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A Midwest Book Journey
Part III

Malabar Farm Redux

by Catherine Petruccione

#149 19 October 2010

Loyal readers of BookThink may remember my articles on Malabar Farm and Louis Bromfield, which appeared here in October 2006. Since that time we've kept in touch with Mark Jordan, who was our superb tour guide at Malabar Farm that year. Mark is also a newspaper reporter, poet, actor, director and playwright who has won awards from the Associated Press, Case Western Reserve University, the Ohio State University, The Richland County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Ohio Community Theatre Association.

We heard from Mark that he was again working at Malabar, now as a manager of the International Youth Hostel located on the grounds. As my husband Ron and I were traveling through the Midwest this summer, he invited us to stop at Malabar Farm in Mansfield, Ohio to pay him a visit.

When we arrived at Malabar, Mark was not only managing the hostel, but he was also engaged with preparations for the organization and production of Louie, his third play in the Mansfield Trilogy. This popular series of historical dramas based on real characters from Louis Bromfield's stories about life in Ohio has been performed to acclaim at Malabar Farm State Park since 2003, when Jordan's award-winning historical drama Ceely had its world premiere in a co-production between the Mansfield Playhouse and Malabar Farm. The second work in the trilogy, Phoebe, premiered in 2005. Louie is the final work in the Trilogy and will be premiering in October 2010.

Louie is a play in two acts, and it promises to be the jewel of this trilogy. It is an historical drama about the life of the Pulitzer-prize winning author Louis Bromfield who, after achieving world fame as a writer, returned home to Ohio to establish Malabar Farm where he became a pioneer in organic sustainable farming. The play will feature period music and veteran actors from North Central Ohio. Elaborate set designs of Bromfield's mansion will be featured and will include historical pieces such as Bromfield's 1946 Willys Jeep.

Louis Bromfield (December 27, 1896 - March 18, 1956) was a prolific author of 31 fiction and non-fictions works, including the 1927 Pulitzer Prize-winning Early Autumn. All of his novels were best-sellers, and many of them, including The Rains Came and Mrs. Parkington, were made into successful motion pictures. Bromfield was known for his Hollywood friends who loved to spend time at the farm. He presented them with lists of chores to do at the breakfast table, and if they didn't care to do chores, they were encouraged to find lodging at a local hotel. This led to interesting real life scenes such as James Cagney hawking watermelons at the vegetable stand. Bromfield was a close friend of Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, who were not only married at the farm, but spent their honeymoon there.

Bromfield's real passion, and perhaps his greatest legacy, was conservation and farming. Louis Bromfield was awarded the Audubon Medal for Conservationism in 1952 and was posthumously inducted into the Ohio Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1980. The visionary work of Bromfield continues to influence agricultural practices throughout the world. His non-fiction books such as Malabar Farm, Out of the Earth, From My Experience, and A New Pattern for a Tired World, continue to be widely read and have become, if anything, more timely with the passage of years.

Malabar Farm is now an Ohio State Park which welcomes over 35,000 visitors each year. The "Main House" has been left as it was when Bromfield lived there, with most of his possessions still in place. The 875-acre Farm complex includes a working farm, historic restaurant, a hostel, hiking trails and campsites, visitor's center and library and a farm market.

The dinner/theatre presentations of Louie will be performed at Malabar Farm on October 8, 9, 15, 16, 17, and will include opportunities for tours of the farm and the Bromfield home. More information is available here or call Malabar Farm State Park at 419-892-2784. If you are a Louis Bromfield fan, this is an event you won't want to miss!

Oh yes, and hot off the press is Mark Jordan's Book of Jobs, a chapbook of poetry just published by The Puddin'head Press (Chicago).

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