Blog: Birth of a Play


Frank E. Reilly
Playwright at Large

“Post Haste” is a two act drama based on a true story that appeared in Collier’s Magazine in 1915 and concerns the etiquette doyenne Emily Post and her 20 year old son, Edwin, Jr., as they embark on a cross country journey in a custom made roadster over the Lincoln Highway, the first in America.

The “seed” of this play was begun seven years ago in San Francisco where it was read for the first time to a hand picked ($) audience, at a private home.

It all began, however, at an Off Broadway play while during intermission a casual discussion with a fellow audience member and my wife, Sharon, lead to the story about Emily Post and her legendary cross country journey 

Initially it didn’t ring any bells with me, except the “idea” of this privileged woman roughing it, as it were, over unpaved roads, some shabby hotels, bad food and unpredictable weather conditions.  How far could this go as a play I pondered that evening trying to sleep, tossing and turning with ideas of tackling the job of developing this incredible story into a play?

I believe in hunches and so I decided to pursue this one upon my return to Portland, Maine, and the first good indication that hunches can pay off was discovering the yellow copies of the original series of this journey in Collier’s Magazine in the library in Bangor, Maine; 9/ 1915, chronicling Emily Post’s entire trip from New York City to San Francisco and the Panama Pacific Exposition.

After piecemealing the information I began my own journey into the personal life of Emily Post and her family, especially her son, Edwin Jr., whom she had taken out of his junior year at Harvard, stating he would learn more traveling with his mother cross country as her chauffeur than finishing out his spring semester.

It was here that the story, i.e. play, began to intrigue me where I was able to visualize how it could look and be played out on stage.  My problem, however was that I couldn’t find much information of a personal nature on Edwin so I had to abandon his participation on the journey, leaving it a one woman play.  This of course makes the task of writing a play more difficult as there is no interplay on stage, resulting in the actress having to carry the load, and I don’t mean just “line load” but emotions, physical demands and maintaining sustained general interest for the audience.

The first actress to read it publicly was a know film and stage actress and liked it very much but after a producer at the reading approached us with his proposal my actress declined, as she feared her short term memory could not handle the line load.  In the reading she was “on book”. 

The second actress to read it was at the Dramatists Guild in New York and although a superb actress she was physically wrong for the role of Emily Post, which for me was a priority.  I then presented it to a well known Broadway actress who found the concept interesting enough to read it.  Here again in the consequent dialogue with her it was obvious, that if she were to accept it, or merely pursue it, I would have to alter the over all message of the play, from a woman undertaking this brave trip to one who was expressing her independence as a “woman”.  I felt then as I do now that Emily Post did need to be described so singularly.  Although, having said that, I did appreciate this actresses remark “It can’t be all bonbons!” 

All during this time I continued to research the life of Emily Post including contacting the Post Institute in Burlington, Vermont where I talked with one of Emily’s Great Grand Daughters who enthusiastically accepted my intentions with her Great Grand Mother’s story as a play.  She also put me in touch with her legal people in San Francisco for copyright protection.

I had put, as I said, Edwin aside as a character but now decided to explore him, including him in the play and making it a two character play, but again set it aside until I was introduced to the Hedgerow Theatre and Penelope Reed, the incredible actress who will portray Emily Post.

Also happy to say that through my work at Hedgerow I was able to develop Edwin into a significant character in “Post Haste”, and to plumb the relationship between Edwin and his Mother.

The birth of “Post Haste” will take place at Hedgerow Theatre with Penelope Reed and Brock Vickers, previewing at a matinee on June 10 and running throughout the month.