Edna Ferber festival features 5 new one-acts, ‘Selina Peake’ reading

Why have so few people heard of Edna Ferber?

Before Lois Lane was a ground-breaking female reporter at the Daily Planet, Edna Ferber worked at the Appleton Daily Crescent and the Milwaukee Journal, had published her first novel, and covered both the 1920 Republican and Democratic National Conventions for the United Press Association.
Before ballet choreographer Agnes de Mille created dances that advanced plot and developed character in “Oklahoma!” (1943)

and before Betty Comden, with writing partner Adolph Green, provided lyrics, libretti, and screenplays to some of the most beloved Broadway shows (such as “On the Town, 1944), Edna Ferber’s novel “Show Boat” was made into a ground-breaking Broadway musical  (1926).

It’s recognized as the first “modern” American musical.

— In 1925, Ferber won the Pulitzer Prize for her book “So Big,” which was made into a silent film starring Colleen Moore that same year.
— She was a member of the famous Algonquin Round Table.
— Her novels had strong women, diverse supporting characters with at least one facing discrimination of some kind. Yeah, like in “Showboat.”
Yet everyone I’ve asked lately never heard of Ferber. That’s about to change. At least in the Long Branch, NJ, thanks to the New Jersey Repertory Company. With its stellar reputation for launching new plays — and its nearness to NYC — the news will quickly spread.
Next week, the regional company will present a celebration of the works of Edna Ferber including salon readings of five new one-act plays adapted from Ferber’s short stories, a lecture on the story behind “Show Boat,” told by Ferber’s great-niece and biographer, Julie Gilbert, and a concert reading of “Selina Peake” written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Horton Foote based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel ” So Big.”
All presentations will be at West End Arts Center, 132 West End Ave. in the West End section of Long Branch.
Home of the West End Arts Center at West End Avenue and Sairs Avenue in Long Branch. (PHOTO: Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen)
Home of the West End Arts Center at West End Avenue and Sairs Avenue in Long Branch. (PHOTO: Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen)

Festival Schedule

Thursday, May 31 at 8 p.m. :  “The Story Behind Show Boat,”  as told by Ferber’s great niece, Julie Gilbert, who was named after “Show Boat’s” leading lade Julie La Verne (who has a deep, dark secret). The novel that was published in 1926 was an immediate best seller, as it quickly followed Ferber’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1924 novel “So Big.” “Show Boat” is based on research Ferber did while living on a show boat in North Carolina. It is a considerably darker tale than the groundbreaking 1927 musical conceived by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein. Gilbert will navigate through the many differences between the novel and musical.  Also, she will screen scenes from all three films: the 1927 version was mostly a silent film and closest to the novel; the 1936 version starring Irene Dunne and Paul Robeson,  and the glossy MGM 1951 version starring Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel and Ava Gardener.
FRIDAY, JUNE 1 AT 8 P.M. : Salon readings of three plays adapted from Ferber’s short stories:
“That’s Marriage” by Marisa Smith, directed by Michelle Tattenbaum — Orville and Theresa’s marriage is tested at the breakfast table one morning in Ferber’s timeless take on an age-old problem. Can this marriage be saved? And will Theresa ever serve Orville another egg?
“The Sudden Sixties” by D.W. Gregory, directed by Kelly O’Donnell – When Hannah Winter loses her footing in a hotel lobby, the gentleman who helps her up, turns out to be the boyfriend she left behind 40 years earlier. Now, after nearly a lifetime, Hannah is in the mood to rebel.
“Mother Knows Best” by Julie Gilbert, directed by Melanie Sutherland – Fanny Seldon, a domineering mother forces her daughter, Sally, to choose a career over her one chance at love.
SATURDAY, JUNE 2 AT 8 P.M.: Salon readings of two plays adapted from Ferber’s short stories:
You’re Not the Type” by Julie Weinberg, directed by Melody Brooks – It’s 1940 and the great depression is over, but not for Vivian Lande. After years of starring roles, she desperately seeks her comeback, but even her faithful agent can’t resuscitate her waning career.
“Every Other Thursday” book, music, lyrics by Sheilah Rae and Debra Barsha, musical director Rob Baumgartner, director/choreographer Laura Brandel – The time is 1927, Helmi is a Finnish maid working for the Mawson family of New York’s upper West Side. Her day off is every other Thursday. What she does on every other Thursday is her secret and hers alone, much to the consternation of the people for whom she works.
Sunday, June 3 at 4 p.m. – The festival finale is a concert reading of a three-act play, “Selina Peake,” based on Ferber’s novel “So Big.”  Directed by Lynnette Barkley.
This re-discovered, never produced play was written by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Horton Foote, and will be heard by audiences for the first time. This one-time reading is presented by permission of the Horton Foote Estate and the Edna Ferber Estate.

Tickets and contact info

$25 per day; Festival Pass to all events $75.
“Five By Ferber” will be presented at West End Arts Center, 132 West End Ave., Long Branch.
Free on-site parking.
For tickets call 732-229-3166, or visit njrep.org

Wait! There’s more

West End Art Gallery will present “Summertime,” an exhibit  encompassing the works of seven artists and their interpretation of what summer might be. The work includes contemporary abstract, sculpture, mixed media and outsider art.
The “Summertime” artists are: Steve Cote, Kathy Dorsey, Myke Karlowksi, Demetrius Patterson, Mike Quan, George Severini and Aria Turner.
Admission is free and the works are for sale. Public viewing is from  May 30th thru July 6th. Gallery Hours are Saturdays and Sundays noon to 4:30 p.m. and weekdays by appointment by calling 732-542-1307.
A reception open to the public is scheduled from 6 – 9 p.m.  Wednesday, May 30.