The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts March 3, 2006

Oberlin Writer’s Screenplay Wins Award

On Wednesday, the Oberlin Writer’s Group hosted a live reading of a screenplay titled The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread at the Oberlin Public Library. The work was adapted by Betty Gabrielli from a book of the same name by Don Robertson. Gabrielli is a poet and senior staff writer at the Oberlin College Office of College Relations.

The making of The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread has been something of an underdog story. A few years ago, Gabrielli wrote the screenplay and submitted it to the Ohio Independent Screenplay Competition where the piece lost.

Instead of giving up on the project, Gabrielli took the screenplay to the Oberlin Writer’s Group, which meets weekly to workshop, discuss and display work. The group spent a long time with Gabrielli reshaping and editing the screenplay until it had morphed into something she felt confident resubmitting.

In 2005, the script was resubmitted to the OISC and this time, it won the Best Northcoast Screenplay award. The performance on Wednesday was a live reading of the winning screenplay by members of the College and community, many of whom were members of the Oberlin Writer’s Group.

The book’s author, Robertson, a native of Cleveland, is a largely unrecognized but critically acclaimed novelist. The coming-of-age story follows the adventures of ten-year-old Morris Bird III growing up in Cleveland during World War II.

Set against the backdrop of wartime Ohio, Robertson uses historical events and details to give the story a sense of being concrete. The first part of the story follows Bird’s rather simple childhood in Cleveland, but builds toward the final climax where Bird and his sister are caught in the middle of the natural gas explosion that occurred in 1944 in East Cleveland, killing 130 people and decimating a square mile of the city.

Wednesday’s performance featured 16 people reading the 66 roles in the screenplay, including Gabrielli’s sister, Penny Coey. At some points, the presentation seemed a little long, clocking in at over two hours, an unfortunate effect of the way the material was presented. Hearing the parts read was less impressive than watching them on-screen would have been; however, the screenplay itself was very well-written and the readers were enigmatic and seemed to really enjoy the material.

As part of Gabrielli’s prize, her screenplay is posted on an Internet site where filmmakers may browse for new potential scripts. Another few years may see this dream fulfilled with the production of a film.

A special guest in Wednesday’s audience was Sherri Robertson, widow of the late Don Robertson. After thanking everyone for their attendance and participation, she told the crowd that many of Robertson’s novels had been adapted into screenplays and some of them even made into films, but “They weren’t nearly as good as this... thank you for helping keep Don’s memory alive.”

If the honor of winning had not been enough of a reward for Gabrielli’s undertaking of this project, receiving praise from the person who knew Robertson best must have been.


Powered by