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    Entries in melodrama (3)

    Monday
    Aug042008

    A Happy Ending -- Act III

    Arline Kinsel as France Lee and Will Tully as Jack Worthinton
    in the 1906 production of "A Noble Outcast," Pueblo, Colorado

    At the close of Act II, Jerry Weston discovers that he is the father of France and goes to prison rather than cause her to marry the evil James Blackburn. France is reunited with her love, Jack Worthington.

    Act III -- In front of the Lee's southern mansion
    Sadie is sweeping the porch when Blackburn arrives with the news that Jerry has escaped prison and his mangled body been found after being run over by a train. He denies Sadie's story that he "arranged" the escape to ensure Weston's death. Blackburn's new plot involves the financial ruin of Colonel Lee and Jack Worthington through the fraudulent Silver Bar Mine, and he is confident that France will marry him rather than see Col. Lee destroyed. He cries with fury and leaves when France refuses to see him. A telegram brings news of the worthless Mine; the Lees learn from Blackburn that all of their funds have been lost. Alas, France finally relents, agreeing to marry Blackburn to keep Colonel Lee from prison. . . and then, Jack arrives, followed by the white-haired Jerry Weston holding the title to the Silver Bar Mine. "I am the original owner," he says, the sale "was a fraud." Jack adds to the story by revealing that Weston's brother confessed his guilt, and Jerry has been pardoned for "a crime he did not commit." With all the other characters now free of Blackburn's clutches, Blackburn himself begs for forgiveness. The men seem resolved to turn him in to the law, but France begs for his freedom. Jerry is content to banish Blackburn, satisfying France, and turns to the men, "Jack, my boy, take her. Colonel, let's have a drink!"

    Curtain

    Sunday
    Aug032008

    The Story Resumes -- Act II. Scene 1

    At the close of Act I, James Blackburn was gleefully twirling his black moustache and rubbing his hand together as he plotted the ruin of beautiful young France Lee and her aristocratic southern family.

    Act II, Scene 1 - Colonel Lee's drawing room.
    Jack Worthington announces that he has resigned from his firm so that he will not have to relocate to Paris with his bride, France, thus taking her away from her parents. He plans to live off the profits from his investment in the Silver Bar Mines. Worthington departs as another guest arrives; it is Jerry the Tramp now cleaned up and presenting himself as Robert Graham, the true father of France. His documents convince the Colonel who reveals all to France and Mrs. Lee. In asides to the audience, Jerry admits his moral difficulty with the ruse; Mrs. Lee exclaims, "In spite of your rough manner you have a noble heart." Jack returns and after meeting "Mr. Graham" promptly asks for and receives permission to marry France. The family moves to the dining room for luncheon and a humorous exchange occurs between the maid, Sadie, and Jerry. The happy scene is broken by Blackburn's arrival. When he learns that Jerry has promised France to Worthington he points out that it is illegal for the false Graham to take such action, and insists that Jerry take France away from her home. Jack seizes France and cries, "she remains here! The law alone shall take her from me" as the curtain falls.

    Act II, Scene 2 - Jerry's hut.
    France is now living with her "father" and sending letters to Jack and her parents through cousin Blackburn. She thinks they have all forgotten her, now that her status is reduced, but obviously the letters are never delivered. Instead, Blackburn prevails upon France, now the "daughter of an outcast" to marry him. He threatens to turn Jerry in to the law if France continues to refuse him. Blackburn leaves France to consider his offer and she picks up Jerry's Bible to read. A letter drifts to the floor, "To my dear daughter Lillian" It confirms that her father has gone to prison -- to shield his brother who committed a crime. Their child will be raised by the Lees, who are told that the family name is Graham to "hide our disgrace." Her true name is Weston, like that of Jerry Weston the Tramp. Jerry realizes that France is indeed his daughter and that he has destroyed the happiness of his own child. Blackburn returns to claim France, but before he can take her Jack and a lawman arrive to arrest Jerry Weston. As he is taken away in handcuffs, Jerry begs France to marry the man she loves and rails against Blackburn's vilany.
    to be continued

    Thursday
    Jul312008

    The Plot Thickens

    In my quest for the “back story” to “The Noble Outcast” a local drama presented by Arline Kinsel and friends, I have been doing a bit of research on the genre of the melodrama.

    Long before the ladies of Wisteria Lane were spreading dirt in the neighborhood and decades before J.R. Ewing and fiends were riding rough in Dallas, the heroes and villains of 19th century melodrama were thrilling audiences in big and little towns throughout the United States, England, and Canada. The stock plot included mistaken identity, property swindles, and love lost and found.

    The melo-drama (melody and drama) was characterized by music and drama, one playing off the other. Piano accompaniment was standard fare, and the heavy dramatic notes became associated with the genre, even when theatrical productions gave way to films such as The Perils of Pauline. Eventually music became less essential, but the melodrama remained “characterized by sensational incident and violent appeals to the emotions, but with a happy ending”.

    The drama featured a set of stock characters as well – the hero and the heroine, the villain, the old man, an old woman, a comic man, and a comic woman. Three couples and an odd man out. What a great opportunity for tension.

    The 1888 melodrama, “The Noble Outcast” by John A. Fraser “enjoyed a long run in England” and “delighted audiences in New York, Chicago, and, in fact, all the principal cities of this country,” according to the 1888 show notes.

    Curry County, New Mexico Historian Don McAlavy recently sent me a copy of the original script and a typewritten copy prepared by his wife for the 1994 revival of the drama at the Lyceum Theatre in Clovis, New Mexico. The McAlavys became interested in the play after learning that Kathy McAlavy’s grandfather, Levi J. Whiteman, played the villain in a 1906 production in Portales, New Mexico. In a scene where fact follows fiction, Whiteman and the leading lady fell in love and were married in 1909. After considerable sleuthing, McAlavy was able to locate the original script and worked with local actors to produce the drama in 1994.

    The plot of “The Noble Outcast” follows the prescription faithfully. The villain, James Blackburn wants France Lee (leading lady) who has fallen in love with noble Jack Worthington [more on the value of names later]. France is the daughter of the proper Colonel Lee and his frail wife, Mrs. Lee. Comic relief is provided by the maid, Sadie, and Jerry the Tramp. The drama is played out in three acts.

    Act One – In front of Colonel Lee’s southern Mansion

    Jack asks France to marry him; she accepts his proposal after teasing him a bit. Blackburn arrives planning to propose to his cousin [France] and inherit the Colonel’s estate. We learn that he gambles and has recently lost a sizeable sum. Jerry the Tramp comes to the door; Blackburn taunts him, France invites him to have a meal in the kitchen. Jack and the Colonel have a private conversation where the Colonel reveals that France is not his daughter. While traveling on a steam ship, Mrs. Lee gave birth to a stillborn child. The same night, the ship caught fire and another woman was fatally scalded after giving birth to a little girl. The doctor urged Col. Lee to substitute the dead woman’s child for his own and spare his wife further grief. The living child’s father never knew he had a daughter. Jack gladly agrees to keep France’s identity a secret, and reaffirms his desire to marry her. Blackburn overhears the entire conversation and concocts a plan to reveal all. He has recognized Jerry the Tramp as an escaped convict and threatens to turn him in to the police if he does not go along with his plan. Jerry must claim France as his daughter.

    As a literature teacher, I can’t resist a little analysis of the play. First, the characters are perfectly presented. The villain bears a villain’s name – he is BLACKburn. Like the bad guys in westerns, the villain is associated with the darkest color. In contrast, the hero is WORTHington, he will be worthy of Miss Lee. The Colonel and his wife are noble southerners who value family and name. Lee calls to mind the great General Robert E. Lee, heroic confederate soldier and leader. France is more modern than Frances, and is perhaps a nod to the Eiffel Tower under construction at the time. The name “Jerry” was at its peak of popularity in 1888 ranking 162 by the Social Security Administration, to be surpassed in 1896 (#171) and then not until nearly 100 years later in 1992 (#183). Jerry, then, is the common man in the same way that Sadie is the common woman. Both Jerry and Sadie provide a light element of relief when Blackburn’s treachery is most villainous.

    …to be continued


    Sources:

    Harvey, Sir Paul. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932. Quoting the OED.

    "Melodrama." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 31 Jul 2008, 04:13 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 31 Jul 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Melodrama&oldid=228950750>.

    “Popular baby names.” Social Security Online. 21 July 2008. Social Security Administration. 31 July 2008 <http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/>.