‘Under the Gaslight’ Delivers Great Melodrama


Under the Gaslight

Under the Gaslight

Railroad tracks, villain, and beautiful heroine on the program

Disturbing villain? Check. Beautiful heroine? Check. Fights and chases, dance and music, history, mystery, romance, and adventure? Check, check, and check. Augustin Daly’s “Under the Gaslight” has something for everyone, and ACC Drama Department Chair Shelby Brammer thinks that’s a big part of the play’s appeal.

“That’s why Augustin Daly was so successful,” notes Brammer of the 19th century playwright. “He knew what his audiences liked, and he gave it to them with innovation and flair.”

Brammer, who is directing the Austin Community College production of “Under the Gaslight,” hopes to capture the same innovative spirit.

“Under the Gaslight: A Totally Original and Picturesque Drama of Life and Love in These Times” is set in 1867 New York. A young woman is jilted by her lover when he discovers that she was adopted into a family of high society and actually comes from humble beginnings. She runs away and comes under the control of the play’s villain, which sets off a dramatic sequence of events.

“‘Under the Gaslight’ is a wonderfully entertaining piece of Americana,” says Brammer. “It is a drama that is also often very funny. There is a strange villain, a beautiful but haunted heroine, a handsome yet tortured lover, snobby denizens of Wall Street, and lower classes trying to scratch out a living on the streets of New York.”

Even though Augustin Daly wrote the play nearly 150 years ago, Brammer says its themes will resonate with modern audiences.

Anna McConnell, as heroine Laura Courtland and David Yeakle, as Civil War Vet Joe Snorkey

David Yeakle, as Civil War Vet Joe Snorkey, and Anna McConnell, as heroine Laura Courtland

“In times of economic crisis, people look to entertainment to take them away from their troubles,” says Brammer. ” ‘Under the Gaslight’ has an escapist quality, but our audience can easily relate to it. The play incorporates universal concepts, including the power of love, good vs. evil, and the gap between the haves and have-nots.”

“Under the Gaslight” is particularly noteworthy for introducing the dramatic device of a villain tying someone to railroad tracks – although in Daly’s version, it is the heroine who comes to the rescue. The play’s original run on Broadway also helped usher in the advent of special effects.

“This was a time when special effects were becoming hugely popular, and Augustin Daly was at the forefront of those developments,” says Brammer. “Daly was like the Steven Spielberg of his day.”

ACC’s production of “Under the Gaslight” boasts a cast of 24, including a couple of drama faculty members and an ACC math professor. The play calls for many locations and scenery changes, and it features live music with songs from the era.

“Melodramas require large casts, large costumes, large set pieces, a large musical score, and even larger characters,” says Drama Department faculty member Arthur Adair, who is part of the “Gaslight” cast. “Because of this, melodramas are rarely produced. Shelby Brammer is doing a wonderful job in harnessing this world and bringing it to life on stage.”

Brammer took part in a production of “Under the Gaslight” at The University of Texas in 1975; she has not seen or heard of a production since.

“The material is challenging,” says Brammer. “It requires great energy, a bigger style of acting than realism. That’s why I chose this play. I thought our students needed this experience.”

Brammer is sure it is an experience both her actors and the audience will enjoy.

“Under the Gaslight” runs October 30-31, November 1, and November 6-8 at the Rio Grande Campus Mainstage Theater (1212 Rio Grande St., Austin, on the second floor of the main building). Friday and Saturday performances begin at 8 p.m. Sunday shows start at 2 p.m. Admission: suggested donation of $6.

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