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Jenifer’s Shelter Island Journal: Do you believe in ferry tales?

Capistrano has its swallows; La Jolla, Calif. has its Soupfin sharks; and Shelter Island its ospreys, but in the “iconic returns” department, there appears to be a new, on-Island contender.

The last four Julys have seen a return to our renowned Rock of a phenomenon staidly termed the Community Musical Fundraiser, but which is so much more.

Back in 2021, at the behest of the Shelter Island Historical Society, the intrepid, multi-talented Lisa Shaw did what should have been impossible, and created an original musical made up of some real facts, whole cloth and lots and lots of lima beans. 

Oh, yes, and lots and lots of somewhat shell-shocked but grinning volunteers whose ranks continued to swell through the next two productions — a bootlegging romp through a 1930’s summer at one of the Island’s gracious, but now gone, hotels and, last year, a hard look at one of the Island’s leading families in the mid-1800’s, which was, nonetheless, still shot through with hilarity.

This year Lisa decided to focus on an archetypal example of serial “returning” — the Shelter Island ferries.

Last Sunday, Lisa told me: “Stevie Lenox and Hoot Sherman gave me all the ferry stories. They provided  such an incredible assortment of stories from the 1960’s to the early 80’s, and Joanne Sherman was part of the interview, too.  In fact, years ago she had written an article about one of the events that inspired this show. Actually, all of the stories in the show, with the exception of the mermaid, are based on fact.”

But just in case you’re afraid that too much backing and forthing might (not that it ever would) get monotonous, Lisa provides us with a sub-plot (perhaps more “sub-marine”) that combines Hollywood with “Holy Mackerel!”

She says this about the lesser-known but legitimate history of movie-making on Shelter Island:“It’s a factual part of our island’s history. There have been at least three, maybe four, movies made on Shelter Island. My husband, Tom, and I went to see one of them, “The Big Wedding,” starring Robert De Niro. It was terrible — worst movie we’ve ever seen. We asked De Niro if he would come out at some point and commemorate the making of his movie, but he said ‘No.’”

Recalcitrant movie stars notwithstanding, by combining them with the ferry crew, Lisa set the stage for a madcap misadventure, but it was back in the winter that she hit on a truly inspired combination. As she tells it, “The collaboration with Joanne came about because she was so instrumental in building this storyline. Of course, I’ve always loved her writing, so I thought, let’s collaborate.”

Lisa is referring to Joanne Sherman, mentioned earlier, the well-known and much-loved writer and columnist who has been entertaining the East End for decades with her wit and wisdom. In my interview with her last Sunday, she said, “From the first play back in 2021, I’d pull in my driveway and see the rehearsals going on. It looked like everyone was having such a great time, so the next I year talked to Lisa — she asked if I wanted a part, and I said ‘Nooo,’ but I could do props and stuff, which I’ve done now for the past two shows. Then, after the play last year, she asked if I’d be interested in writing with her, collaborating on the next project, whatever it was.”

“Even though at the time she was in Florida,” Lisa tells me, “I’d sort of put the script together and send it to her, and she’d make her suggestions and additions and send it back. We did a lot of emailing back and forth, but that’s how the story got built. And, of course, it was such fun!”

Joanne agrees.  “It was lots of fun. She would write and send it down to Key West, where I’d look it over and maybe change ‘happy’ to ‘glad’ and send it back and then she’d change it again. I enjoyed the give and take, but it wasn’t until, back on the Island, I went to a rehearsal and, for the first time, heard the voices saying the words. It was my first experience having an idea in my mind, hearing the words in my head and then hearing and seeing it all on stage. It was great!”

What’s great is we have our very own Lerner and Loewe — Shaw and Sherman — so if you don’t believe in ferry tales yet, go see the show and you will.

For tickets and information for “A Deck of Ferry Tales,” running Thursday, July 18 through Sunday, July 21, go to shelterislandhistorical.org