Video, photos: DCPA celebrates life of Colorado novelist Kent Haruf

All photos above by John Moore for the DCPA’s NewsCenter.

The DCPA hosted a celebration of the life of novelist Kent Haruf on Feb. 7 in The Stage Theatre. The hosts were Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson and playwright Eric Schmiedl, who adapted all three parts of Haruf’s Plainsong Trilogy for world-premiere stage productions at the DCPA.

The celebration took place the morning after the DCPA Theatre Company opened ‘Benediction,’ completing a remarkable, eight-year creative journey to bring all three of Haruf’s Plainsong novels to life as world-premiere plays. All were staged under Thompson’s direction.

The program included songs, remarks and excerpts from Plainsong and Eventide. Kathleen McCall read a chapter from Haruf’s final book, Our Souls at Night, which will be released to the public on May 26. Video highlights below.

Haruf, 71, died of lung disease on Nov. 30 at his home in Salida, about 150 miles southwest of Denver.

Watch video excerpts from the Kent Haruf life celebration. The video includes Kathleen McCall reading from Haruf’s final novel, ‘Our Souls at Night.’


Kent THompson speaks at Kent Haruf Celebration. Photo by John Moore. All of us at the Denver Center feel blessed by the opportunity to adapt and stage these three remarkable novels, to collaborate with Kent Haruf, to learn from this wise writer, to feel the connection of these stories with our audiences and to take a life-changing journey to Holt, Colorado.

With Kent’s blessing and permission, all three productions (Plainsong, Eventide, and now Benediction) have been labors of love — we literally fell in love with these stories, these people, these characters, and this fictional town of Holt that seems so real. 

With the power of adapter Eric Schmiedl’s writing and the magic of Gary Grundei’s music, and dozens of actors, designers, crew members, craftsmen, we created a theatrical Holt.

Kent said he wrote about ordinary lives — not about flashy topics, action-packed plots or the latest trend in pop fiction.  He wrote about ordinary lives — in a way that was authentic, simple but lyrical, and unsentimental.  As Reverend Lyle says in Benediction,  the missing element in so many of our lives is what Kent wrote about — the “Precious Ordinary.” And what a gift it was to all of us.

In adapting and producing Benediction, our journey has been both wondrous and deeply fulfilling, but also very challenging.  Because we have your words and characters, Kent, but don’t have you.  We miss you terribly but we’ve also felt you were there with us — every day, every rehearsal, every performance.  Your spirit remains with us, Kent. 

My favorite Shakespeare quote is not  one of the famous ones, but from a lesser known play — All’s Well That Ends Well. And the character doesn’t have a name.  In Act 4, Scene 3, the First Lord says:

“The web of our life is a mingled yarn, both good and ill together”

Kent Haruf could have written that line. But Kent adds other universal themes:

  • Sadness and joy
  • Birth and death
  • Finding faith and losing faith
  • Finding love and losing love
  • Coming together and breaking apart
  • Grief and Joy

For me, that puts Kent Haruf in the same class as his self-confessed mentors: Anton Chekhov, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. He may not of written about the country estates of Russia or the poor towns in the Deep South, but he illuminated the lives of those on the Eastern Plains. And like Chekhov, Faulkner and Hemingway, he wrote his characters with a truth and clarity but also compassion. He wrote about life as it is.

The process of working on Benediction was more personal for many of us — and especially for me.  My life has included so many themes:

  • Having lost a close family member to cancer
  • Being the son of a preacher — growing up watching our family deal with many of the same struggles as the Lyle family.
  • Watching a lost child find a new family
  • Failing and succeeding in my own close family relationships
  • But most of all, I admire Kent Haruf’s fearlessness in bringing death and dying back into our homes — not keeping it out of sight in nursing homes or hospitals. In my mind it belongs in our homes. Watching Dad and all those around him “coming to terms with his life. ”In the way death truly is — deepening some relationships and regretting those forever lost, remembering and revisiting one’s life.
  • Finally, Kent write remarkable roles for the people who often love us deeply, save us, care for us, and live for the next generations — the women in our lives and community: Mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, granddaughters, aunts and lovers. Strong women.

Mike Hartman, Cathy Haruf and Lauren Klein at the Kent Haruf celebration. Photo by John Moore.

Mike Hartman, Cathy Haruf and Lauren Klein at the Kent Haruf celebration. Photo by John Moore.


Eric Schmiedl speaks at the Kent Haruf celebration. Photo by John Moore. In his book Love and Living, the writer and theologian Thomas Merton discusses the relationship between the individual and the greater community when he says:

“Through our senses and our minds, our loves, needs, and desires,  we are implicated, without possibility of evasion, in this world of matter  and of men, of things and of persons, which not only affect us and change  our lives but are also affected and changed by us…”

I am a theatre artist, and at the risk of stating the obvious I believe theatre artists are by their very nature instinctive collaborators.  The art form certainly demands it.  We need each other.  Actors, designers, writers, directors, stage managers, run crews.  We rely upon, we build upon each other’s talents and expertise – upon the conversation that happens throughout the creation of the art.  And, of course there’s the audience too.  So I suppose it is not surprising that my experience of Kent Haruf’s beautiful novels has been rooted in this process of collaboration.

Each of the productions conceived, created and produced by the Denver Center Theatre Company – Plainsong, Eventide and now Benediction has gathered a remarkable family of artists from all over the country – from New York to Houston, Boulder to Philadelphia, from Los Angeles to my own hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Together we have spent countless hours discussing where Victoria might stand when she first meets the Harold and Raymond; what Maggie wears when she slow-dances with Guthrie at the Legion; how to ‘preg test’ a cow; what amount of clutter needs to be seen in Betty June and Luther’s trailer; how to stage the violence of Harold’s death; what the monologues tell us about the Lewis family; which parts of Act II we can lose to keep the play from running four hours; and how in the world we can bring a stock tank full of water on stage. 

I fondly remember chuckling with Kent Haruf in the rehearsal hall as we discussed the astounding amount of time required to put a theatrical production together. It is work.  It is hard work. But in this case, it sure as hell is worth it.

We had a remarkable experience with our production of Benediction this week. On Wednesday, we were scheduled for two performances; a 10 a.m. morning show for a packed audience of junior-high and high-school students from the Denver School of the Arts, and an evening public preview. The mean age of the first performance was probably 15; the second was … considerably older. However, the reactions from both groups – though different in form – were equally passionate and electric. It was fascinating to see this multitude of generations find their own way into the various journeys and stories of the production. It was absolutely a testament to the power of Kent’s stories, but also a testament to the process of collaboration. Because although I am terribly biased, I cannot think of a better way to celebrate these wonderful novels than with a theatrical production because as Kent Thompson has so eloquently note: At  their heart, they are stories about people coming together.

It is this spirit of community that we embrace. Every time the house lights dim and the stage lights rise and the first words are spoken: “Here was this man, Tom Guthrie” … “They came from the horse barn in the slanted light of early morning. The McPheron brothers.”  … “Well. That’s the deal now. Isn’t it.” 

Echoing Thomas Merton’s observation about a collective community, we say to the audience – hey, listen.  Here’s a story that changed my life. I think it might change yours.  And, maybe, if we work together here tonight, it could change us both.

This is a priceless gift and for it I can only add my own little voice to say thank you to the artists who have joined us, to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, to Kent Thompson, to Mark and Cathy and all of the wonderful Haruf family, and most importantly to Kent Haruf. Thank you.

Our previous coverage of Benediction:
Kent Haruf: The complete final interview
Video: Your first look at Benediction
Benediction opens as a celebration of the ‘Precious Ordinary’
Doris Duke Foundation awards $125,000 for Benediction
DCPA to celebrate Kent Haruf on Feb. 7
Bittersweet opening for ‘Benediction’ rehearsals
Kent Haruf, author of ‘Plainsong’ Trilogy, dies at age 71
Kent Thompson on the 2014-15 season, play by play
2014 Colorado New Play Summit will complete ‘Plainsong’ trilogy
Video: ‘Benediction’ reading at the 2014 Colorado New Play Summit

Benediction: Ticket information
Performances run through March 1
Space Theatre
Performances daily except Mondays
Call 303-893-4100, or go to the Denver Center’s web site at

A part of the Haruf family at the Kent Haruf celebration. Photo by John Moore.

A part of the Haruf family at the Kent Haruf celebration. The drawing projected behind is titled, ‘Dad and Sonny – Until We Meet Again,’ by Chaney Haruf Matsukis. Photo by John Moore.

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