Bonum Serum Bonum
By Lea Goldman ’98
Shawn Sturnick (right) as Patrick receives
news from the doctor (Dean Alai) in the final scene of James
Kearney '98's play, Kronos and Krainos, at The
Peter Norton Space in New York City in July.
PHOTO: VICTOR GIORDANO
In the four years we spent together, carousing one night, buried
in the stacks the next, I never suspected that my friend James Kearney
’98 was a writer. He excelled academically, for sure, graduating
with all the honors conferred upon Columbia’s brightest minds.
With his wry, self-effacing humor and his Irish good looks, the
sharpest blade in his arsenal was most certainly his intensity.
But James, a writer? The same person who ran through Riverside Park
at ungodly hours while the rest of us crept home from our Amsterdam
haunts? Though he surrounded himself with jazz lovers, thinkers
and artists of all kinds, it always seemed that James traveled with
them, not among them.
It’s funny how much you learn about a person the hard way.
In August 2002, a day before his 25th birthday, James was diagnosed
with an aggressive brain tumor. His doctors gave him two years,
if that. But true to his personality, James waged a war of intensity.
Over the course of 19 months, he underwent two craniotomies, countless
chemotherapies and a round robin of treatments and pills that crowded
the cupboards. He fortified his body any way he could: first by
running, then by walking, even by doing bedside push-ups after his
doctor told him to stop. He also fed his mind, poring over the works
of thinkers such as Thomas Merton ’38, who helped him explain
the inexplicable. James’ studies were a self-prescribed regimen
that were as much a part of his daily treatment as his Taxol.
James’ disease worsened. His tumor spread. And in June 2003,
he moved to Europe, first Brussels, then Paris, for a grueling experimental
treatment program. It seemed that this was his last hope. In fact,
Paris was James’ great hope.
It was there, in a new city teeming with inspiration, that James
penned the play he had been aching to write. Kronos and Krainos
is an unsettling glimpse into James’ mind as he wrestled with
his mortality. The drama follows a group of overachieving but morally
dissolute young urbanites on a desperate search for hope and purpose.
Their lives become intertwined in New York City’s first suicide
subway bombing. The play gives voice to James’ fears, regrets,
and perhaps most importantly, his renewed faith in God. With poignancy
and wit, it outlines our responsibilities as survivors: Bonum
serum bonum, live the good life. “Sometimes God does
his best work, plays his most rippin’ sets, in the dark,”
James returned from Paris with little hope for recovery. Bedridden
by January, a dozen of his close friends convened at his family’s
home in Westchester that month to perform Kronos and Krainos.
Laughter echoed throughout the Kearney house, and for a few fleeting
hours, it felt like the old days at Columbia.
James Kearney and his sister, Megan,
both ’98, in Van Am Quad.
PHOTO: JEN KEARNEY
James died on March 27, 2004, after a ferocious and courageous
battle with cancer. He did not go gently. Having left us with a
mission to live the good life, his twin sister, Megan ’98,
explained that we all had a responsibility to his legacy. “James
made me promise before he died that his death would not be in vain,”
she said. Her goal was to stage Kronos and Krainos Off-Broadway
by summer’s end: secure a seasoned director, hire an experienced
cast and fill the aisles so that Kronos and Krainos, this
gospel of James, might breathe life into his legacy.
None of us had contacts in Manhattan’s theater circles. But
we exploited, even harassed, our friends, many former Columbia classmates
who now populate desks at the city’s premier newspapers, magazines
and TV networks. Eventually, we connected with Victor Talmadge,
a seasoned Los Angeles-based director who immediately grasped James’
vision. “The theme of faith, the constant discovery of one’s
spirituality in the face of adverse circumstances, is also an idea
that is wonderfully examined and universal in its message,”
he wrote after reading the script. The producers, including Megan,
David Miele ’98, TC ’04, Claudia DeSimio ’99,
Joe Master ’98 and myself, scoured the theater district for
a suitable (and affordable) stage before settling on The Peter Norton
Space on West 42nd Street — intimate enough to complement
the nature of the show yet large enough to accommodate the anticipated
demand. (Overachievers, of course.)
We sweated out July, hurriedly preparing press kits, websites,
publicity plans, set designs and Playbills. Feverishly, we spread
the word of Kronos and Krainos, distributing all tickets
(free, courtesy of James’ family) within two weeks and building
a wait-list that exploded within days of an am New York feature.
Professional actors rehearsed for six hours a day in an empty Chinatown
loft provided by Andy Topkins ’98 and his brother, David Topkins
The weekend of July 23–25, Kronos and Krainos was
performed before standing room audiences. James had breathed himself
so completely into his characters that, if I shut my eyes, the actors’
voices echoed in the theater as James’. I’m certain
I’m not the only one who experienced shivers that night. There
were many occasions before — and will surely be occasions
after — when we raise glasses and wipe away tears in remembering
the beloved son, brother and friend we had in James Kearney. But
on that weekend, to raucous applause and standing ovations, we also
lauded James Kearney, the writer.
Lea Goldman ’98 is a writer in New York