Under the Lamplight

Full-Length Melodrama Multiple Sets – 10 Men, 6 Women (Plus Olio Roles)


Published By: Baker’s Plays/Samuel French

Description: Laura Courtland, the wealthy New York socialite, is forced into poverty and mayhem when her villainous father Byke shatters her idyllic existence. Boo! Hiss!


Poster art courtesy of the Little Theatre Off Broadway, Grove City, OH

Synopsis: Laura Courtland is a wealthy, popular, and young New York socialite, poised to marry dashing Ray Trafford. She has it all, until the villain Byke shows up and claims he is Laura’s long absent father, and that Laura is actually a begger’s child! Laura goes into hiding in skid row, but Byke has more designs on the hapless heroine. And poor Ray, still in love, is torn between the disgraced Laura and her still wealthy sister Pearl. Secrets and skullduggery abound! A hapless victim tied to railroad tracks! Musical olios between every scene!

Why It Was Written: While I was a graduate student at UNLV, I was assigned to be a dramaturge on Dr. Ann McDonough’s Under the Gaslight, a joint production between the university’s senior adult theatre program and the younger student actors. This classic melodrama was originally written by Augustin Daly, and it was the first time “innocence was tied to the railroad tracks” – although a man was tied to the tracks, and not a woman! Now this old melodrama had clunky dialogue and some very slow sections, so I ended up adapting the play. I cut a lot of the dialogue and several scenes, still preserving the plot and characters. That gave us enough time to perform olio numbers between each scene – and allow the audience to boo the villain and cheer the hero. The production was a huge hit. UNLV decided to remount it again later during the summer season later that year.

After I graduated, I sent the script around to play publishers, and had terrific luck. Baker’s Plays wanted to publish it!  So just eighteen months out of graduate school, I had my first play published. It was a pretty giddy moment; I was twenty-six and still figuring things out. Since this melodrama was quite a bit different from the more rural, realistic plays I typically wrote at the time, I figured I should publish the play using a different name, Jens Barrett. My idea was that I could write a whole series of melodramas using the Jens Barrett name, and write my other work using my regular name. Two different kinds of plays, two different names.

Well, the Jens Barrett entrepreneurial melodrama plan didn’t work out. I did write another melodrama for a friend who directed theatre at the University of Arkansas, but I was busy with other plays and my day job, so I never found the time to send this new melodrama to Baker’s Plays. Plus publishing my other plays turned out to be very difficult. And now Baker’s Plays is owned by Samuel French. So Jens Barrett was a mistake, but the play is definitely not. It’s a lot of fun and it has been produced several times. There are great pictures of some past productions on the Internet. Boo! Cheer! Sigh!

Theatrical Licensing: Samuel French