A Writer's Journey

May 12, 2014

Under the Gaslight

Filed under: off topic — mackenziew @ 12:00 am
Tags: , , ,

Melodrama gets a bad name. And it’s a shame because it’s not all bad. I studied melodrama as a theater minor in college. And there was one play we covered in my American Drama course that I would love to see revived. “Under the Gaslight” by Augustin Daly.

So, what’s it about? It’s set right after the Civil War in New York City. Socialite Laura Courtland is to marry Captain Ray Trafford when he learns that she is adopted. And that she was adopted after being caught pick-pocketing as a child. He decides he cannot marry her. Distraught over his rejection, Laura runs away and is nearly abducted by a man named Byke from court when he pretends to be her guardian. But Ray has a change of heart, teaming up with a wounded Civil War vet named Snorkey to rescue Laura.

Laura, though, reconsiders marriage and not because Ray is a tool. It’s because she’s not a socialite by birth and it would ruin his reputation. She thinks he should marry her cousin Pearl instead. Pearl is all for this.

Meanwhile, Byke tries to get Laura back. But Snorkey works to stop him, though Laura does a good job on her own. Byke throws her into the river, so she swims back to shore. Then he locks her in a cabin and ties Snorkey up on the train tracks. But Laura is not out of the fight. She uses an ax to chop her way to freedom and rescue Snorkey. They go and reveal Byke to be a bad man, learning that Laura is in fact a real Courtland. Byke switched her at birth with Pearl, who is really a child of the streets. So Laura and Ray can get married after all, even though he still doesn’t deserve her.

Sorry. Six years after I’ve read the play and it still bugs me she choose Ray. He was a tool who did little in the play. But he is still the hero according to melodramatic standards. Which you might be surprised to know still forms how we look at entertainment. That might be another topic for another blog.

The main reason I would love to see this come back is Laura. She is an amazing heroine. Hello, she uses an ax to free herself. And unties Snorkey as a train barrels toward her! Tell me that isn’t cool. She’s smart, though she still makes stupid mistakes (see: Running away). She’s resourceful. And kind. And so many more things.

If it were adapted, a part of me would want to change who she ends up with while another part wants to keep it intact. But Snorkey and Laura…it makes more sense. Or perhaps Laura doesn’t end up with anyone. Ray’s too much of a tool and she only sees Snorkey as a friend.

So, there’s my plea: Revive this show! Please!


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