July 18, 2012
This is the first installment of “Life Cafe New York On Tour”.
It was a special day today. The Jonathan Larson Bench left Life Cafe for good.
Three strong, young men from Adelphi University came to the now closed Life Cafe 983 in Bushwick Brooklyn and removed the Jonathan Larson Bench where it stood temporarily after it left the East Village Life Cafe in September 2011. With the closing of the Bushwick Life the end of June, it was time to find a permanent home elsewhere for it. So I emailed Al Larson, Jonathan’s father, to see if he had any suggestions.
He certainly did. We first contacted New York Theater Workshop, home of the original production of RENT and very close to the original Life Cafe. Unfortunately, as much as they would have liked to have it, they simply had no room. Next Al hooked me up with Robert Scott, President of Adelphi University in Garden City, New York on Long Island. Jonathan attended Adelphi on a four-year scholarship as an acting Academic major. Bob was delighted with my offer and didn’t hesitate to accept. Fortunately, he arranged immediate pick-up as the owners of the new business at 983 Flushing Avenue wanted it moved by Thursday when they were to begin renovations. Again, the Universe has provided.
Along with the Bench I donated a 4′ x 6′ wall panel I preserved from Life Cafe, two other Life Magazine collaged panels, the wooden “Thank You Jonathan” plaque hand-carved for me by Jonathan’s uncle Gene and a large panel from the original RENT stage set at the Nederlander Theatre given to me by a friend in the theater design business.
I felt a heaviness in my heart as I watched the boys lift the bench into the truck. It felt like a big part of my life was being taken away. But it was heart-lifting to think of its new home at Jonathan’s alma mater. When I think of how many more people will see the Bench and get a sense of Jonathan’s life and work, I am elated. My hope is there will be a re-creation of a corner of Life Cafe where Jonathan sat and drank tea while researching and writing RENT. Moving the bench to Adelphi to their new Theater complex is the right thing to do. I’m grateful that Bob was eager to give the Bench a new home.
There hasn’t been time to make definitive plans, but Bob Scott and I are in regular contact. Jonathan Martin, Director of Education and Public Awareness for the National Marfan Foundation in Port Washington, New York, is thrilled with the Bench’s new home. We discussed a January or February 2013 event which would coincide with the original off-Broadway opening anniversary, the anniversary of Jonathan’s death AND his birthday. And February is National Marfan Awareness Month. Sadly, Jonathan Larson is a perfect example of why early diagnosis is critical.
We’ll keep you posted here as I report on LIFE CAFE NEW YORK ON TOUR. Next installment: COLD SOUP IN HOT NEW HAMPSHIRE – WATERMELON GAZPACHO. Check back in to get the recipe and the story.
Photographs of moving Life Cafe artifacts by John Sunderland