The great American playwright and novelist Edna Ferber is the focus of a weekend-long “Five by Ferber” festival, featuring never before seen stage adaptations of the author’s stories at New Jersey Repertory Company’s new West Ends Arts Center. 

Published in the Asbury Park Press, June 1 2018

There’s a weekend-long tribute to an American woman of letters whose life and literary legacy continue to resonate in these times — and a new play that mines its “dark comedy” from touchy themes of remorse, responsibility, redemption, and revenge. All of it making its world premiere in this month of June, and all going on at two different Long Branch locations of New Jersey Repertory Company.

Happening right now at the West End Arts Center (132 West End Ave.) — the reborn and repurposed public school building that’s the focus of some very ambitious plans by NJ Rep — the festival known as “Five by Ferber” shines a well-deserved spotlight on Edna Ferber (1885-1968), the late playwright and fiction writer who won a Pulitzer Prize for her 1924 novel So Big. A daughter of the midwest and (like Long Branch-born Dorothy Parker) a member of the fabled Algonquin Round Table, the vanguard feminist collaborated with Table-mate George S. Kaufman on several Broadway hit plays (Stage DoorThe Royal FamilyDinner at Eight) — and new generations of fans have been introduced to such sprawling, socially conscious epic novels of American life as CimarronCome and Get It and Giant through their popular Hollywood adaptations, while Show Boat served as the basis for the groundbreaking Kern-Hammerstein musical of the same name.

With “Five by Ferber,” NJ Rep artistic director SuzAnne Barabas teamed with the author’s great niece Julie Gilbert to curate a quintet of new short plays, each of them adapted from a Ferber short story by a female playwright. The program presented at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 1 features “salon readings” of Gilbert’s own adapatation of Mother Knows Best, as well as two one-acts from writers who’ve enjoyed a past association with the Shore-based professional company — That’s Marriage by Marisa Smith (NJ Rep’s Mad Love) and The Sudden Sixties by D.W. Gregory (author of the acclaimed Radium Girls).

The scripts — which look at the concept of Love through the missed opportunities, hard choices, and constant challenges which define it for all too many people — are followed up on Saturday, June 2 by Julie Weinberg’s adaptation of Ferber’s You’re Not the Type, plus Every Other Thursday by Sheilah Rae and Debra Barsha. Like many of the author’s works, the stories center around women who find themselves at a crossroads in career and life — or who harbor pursuits and desires that confound others’ expectations of them.

The “Five by Ferber” festival concludes on Sunday, June 3 with a sixth “bonus” attraction; a “concert reading” of a long-lost Ferber adaptation by a fellow Pulitzer winner, the late Texas native Horton Foote. Based on the hard-working and inspirational central character from So Big, the full-length script Selina Peake will be performed at 4 p.m. in a special one-time arrangement through the Ferber and Foote estates. Tickets for each of the individual programs in “Five by Ferber” are priced at $25, with festival passes available for $75, and discounts offered for NJ Rep subscribers. Call 732-229-3166 or visit njrep.org for reservations and additional details.

Meanwhile, back on Broadway…

The downtown 179 Broadway home of NJ Rep for the past two decades continues its ever-growing string of world premiere productions with Mercy, the play by Adam Szymkowicz that goes up in previews beginning Thursday, June 14. Directed by company artistic associate (and occasional NJ Rep actor) Gail Winar, the ensemble show features Jacob A. Ware as Orville Marks, a recently widowed single dad whose support network — including his father Walter (the above-pictured Dan Grimaldi, known to millions as the Parisi brothers of HBO’s The Sopranos) and sympathetic boss (Nadita Shenoy) — begins to fray at the edges, when he encounters the troubled young guy (Christopher Daftsios) who was responsible for his wife’s car-crash death.

A newcomer to the Long Branch stage, actor-playwright Shenoy joins her co-starring trio of Rep returnees — whose collective credits include such recent-seasons productions as & Juliet, The Substance of Bliss, and The Jag — in the show that opens on June 16, and continues through July 15 with a mix of evening and matinee performances. Full schedule details and ticket reservations ($46; opening night $60) are available by calling 732-229-3166 or visiting njrep.org.