Book Review: “The Westfield News” ArtsBeat Column
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Book Review: “The Westfield News” ArtsBeat Column

September 1, 2020
Read the complete review at The Westfield News

You've still got time to savor JL Homan's memoir 'Out Here in the Stars, a poignant recollection of Homan (now a Westfield resident) and his journey from Broadway chorus dancer to executive assistant; to partner and caregiver to Harold, his longtime spouse, who died of a brain tumor, after they had been together for almost fifteen years.

This story hit home for me. As serendipity would have it, James was in the chorus of the Houston Grand Opera revival of Hello, Dolly!, with Carol Channing recreating her iconic role in a long national tour, which ended up on Broadway in 1978. I was at Houston Grand Opera assigned to the musical’s sales team. We were at numerous events together in Houston, on tour, and in New York, but we hadn’t met. When Hello, Dolly!’s Broadway run ended, James lived in a strange New York theatre world, where AIDS was wiping out a large percentage of the community. I moved to New York a couple of years later, frequented the same restaurants and clubs, and knew similar people, but had never met. When I returned to Springfield to work at the Springfield Symphony and Stage West, I met Bob Plasse (Homan’s current spouse), and wasn’t until a couple of years ago, that James and I sat in the late Press Room Cafe at "The Westfield News" and connected the dots in our parallel journeys.

James’ recollections of his life with Harold, struggling with brain cancer, reminded my of a required high school reading, John Gunther’s 1949 memoir, "Death Be Not Proud." Gunther, a well-regarded journalist of the day, had a teenage son, Johnny, who developed a similar brain tumor, while a student at Deerfield Academy. Homan’s spouse, Harold, had the advantage of almost a half decade of advancements in new treatment of these kinds of brain cancers, which killed Ted Kennedy, John McCain, and my fellow StageWest colleague, Pat Ford Yurkuna.

James is a good storyteller, and he lists, in intricate details, the many chemo therapy treatments and drug protocols alongside Harold’s favorite operas and ballets and theatre. The story isn’t as much about Harold’s finally journey as it is the story of a caregiver, who brings together his partner’s discordant family, and a myriad of friends, connections, and healthcare providers to build a team. I think that Harold, who had enjoyed a filled and fulfilling life, was given that fulfillment to the end of his life, because of James.

There are numerous stories of good people who are sick and dying and the people who stood by them and for them. In the time period where 'Out Here in the Stars is set, so many of the stories of patient/caregiver, like Longtime Companion, As Is, and The Normal Heart are set against the tableau of AIDS. James’ and Harold’s story does not involve HIV nor AIDS but is set in the backdrop of a pandemic which killed thousands. This makes their story poignant with different shadings. 'Out Here in The Stars is not a downer. It’s filled with inspiration and love, and testimony to caring people. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to read it.

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