. The first meeting of a group who want to retrofit housing in Trenton will be happening soon.
“We feel this is a coming movement, and people are turning greener and greener all the time,” Welzer says.
The book that launched the cohousing movement in 1988 is “Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves,” by Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett. The authors were inspired to write the book by cohousing they saw in Denmark. Because he planned to be in Princeton for his daughter’s graduation from the Woodrow Wilson School at the university, Durrett wrote to EcoVillage NJ and offered to do the full-day workshop on June 5.
Although Welzer was born in Newark, his family moved to Maplewood when he was four. His father, after owning a successful camera store in South Orange, retired early and followed his own dream: he loved Broadway and ended up coproducing about 20 shows. The only successful one was “Annie Get Your Gun” with Bernadette Peters, an acquaintance of his father, 50 years after its 1946 debut with Ethel Merman. His mother taught nursery school, raised Welzer and his sister at home, then returned to teaching.
Welzer recalls his most seminal experience of community happening in Maplewood, where the absence of school busing meant that everyone walked together to neighborhood schools, then at lunchtime to someone’s house.
This promoted a real sense of connection. Welzer says, “We knew everybody in the neighborhood, and they knew us. There were not as many cars, so you could ride bikes all over the place. Our mothers let us out in the morning, and they were lucky if we were back at dusk — we would go to the park and to the movies on bicycles together.”
He also dipped into a different type of community at age 16 on a teen trip to Israel, spending two weeks at Kibbutz Degania. Welzer says, “What I saw in Israel was a sense of community. It didn’t occur to me then that America was losing something very important, which I would call community, stability, a sense of place. We always had that as kids and took it for granted, and when I saw that on a kibbutz, it seemed like a natural way to live.”
Welzer earned a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in economics, both at Rutgers University.
As a young adult, he was involved in the free school movement described in the book “Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing,” by A. S. Neill. His vision was of a communitarian, democratic school, where students had a big part in running it. Welzer and his friends tried to start such an elementary school in Plainfield, and even got some parents interested.
He also spent two months at the New Buffalo Commune in Taos, New Mexico, during a trip around the country after his junior year — made possible by a high number in the draft lottery. He says he was seeking community, but he left after two months when he didn’t find it. “The communes then were getting bogged down in the drug stuff. They weren’t successful at establishing a stable group of people that had a commitment to place.”
During graduate school Welzer got interested in programming computers and in 1980 started working at Applied Data Research in Princeton. He got his master’s degree two years later.
The position that would take him through the rest of his career was as a programmer with the New Jersey Judiciary at the Hughes Justice Complex. During his tenure, he says, “PCs, networking, and the Internet became gigantic,” and he did PC programming for various subdepartments. In 2008, at age 58, he had just completed 25 years in the state system when the state offered a buyout, with lifetime health insurance coverage, and he took it and retired.
With more time on his hands, he was able to run for governor, state assembly, and the U.S. Congress on the Green Party ticket. “I always told people all it takes to get on the ballot in New Jersey is 100 signatures on a petition,” he says, adding that he ran himself to set an example. After his failed political runs, he devoted more of his energy to EcoVillage New Jersey.
Welzer has two daughters and four grandchildren.
Stupel grew up in Texas and spent her entire career in nonprofit administration, including development, fundraising, marketing, and membership and board development at organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund, the Haitian Education and Leadership Program, the National Lawyers Guild, and the Vera Institute of Justice.
Stupel participates intermittently in EcoVillage New Jersey activities; she is a member of the Hopewell subgroup and a group in Pennsylvania. “I am exploring different possibilities and will see where it lands,” she says.
Cohousing seems to attract people who care about the broader community. “I think it is typical not just to be inward focusing, celebrating life’s transitions and sharing meals, but also outward focusing,” Stupel says.
Many want to operate in harmony with nature. “Even in urban housing groups that is often the theme: using reclaimed natural resources; having gardens, maybe where your neighbors can pick what you are growing; or being involved in other organizations where there is synergy,” she says.
Explaining what she is looking for in cohousing, Stupel says, “I share Steve’s [Welzer] strong interest in living in harmony with the land and reducing our footprint. I think the goal would be to develop a cohousing community that is seen as a model for prioritizing people, green living, and having some elements of old version neighborhoods where people interact.”
Stupel looks forward to living in a cohousing community that will enable her to “expand the way we are in terms of our relationships” in an environment that “lends itself to really working together in a way where you grow.”
The Cohousing Workshop: Making It Real, Ecovillage New Jersey, Hyatt Regency Hotel, 2 Albany Street, New Brunswick. Wednesday, June 5, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Led by Charles Durrett of the Cohousing Company. After-party follows from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Blackthorn Pub. Register. $149; $20 for after-party only. www.ecovillagenj.org
The staff at Hopewell Public Library was thrilled to see the extensive article on Hopewell’s “Castle” in the May 16 issue. Fortuitously, the Castle’s current owners have generously included the property’s gardens in our upcoming 2019 Garden Tour, on Saturday, June 1.
We would like to clarify two potential misunderstandings of the article, though. First, the Castle is a private residence and notwithstanding the map to the castle shown in US 1, members of the public should not trespass on the property unless they have purchased a ticket to the Garden Tour. The inside of the house is not part of the tour. Second, the gardens are no longer “in ruins,” as stated in the article. While they may not be restored to their 1890 splendor, the current owners have devoted a great deal of effort to make them beautiful and tour-worthy. We hope we’ll see lots of US 1 readers at the Castle on June 1! (Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 on the day of the tour and can be purchased at www.redlibrary.org/events or at the library, 13 East Broad Street, Hopewell.)
Staff Librarian, Hopewell Public Library
Home Springs Eternal for Princeton Community Housing
On May 11 Princeton Community Housing (PCH) hosted our 2019 Home Springs Eternal Gala at the Boathouse at Mercer Lake in celebration of the work of our honorees who help make Princeton a diverse and vibrant community and in support of our mission to provide additional affordable rental homes in Princeton. I am writing on behalf of the trustees and staff of PCH to extend our sincere thanks to the Princeton community for supporting the gala and our mission.
More than 200 guests enjoyed listening to musical entertainment from Princeton’s own Sustainable Jazz and Chris Harford and the Band of Changes. Valerie Haynes, Alvin McGowen and I proudly introduced Carol Golden, Lance Liverman, and the Borden Perlman Insurance Agency, respectively, all who received service awards for their steadfast support of affordable housing to ensure that Princeton is a welcoming and inclusive community.
PCH Board chair Van Davis, and PCH gala co-chairs, Margaret Griffin and Daniela Bonafede-Chhabra, spoke passionately about the need for additional affordable rental homes (there are approximately 1,800 households currently on our waiting lists), the challenges in funding new affordable housing (the funds historically provided by federal and state sources are much more limited), and PCH’s plans to build 100 new affordable homes over the next five years — some of these in partnership with the Princeton Housing Authority and the municipality.
Hope Springs Eternal, a direct quote from Alexander Pope’s work “An Essay on Man,” refers to the faith that one holds onto during trying times. The gala reinforced the principle that affordable rental homes in Princeton, a community with abundant resources, must continue to thrive. From the stable base that our homes provide, where a household pays no than 30 percent of its income for rent, people have hope and a greater chance to succeed.
Please visit our website (www.pchhomes.org) to learn about a few of the individuals and families whose lives have improved because of the homes and opportunities provided by PCH.
We would like to thank the many and generous sponsors, raffle prize donors, contributors of goods and services, and attendees for their support of the gala and PCH.
New Jersey has about 30 years to become a “carbon neutral” state, according to the Clean Energy Act, which was signed into law about a year ago. That means nothing less than a complete transformation of the state’s economy, which, like most of the rest of the world, currently relies on the burning of fossil fuels to heat our homes, generate electricity, and get around. To stop greenhouse gas emissions, that will have to change to a system powered by non-polluting electricity.
Last summer the New Jersey Economic Development Authority created an institution to help move things in the right direction. The Office of Economic Transformation has been working with the Board of Public Utilities to encourage clean energy projects, especially offshore wind power. The new office is also part of Governor Phil Murphy’s mandate to change the Economic Development Authority from an organization that mostly gives out tax credits and special subsidies to one that works to create a more business-friendly environment.
A transition to clean energy comes with opportunities for the business community: someone will have to build, install, and maintain all that new energy infrastructure. The New Jersey Tech Council is hosting a clean and sustainable technology round table and networking/slam event on Wednesday, May 22, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the NJTC headquarters at 98 Albany Street in New Brunswick. Brian Sabina, senior VP of economic transformation for the NJEDA will be there along with Upendra Chivikula of the Board of Public Utilities, Michael Oster of EOS Energy Storage (a green technology company), and Steve Socolof, managing partner of Tech Council Ventures. For more information on the free event, visit business.njtc.org.
“We have been ramping up activities,” Sabina said, especially in the realm of wind power. Murphy has called for 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind turbines to be installed. Sabina noted that this is a unique opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new $3 billion project. “It’s the birth of a brand new industry,” he said. The BPU plans to announce the winner of the companies that have bid to build the first wind farm.
But the company that builds the wind farm will not be the only beneficiary of the project. There will be plenty of opportunities inland. “If you look at the offshore wind industry, of course maintaining and installing is going to happen along the coast,” Sabina said. “But probably 2/3 of the equipment being installed needs to be manufactured elsewhere.” That includes steel components, welding, cabling, boats to bring crew out, and a whole range of supply chain activity.
Sabina said companies can register as supply chain providers at the NJEDA website, www.njeda.org.
And while unforeseen obstacles might still derail the project, Sabina said wind power is moving along faster than anyone expected. “The government is moving quickly to support industry,” he said. “We’ve seen movement in the last 18 months equal to what we saw in the last 10 years prior to that. It’s been aggressive.”
New Jersey is already a leader of renewable energy. Even before the wind power project, it is ranked No. 5 among all states in the generation of renewable energy. It is also one of the lowest carbon emitters in the electricity generation sector thanks to its heavy reliance on nuclear power.
Generating power without carbon emissions is one thing, however, and using it is another. With the exception of nuclear power, carbon-free energy is subject to the whims of nature. While the wind blows most of the time off the Jersey shore, there are the occasional doldrums. And the power can’t go out on a windless, cloudy day. That’s where grid-scale storage comes into play. The focus of grid storage development is currently on batteries: making them bigger, better, cheaper, and longer lasting so the lights never go out.
Sabina says the EDA is working to develop the grid storage sector in New Jersey. Edison is already home to EOS Energy Storage, which is represented at the NJTC event. EOS makes giant banks of batteries that can be installed alongside solar farms to store excess power on sunny days and release it at night or whenever else it’s needed. It is currently a national leader in the technology and home to the largest battery testing facility in the U.S.
Part of the EDA’s strategy is to encourage other such companies to “cluster” in the state so that it becomes the natural place to consider when tech companies are deciding where to locate. “We want to attract additional companies to create a critical mass for that industry,” Sabina said.
A second prong of the Office of Economic Transformation strategy is to create innovative financing mechanisms, particularly for smaller startup companies. Sabina said the EDA is partnering with the BPU in this area.
A third part of the strategy is talent: helping connect companies to universities to get them the specialized staff they need.
Fourth and last is marketing, which means helping companies connect with one another and building more clean tech incubators throughout the state.
“We have a series of companies doing incredible things in clean energy and the clean tech space in New Jersey,” Sabina said. Many of them are being supported by existing tax credit programs that are designed to encourage high-tech and biotech startups.
“Governor Murphy has said tax incentives are one tool we need to be using in the economic development arena, but there’s a whole bunch of other stuff that we need to be doing, which is about creating the right conditions for companies to come here not because of the tax incentive, but also because it should be a no-brainer that New Jersey is the right place to do that sort of work.”
New Jersey has always been a land of inventors. Some of those inventions have changed the world, and others have been forgotten, but local author Linda J. Barth seems to know about them all.
Barth, a retired fourth-grade teacher, has written numerous books and given frequent lectures about topics related to local history. Her latest book, “New Jersey Originals: Technological Marvels, Odd Inventions, Trailblazing Characters and More,” published by History Press in 2018, picks up where her previous book, “A History of Inventing New Jersey” left off.
Barth will discuss her new book in a free talk at the Princeton Public Library on Tuesday, May 28, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.princetonlibrary.org.
The book includes several inventions from the Princeton area:
What makes New Jersey so special? In addition to culture, wonderful suburban towns, a high standard of living, strong public schools, a mild climate, mountains, and beaches, we must add one more: innovation.
In addition to the creations of Bell Labs and Thomas Edison, New Jersey has innovators and inventors galore.
Before, during, and after World War II, the soldiers and civilians at Fort Monmouth and Camp Evans produced many innovations — including radar and night vision goggles — that helped the United States win the war. Cook College at Rutgers has produced important, often disease-resistant, vegetables and flowers. Among the edible inventions are pork roll, M&M’s, and the famous Campbell’s green bean casserole. Quirky firsts include Lucy the Elephant and the Francis life car. And just for fun, I’ve added some famous and not-so-famous New Jerseyans.
A few excerpts from the book follow:
Princeton Plasma Physics Lab — Dr. Lyman Spitzer (1914-1997). Dr. Lyman Spitzer, director of the observatory at Princeton University, conceived of a project that could generate fusion power. This is the process by which stars generate energy. Eventually this work led to the creation of the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab (PPPL), one of the most prominent research laboratories in the world.
Previously he had conceived of a space-based telescope that could allow astronomers to see farther and more clearly into the universe. The result of this work was the Hubble telescope, launched in 1990. In 2003 NASA launched another space telescope named in honor of Spitzer. This was the first telescope to see light reflected by a planet outside of our solar system.
Edison’s concrete homes: One of the great inventor’s lesser known creations is the concrete house, a building made from cast-iron molds. It took six hours to pour the concrete and six days for it to set. Several of these homes, dating from the 1930s, dot the Valley View neighborhood of Phillipsburg. Others can be found in Union and Montclair.
An article in the June, 1965, issue of “Concrete Construction” magazine described the Edison method of building a concrete home:
“Basic to the plans were Edison’s ingeniously conceived cast-iron molds, which when assembled would produce, in a single operation, walls, floors, stairways, roof, bath and laundry tubs, and conduits for electric and water service. As many as 500 different sectional molds were required for a single unit. Moreover, because of the intricate tracery being attempted, each mold had to be faced with nickel or brass. The cost per set of molds soared to $25,000. Nevertheless, since each set of molds could be re-used indefinitely, Edison estimated the cost per house unit at $1,200, including plumbing, heating, and lighting fixtures.”
The molds could be used in different combinations so that all of the homes would not look the same. A distinct advantage is that these homes are warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, due in part to the six-inch-thick walls.
While Edison was not in the business of building concrete houses, developers could buy his molds. But as Leonard DeGraaf, archivist at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, points out, “Edison told The New York Times that the cost for getting the molds and the equipment a builder needed was approximately $30,000 which, in 1907, is a lot of money. So, the system wouldn’t be cost-effective unless a developer was building a lot of houses.”
Elwin Orton — Disease-resistant dogwood trees: Among those Rutgers professors inducted into the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame is Elwin Orton of Millstone, New Jersey.
He has been credited with saving the U.S. dogwood industry by developing new strains of hardy, disease-resistant hybrid dogwoods. At this time diseases and insects threatened the native species of the flowering tree.
Professor Orton has earned over 15 patents for new strains of dogwoods and holly. Rutgers estimates that the retail value of his creations is greater than $200 million and licensing royalty proceeds to Rutgers exceed $1.9 million.
Orton has received an award from the American Horticultural Society and the Distinguished Service Medal from the Garden Club of America. He was inducted into the New Jersey Nursery and Landscape Association’s Hall of Fame and received the Norman J. Coleman Award of the American Association of Nurserymen. Most recently, the Eastern Region of the International Plant Propagator’s Association initiated a new Research Fund in his honor.
To what does Professor Orton attribute his success in this field? “Good note-taking skills and patience,” he said. “Sometimes it can take five, ten, or twenty years to see the characteristics of hybrids.”
Abram Spanel (1901-1985) —Apollo space suit: The Drumthwacket estate in Princeton, now the official residence of New Jersey’s governors, was begun in 1835 by Charles Smith Olden. He gave his home the Scots-Gaelic name Drumthwacket, which translates to “wooded hill.” Upon his death, Olden left his lands and Drumthwacket to his wife, Phebe Ann Smith.
In 1893 Moses Taylor Pyne (1855-1921) purchased Drumthwacket and began transforming it into a 183-acre estate. In 1921 Moses Taylor Pyne died and bequeathed Drumthwacket to his only grandchild, Agnes.
Abram Nathanial Spanel bought Drumthwacket in 1941. An ingenious inventor, Spanel founded the International Latex Corporation in 1932. It later became the International Playtex Corporation. During World War II Spanel’s company made latex products such as attack boats, life rafts, and canteens for the military.
During the war and beyond, Mr. Spanel’s engineering staff lived at Drumthwacket, conceiving many of his inventions in what today is the Music Room. At his death Spanel held more than 2,000 patents, including a pneumatic stretcher designed to carry wounded military personnel in the water. He also invented a home hair-cutting device.
In 1965 Abram Spanel’s company won a NASA-sponsored competition to develop the Apollo spacesuit. In an address to ILC employees, Spanel remarked, “It is the greatest privilege of my life to present to you the role that your company played in that colossal of all human achievements in placing two American astronauts on the surface of the moon for the glory of civilization and humanity.”
Custom-made by ILC employees as a training suit for Astronaut Paul Weitz who flew aboard the Skylab II mission in 1973, the suit is identical to all of the suits that were used on the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 lunar missions.
The Zimmerli Museum’s exhibition “Becoming John Marin” provides an opportunity to look anew at the groundbreaking artist and reflect on the creation of modern art in America — as well as the fickleness of reputation.
Looking at the latter first, the influential high priest of mid-20th- century American art criticism, the influential Clement Greenberg, wrote, “If it is not beyond all doubt that [John Marin] is the best painter alive in America at this moment, he assuredly has to be taken into consideration when we ask who is.”
That was high praise for a New Jersey-born artist (1870-1953) from the critic who embraced abstract art as a historical and aesthetic progression and championed its practitioners, most notably Jackson Pollock.
The praise was also part of a series of such praise from several major proponents of 20th-century American modern art.
Take, for instance, Marin’s first solo exhibition. It was organized in 1913 in New York City by Alfred Stieglitz, another New Jersey native who “played a pivotal role in the introduction of modern art into America and its subsequent development over the course of the first half of the 20th century,” according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
For Stieglitz, who advanced photography as an art form and ran a gallery for new art, Marin represented a contemporary and free expression that was strong, modern, and American.
Then there was Marin’s 1936 Museum of Modern Art retrospective. As museum director Alfred Barr wrote at the time, “Not many American artists while they were still alive have had such extravagant admiration and so devout a following; and none perhaps has had such a persuasive advocate as Alfred Stieglitz. Indeed, though Mr. Stieglitz would not wish it said, this exhibition is in no small part a tribute to his devoted championship of Marin’s work.”
But it wasn’t just curators. Fellow artists also praised Marin. For example, 20th-century modernist Marsden Hartley said, “Marin has saved my life in the past because he has brought esoteric release to me by some of those strangest and completely revealing (watercolors) that have ever been done by anyone.”
That Marin — the first American to be given an exhibition at the prestigious Venice Biennale (in 1950) — now draws blanks stares when his name is mentioned ironically reflects the use of public relations to bring artists and movements to the attention of both the art establishment and the general public.
Stieglitz saw Marin’s 1913 exhibition as an opportunity to advance modern art, and “Marin’s introductory text for the exhibition was strategically published in newspapers on February 13, under the title ‘The Living Architecture of the Future.’ Stieglitz reprinted it in his journal, Camera Works,” notes the Zimmerli exhibition’s catalog, also called “Becoming John Marin.”
The catalog continues that Stieglitz successfully linked the Marin exhibition with the opening of the art-game-challenging International Exhibition of Modern Art at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City.
While Stieglitz’s goal “to garner attention for a specific vision of the New York avant-garde” was a success, it was just one moment of series of continuous “revolutionary” or nominally progressive art movements and an ensuing multitude of art “isms” promoted through journals, newspapers, and now online magazines.
In a sense the star quality of Marin and other artists was eclipsed by both innovative movements and arts-audiences swayed by the “tyranny of novelty,” as the late American abstract artist and New Jersey arts writer Walter Darby Bannard called it.
Now “Becoming John Marin,” both the exhibition and expansive 400-plus page catalog, provide the occasion to examine Marin. The exhibition comes from the Arkansas Arts Center’s collection of works on paper, donated by Marin’s daughter-in-law, Norma B. Marin, and follows a more expansive Arkansas exhibition. Yet with 70 works on paper, the Zimmerli show is as hefty as the catalog.
Ann Prentice Wagner, exhibition curator, curator of drawings at the Arkansas Arts Center, and catalog editor and contributor, puts Marin’s artistry in fine perspective.
In her essay, “The Desire to Draw,” Wagner says, “The most essential qualities Marin felt impelled to capture in his drawings roughly divide into structure and a universal force he termed ‘movement.’ But often ‘divide’ is the wrong word — the very lines that describe structure also are charged with gesture. And the ‘movement’ side of the duality is complex. It includes three aspects Marin discussed in his letters and other writings: the physical motion of things; the essential animating force Marin felt in this subjects (whether or not they actually moved in space); and the energy of the working artist himself.”
Wagner says Marin’s watercolors of the then-new Woolworth Building — the world’s tallest building at the time — reflect his attempt to visually describe his connection to his environment. Or as the artist put it, “The whole city is alive — buildings, people, all are alive — and the more they move me the more I feel them to be alive. It is the moving of me that I try to express.”
“Drawing for John Marin was the medium he explored first and most continually throughout his career. He said of his youthful efforts, ‘I just drew. I drew every chance I got,’” writes Wagner, before continuing with the following biographical background: “The boy’s mother died a few days after giving birth to him in December, 1870, in Rutherford, New Jersey. John Marin grew up under the care of his maternal grandparents and then of his unmarried aunts, Jennie Currey and Lelia Currey. Marin’s father traveled to make a living wherever he could as a textile salesman and a public accountant. Meanwhile, little John spent hours on his own, wandering the woods and fields of New Jersey with a sketchbook and pencil in his hands.”
Other quick biographic notes include studying engineering at the Hoboken Academy and Stevens Institute of Technology, where he produced tight and precise architectural renderings. Giving up drafting and architecture in 1889 he studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and the Arts Students League in New York City. An academic prize for his Weehawken closely observed sketches of wild fowl and river boats reinforced his decision, and he mixed techniques, such as those in contemporary illustration, to free his approach and help create works that vibrated with movement.
Wagner says Marin’s recordings of the details of the works he created while traveling around Philadelphia, New York, and New Jersey “show his deep interest in the visual personalities of places” and “introduced a new element of repeated lines that created a rapid rhythm. In this way, movement entered Marin’s drawings.”
Marin’s description of his approach also involves movement. “As I drive a good deal I am conscious of the road, the wonderful everlasting road, a leading onward, a dipping, arising, a leading up over the hill to the sea beyond. To nail that, to express that, to find the means to clutch, so that there it is, that’s what torments me, to show with startling conviction. So I make the attempt.”
Becoming John Marin, Zimmerli Museum, Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick. Through Sunday, May 26. Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 5 p.m. Free. 848-932-7237 or www.zimmerli.rutgers.edu.
The first question I ask Tallur L.N. — the artist whose exhibition, “Interference Fringe,” is on view at Grounds For Sculpture through January 5, 2020 — is how to use his name with a courtesy title. Is he, for example, Mr. Tallur? Mr. L.N.?
Just Tallur, he says. Tallur (pronounced “tahl-loor” with the accent on the second syllable) is the name of his ancestral village in India. It would be like calling a native of the township in which Grounds For Sculpture is sited “Hamilton.” Further investigation reveals that L.N. stands for Lakshmi Narayan and the village of Tallur is in Karnataka.
Asked if he thinks in English or his native dialect, he shakes his head to both. He thinks in art.
“Interference Fringe” includes 27 sculptures in a range of media: found objects, appropriated industrial machines, carved stone and wood, cast bronze, and works embedded in concrete and coated in bone meal. The show is billed as Tallur’s first and most significant survey exhibition in the U.S. — he has had solo exhibitions in Germany, South Korea, India, and China.
Grounds For Sculpture Executive Director Gary Garrido Schneider, who curated the exhibition, first discovered Tallur in New York, and the museum subsequently purchased his sculpture “Obituary Note” for outdoor exhibition.
“Obituary Note” incorporates a replica of a bronze dancing Shiva, with burned wood typically used in a funeral pyre and taking the form of a globe. It is typical Tallur, employing a replica of a traditional work from art history that is now sold as a trinket in souvenir shops along with a contemporary material that plays off of the replica. “With its references to global capitalism, it fills a gap here,” says Schneider, who has devoted both the Domestic Arts and Museum buildings for this exhibition.
Along his journey toward becoming an exhibiting artist, Tallur earned a master’s degree in museology, and the study of how to exhibit works in museums informs his own work. One installation is on scaffolding — museum-goers can climb on it and interact with the work. He compares it to a contemporary display case, a cabinet of curiosities, dynamic and utilitarian, allowing a viewer to look both forward and back. “It allows us to look but does not box us in.”
“The scaffolding interferes with our ability to look at a single sculpture and upends typical standards of museum display,” says Schneider. “Its architecture challenges us with obstructed views and partial access. This intervention tempts us to climb upstairs to an observation deck and take in multiple vantage points but simultaneously prevents us from getting too close to the objects. Much like the works it holds this clever staging device deliberately makes it difficult to decipher the symbols the sculptures allude to and subvert.”
Tallur responds to classical works of art, as well as stereotypes, in an amused and contemporary way. He looks at the ways nails are used in world cultures. For example, he says, a yogi sleeping on a bed of nails is a typical Indian stereotype. There is also the symbolism of nailing to the cross in Christianity, and we often talk about being nailed down, or nailing it down. Tallur includes a nail making machine, as well as his own take on a sculpture of an angel he saw exhibited at New York’s Metropolitan Museum, carrying a nail (signifying crucifixion), alongside a yogi on a bed of nails.
He is interested in money and the value we place on it: the greed common to many cultures. Coins can be found embedded in his works and suggest the monetization of religious icons and art history. In another installation, “Apocalypse” (2010), viewers must squeeze through jail-like bars and are invited to deposit coins into an industrial polishing machine. Following Tallur’s careful instructions, the coins become “civilized” and are polished with little nails to the point of denuding their value. “As we are grinding away, eroding, we are building and finding a new way of adding on,” says Tallur. (A sign lets viewers know they can place an order at the front desk to get their denuded coin back, “civilized,” and mounted on a mirrored plate.)
Another work, “Chromathophobia” — fear of money — comprises a wooden log over a concrete Buddha that has been stamped “Made in China.” Adjacent is a wall of hammers; viewers are invited to hammer coins into the log. On opening weekend visitors flocked to find a spot in which to hammer their money into an already coin-encrusted piece of wood. “It’s very good therapy — it makes people think about money,” he says.
In “Enlightenment Machine” he offers viewers kitsch replicas of the Statue of Liberty and invites them to grind them on a grinding machine. We create cheap replicas of these antiques, he points out, mass producing them and becoming complicit in degrading them.
Tallur “employs” termites to be participants in the creation of some of the works, causing the accelerated erosion of the wood. One work, “Alzheimer’s,” is particularly haunting, the wooden figure eaten away just as memories of a person with the disease can be. This particular wooden sculpture is a “bhoota” figure, typically carved and sold near village temples around Karnataka, a ceremonial prop that is typically used to ward off evil. With Alzheimer’s, there is also the cultural memory that is lost, he notes.
He also employs termites in “Bulimia II” and for “Milled History.” For the latter, Tallur used the termites to feed on a wooden copy of a temple figurine, then digitally scanned the remains and milled them into sandstone that mimics the wood grain of its original state. He compares everyday acts of consumption and digestion to the gradual effacement and loss of culture. “Museums are repositories of history, but whose history?” he asks. “We put objects on a pedestal to show our shared humanity.”
It was through his interest in museology that he learned how termites are used at the Museum of Natural History to erode controlled sections of wood and to apply them toward his own goals.
Perhaps the most frightening piece in the show is “Panic Room.” The viewer stands inside a square of burlap sacks that inflate and rise around her, trapping her inside. Depending on one’s frame of mind, it can feel like a cocoon or make you feel claustrophobic, unable to escape. Tallur calls it an exercise in understanding human nature.
The sacks themselves evoke the sacks of grain that are dropped by helicopter into areas where food is scarce, or the sandbags used to help mitigate hurricane and tsunami disasters. “Wealthy people have panic rooms for protection, but your wealth can lock you in,” Tallur says. He compares it to his work “Apocalypse”: “Does money get you in the cage, or out of the cage?”
It took him a year to figure out how to link the bags in a way that kept them air tight so they could hold the air. He got the idea for “Panic Room” after reading news of how after the tsunami in India, when the government gave food packages in burlap sacks like these, it was never actually distributed to the public.
“Fringe” (2019), a towering 18-foot-tall site-specific installation coated in bone meal, bone char, and crushed bone, was inspired by historic Indian temple fragments in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (also shown). The figure appears to be eating its own leg, observes Tallur.
Bone is not a mainstream medium, says Schneider. “Yet bone is now a popular additive to smoothies and broth. We grow crops with it. It gets cycled back into the food system.”
“Interference” is a mesmerizing slow-motion video that shows the smoke-like plumes of dust being beaten out of a historic rug from the collection of the Junagagh Museum in Gujart, India. In essence it is a portrait of historic dust. The 18th-century carpet existed before Indian Independence and the dust being beaten out comes from the time of British rule. The dust being set free makes its own music, with sounds like splashing waves.
Born in 1971, Tallur splits his time between his rural family home in Karnataka, India, and the industrial urban city of Daegu, South Korea, from where his wife, a translator, originates (they met in India). Tallur’s father, a government clerk, was frequently transferred, and the family led a peripatetic life. He was unaware that one could make a profession out of art until he discovered a newspaper cartoonist. He earned a bachelor’s degree in painting from Chamarajendra Academy of Visual Arts (1996), and after not getting into a graduate program in painting he pursued an MFA in museology from Maharaja Sayyajirao University (1998) and a master’s in contemporary fine art practice from Leeds Metropolitan University (2002). But his best education came, he says, from visiting other artists’ studios and learning their systems. “Watching a skilled person teaches a lot — it’s how I learn. It’s all about observing.”
To complete his exhibition at Grounds For Sculpture, Tallur has traveled back and forth numerous times over two years, spending the last month and a half in residence. “Grounds For Sculpture gave me so much flexibility and time to improvise,” he says.
Indeed, his idea for a mega installation with tractor wheels flinging mud all about the gallery walls and windows was welcomed. The filth-making contraption makes us question what we value as beauty, what we expect to see in a museum. With hammering and coin grinding and statuette grinding and mud-slinging, this is not a quiet exhibit. This is not a non-violence show. Nor are the times in which we live; we are living through a crisis and need to re-examine our former notions. And yet the dust emanating from that old rug does have beauty, the beauty of emancipation.
Although he was forthcoming on the day interviewed for this story, Tallur says he speaks not through words but through his art. “With art you can say what you can’t in words.”
Interference Fringe, Grounds For Sculpture, 126 Sculptors Way, Hamilton. Through January 5, 2020. May through October hours, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. $10 to $20. 609-586-0616 or www.groundsforsculpture.org.
Over the course of three weeks 35 of the children at YWCA Princeton’s Young Wonders Child Development Center have participated in anti-bullying workshops lead by Kidsbridge, an organization dedicated to teaching children social-emotional skills, tolerance, and the value of diversity. YWCA Princeton CEO Judy Hutton recognized the importance of teaching young children the value of unconditional kindness and respect for others because it aligns so strongly with YWCA Princeton’s mission to eliminate racism and empower women.
“I was talking to Lynne Azarchi, the executive director of Kidsbridge, and she told me that bullying and racism actually can manifest itself at age 3,” Hutton said. “That blew me away.”
This conversation ultimately lead to the collaboration between YWCA Princeton and Kidsbridge. The children in the Young Wonders Child Development Center’s programs are between the ages of 8 weeks to 5 years old, and the skills learned during these critical years are essential to becoming well-rounded, kind members of the community.
The Kidsbridge instructors brought their “Kidsbridge Kids” (Diversity Dolls) to the Young Wonders classrooms to demonstrate situations that may be stressful or cause an angry response, like fighting with a sibling.
The children learned stress-management and mindfulness through sensory-specific activities, like smelling mint tea leaves, sitting calmly and listening to bells, and breathing exercises. The inclusion of an anti-bullying curriculum is another example of the YWCA’s commitment to its mission. Children are engaged in age-appropriate activities that emphasize respect, appreciation for other cultures, and the value of diversity. In March, children celebrated Holi, the first day of spring typically practiced in Nepal and India, with bright colors and cheer. The YWCA also has a bilingual nursery school for Spanish-speaking children.
“Our goal is to prepare the children in our program for kindergarten so they will thrive, not only academically, but socially as well,” said Hutton. “We’re proud to take preventative measures to make sure our Young Wonders won’t endure bullying, nor will they become bullies themselves. Instead, they’ll be able to focus on having fun, making friends, and being kind.”
Let’s hear it for the chestnut. Theatrically, that’s a piece that transcends time or trends to provide solid, reliable entertainment no matter where or when it’s produced.
“Dial ‘M’ for Murder” is a chestnut, a ripe and tasty one, from the 1950s, when mysteries or thrillers were as well-made as other plays and in which full-bodied characterization was given the same importance as plot.
Thank New Hope’s Bucks County Playhouse for reviving Frederick Knott’s engaging play that provides something absorbing to consider: whether a perfect murder can be planned, committed, and gotten away with.
It also gives us characters to whom we become attached or fear and touches on mundane matters — such as writing for television or dressing for an event — that enhances the overall reality of a cat-and-mouse crime yarn.
Though Michael Donahue’s production can benefit from more tension in crucial spots, and in creating a stronger relationship between the characters, it is, in general, as taut as Knott’s writing and keeps you involved, especially in the second act.
Knott is as clever at setting up the murder to come as he is in devising its details and bringing them to be. One of his characters is a novelist and television writer (Clifton Duncan). He has to cook up a new homicide every week and talks about how he gathers his material and builds it into a compelling story.
The suspense in “Dial ‘M’ for Murder” is not about whether or when a crime will occur — that’s a given — but whether it can be pulled off as neatly and flawlessly as we hear it conceived and rehearsed. Knott doesn’t take away surprise as much as he builds anxiety, anticipation, and dread about the imminent killing.
Donahue and his cast are right there with him. This “Dial ‘M’” takes well measured care to introduce the characters and set the plotters’ preparations in motion, so there’s an edge when the lights dim and the murder scene commences as described.
Mystery is afoot, and it feels good to revel in the old-fashioned apprehension a shrewdly crafted piece can generate.
All is engrossing, but one part of Donahue’s staging can be quickly and easily improved. It’s the critical moment when the murderer makes his move and shows his resolve to earn his fee. Perhaps to enhance suspense, Donahue lessens the pace and has all proceed slowly, almost as if time has momentarily stopped, while a gloved hand hovers in mid-air for five seconds longer than is good for it.
That pause doesn’t ruin this “Dial ‘M,’” — it is way too well done for that — but it turns a charged dramatic moment into a melodramatic one.
Gasps will come subsequently. Donahue’s production promptly returns to being clockwork, following through with the kind of meticulous touches that added interest to earlier sequences, e.g. the painstaking precautions Tony (JD Taylor), a jealous husband and mastermind of the crime, takes to avoid leaving fingerprints or the care taken to make sure the audience sees the killer (Grant Harrison) do something that becomes a critical bit of evidence.
Donahue’s is a generally precise and attentive production that intelligently covers all bases and makes sure the audience knows all it must to appreciate Knott’s handiwork.
One aspect in which it can get stronger is in giving more texture to the way the characters relate. For instance, after the murder, we know something that has motivated Tony all along, that his wife, Margot (Olivia Gilliatt), has had a brief but meaningful affair with the television writer. You can see where Tony may want to hide his awareness in the initial scene that brings the two together. Following the murder, this friction between them has to be pronounced. It would also be helpful to see more indication that Margot and the writer, Max, were once lovers, and more reaction from Margot in the late sequences when she is bewildered and less in command than when we first see her.
I know. I have included a lot of spoilers. They won’t damage enjoyment of this worthy “Dial ‘M,” and I was careful — I hope — to keep the big shocker unmentioned. (Not that it makes a difference. I know “Dial ‘M’” from the Hitchcock movie and from seeing it on stage, the first time with Joan Fontaine as Margot, and I was still anxious, in the right way, as the major event of the play neared.)
Donahue deftly establishes the milieu in which Tony and Margot live. They don’t make a great deal of money, but Margot has an inheritance, and they can be genteel — nights out at the theater, dinners with friends — without being posh.
The cast has much to recommend it. Olivia Gilliatt is a congenial and likeable Margot, who comes across as a smart, honest woman who is able to let loose and have a little fun. Clifton Duncan conveys the literary talent and sharp mind of the writer/paramour, Max. He and Gilliatt establish the easy elegance of Donahue’s staging in their first scene.
Graeme Malcolm is wittily observant as the London detective assigned to investigate the murder. Malcolm shrewdly keeps his character’s snoopiness and suspicions nonchalant. He makes the most of the questioning techniques Knott knowingly provides for him.
Grant Harrison doesn’t seem particularly sinister or harrowed as the hired murderer. A grace that comes with the character’s class if not his circumstances — he’s an ex-con — filters any coarseness or sense that this is a man who commits crimes for his living.
JD Taylor brings youthful energy and determination as Tony. Taylor always lets you see Tony’s devilish mind at work. He never lets the character relax totally, keeping him just the right side of jumpy and defensive even when on the surface he is being cool and offhand.
Taylor can be a tad callow at times, but he makes up for it by demonstrating time and again how agilely Tony thinks on his feet and gets out of tight corners.
Donahue does not set a specific time for his “Dial ‘M.” Sometimes it seems set in the early 1950s, which is where Tristan Raines’s spot-on costumes takes us — I love the little bow ties finishing the ribbons on Margot’s dress. Sometimes it has a more contemporary air, seen in Taylor’s demeanor.
Anna Louizos creates another apartment you wouldn’t mind moving into. Bart Fasbender’s sound design, especially in terms of steps and opening doors, becomes important as one considers clues. Scott Zielinski’s lighting adds to the reality and mood of the murder scene.
Dial ‘M’ for Murder, Bucks County Playhouse, 70 South Main Street, New Hope, Pennsylvania. Through Sunday, June 16. $55 to $65. 215-862-2121 or www.bcptheater.org.
The 27th annual NJ Storytelling Festival, scheduled for Saturday, September 14, at Howell Living History Farm, seeks applications from tellers and proposals for workshops. Workshops take place from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and must benefit performers and educators as well as festival attendees. The deadline for proposals is Saturday, June 1.
Slots for storytellers are available at 1, 2, 3, and 4 p.m. Participating tellers must be members of the NJ Storytelling Network. Application deadline is Saturday, June 15. To apply visit www.njstorynet.org.
Villagers Theater invites teens ages 13 to 19 to audition for “Pippin,” to be performed weekends July 26 to August 11. All roles are open. Prepare 32 bars of a contemporary musical theater song and bring sheet music. Be prepared to dance. Auditions take place at the theater, 475 DeMott Lane, Somerset, on Monday, May 27, from 5 to 9 p.m., and Wednesday, May 29, from 6 to 10 p.m. Visit www.villagerstheatre.com.
Teens ages 14 to 18 are invited to audition for the Out of This World Performance Troupe at the West Windsor Arts Council, 952 Alexander Road, West Windsor. Auditions are Wednesday, June 19, from 5 to 7 p.m. The troupe will be led by a Broadway coach who specializes in singing, acting, and dancing techniques. Bring 32 bars of a show tune, to be sung a cappella, a one-minute dance or movement piece, and a one-minute scene from a Broadway play. For information or to audition call 609-716-1931.
Princeton Spine & Joint Center offers grand rounds in the community room at Princeton Public Library. Each session of “Low Back Pain in Athletes & Weekend Warriors,” presented by Dr. Scott Curtis, is designed for a different audience as follows: Tuesday, June 4, for physical therapists; Monday, June 10, for chiropractors, acupuncturists, yoga instructors, and massage therapists; and Thursday, June 13, for athletic trainers, coaches, and parents. All presentations are 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Visit www.princetonsjc.com.