East Lynne Theater Company presents “The Great Tree and Other Tales by Zona Gale”


“Here in Friendship Village, we give out time and time again that Christmas isn’t going to be just shopping and just an exchange of useless gifts,” begins Calliope Marsh in Zona Gale’s story “Human,” about an unusual event at the post office, two nights before Christmas in 1910.

“Friendship Village ain’t ever looked much more like Christmas, than it did that December, in 1912,” Calliope begins her tale “The Great Tree,” in which she does all she can to get the big cedar-of-Lebanon in the town square lit with electric lights in time for Christmas Eve. 

These are two of three stories adapted and performed by Gayle Stahlhuth, in “The Great Tree and Other Tales by Zona Gale,” produced by the award-winning, Equity professional East Lynne Theater Company.

Like usual, Stahlhuth brings to life thirty-plus characters in her memorized, unique tour-de-force storytelling style. She has been praised by reviewers and audience alike for quickly shifting from one character to another with the flick of a wrist, the bend of the waist, the turn of the head, and a change in voice. Since 2005, she’s been adapting American Christmas stories for Cape May audiences, performing works by Louisa May Alcott, O. Henry, Bret Harte, L. Frank Baum, Frank R. Stockton, Mark Twain, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edward Everett Hale.

For the recent ELTC production of “Arsenic and Old Lace,” she directed and portrayed Martha Brewster. Since becoming the company’s artistic director in 1999, she’s produced over 100 shows.  In 2017, she was honored for her years of work in theater by The National Association of Professional Women (NAPW).  Stahlhuth is a member of the Dramatists Guild, SAG-AFTRA, and is in her 47th year as a member of Actors’ Equity Association.

The stories that comprise “The Great Tree” are in two of Zona Gale’s story collections, “Friendship Village” (1908) and “Neighborhood Stories” (1914), in which, Calliope Marsh, Gale’s invention, is the main storyteller. Calliope never married, and lived in the small town of Friendship Village, Wisconsin, not unlike the town of Portage, where Gale spent most of her life.  She was a mender of lace, seller of herbs, and a piano teacher, but of the three, she believed her last was her true vocation. It is as Calliope, that Stahlhuth, too, tells the tales.

Zona Gale adapted her novel, “Miss Lulu Bett,” for the stage, for which she received the Pulitzer Prize in 1921 when it was on Broadway.  

There are five performances of “The Great Tree and Other Tales by Zona Gale:” Sunday, December 8, Thursday, December 12, and Friday, December 13 at 8 p.m. On Saturday, December 14, shows are at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. The location is The First Presbyterian Church, 500 Hughes St. in Cape May, where the company is in residence. Tickets are $28 for general admission; $20 for full-time students and military (active, retired, veteran), and as always with ELTC, those ages twelve and under are free when accompanied by parents or guardians. For information and reservations, call ELTC at 609-884-5898 or visit EastLynneTheater.org.

ELTC is taking donations for the Cape May Food Closet at all performances. Please note that no out-of-date goods can be used. 

The Dinner-and-an-ELTC-Show-Package continues with Aleathea’s Restaurant, The Washington Inn, and The Iron Pier Craft House. Other partnering restaurants have closed for the season.  

Season tickets for 2020 are available and make a great Christmas present! Price is only $90 for four shows, if purchased by March 31, and tickets may be used in any way at any time.

ELTC’s season would not be possible without Season Partners Curran’s Wealth Management, Aleathea’s Restaurant, The Henry Sawyer Inn, La Mer Beachfront Inn, The Washington Inn, the NJ State Council on the Arts/Dept. of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, Travel and Tourism/Dept. of State, and the generosity of many patrons.