Melodrama

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Plays

Arrah-na-Pogue

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Written in 1864 and set during the Irish rebellion of 1798, Arrah na Pogue is an rollicking tale of romance and misadventure with rascally rebels, despicable villains and love-struck youths.

As night falls on the Wicklow mountains, the popular but incorrigible rebel Beamish MacCaul is lying in wait. He’s out to ambush the cowardly rent-collector Michael Feeny and collect some rent from him in turn. That done, he’s off to marry Fanny Power. Down in the valley, love is in the air for Shaun the Post and the play’s heroine Arrah Meelish too. But Arrah has a secret, and Michael Feeny has found it out. As Shaun and Arrah celebrate their wedding, revenge comes a-calling. Now love must conquer all – including the hangman’s noose. The play is brim-full of Boucicault’s trademark comic roguery, farce and melodrama.

audio Dracula (adapt. Morey)

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Before Twilight and True Blood, only one vampire commanded “the children of the night.” In this blood-thirsty tale of unholy terror, Count Dracula slips into Victorian London with a cargo of his native Transylvanian soil - so he can rest between victims. The city seems helpless against his frightful power, and only one man, Dr. Van Helsing, can stop the carnage. But to do this, he must uncover the vampire’s lair and pierce his heart with a wooden stake.

Program note from Rosalind Ayres, director of the live performance by L.A. Theatre Works: “For centuries man has dreamed of a life beyond death. Chinese Emperors were buried with clay armies to protect them in the next world. Egyptian Pharaohs were entombed with all the belongings they would need in the afterlife. But how might it be possible to cheat death itself? Well, try the myth of the Vampire. One who, by constantly drinking the ‘life force,’ the blood of others, could ensure eternal survival. In Charles Morey's dramatization of Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, the creed of the Vampire and the Christian belief in 'life everlasting' is juxtaposed. It's the eternal struggle between good and evil. Plus, the confidence of scientific beliefs and theory, marred only by that uncomfortable shaft of inexplicable fear when something goes 'Bump' in the night. Enter Dracula...” An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: David Selby as Abraham Van Helsing John Glover as Renfield Simon Templeman as Count Dracula Matthew Wolf as Arthur Holmwood Moira Quirk as Lucy Westenra Lisa O’hare as Mina Murray Harker Nick Toren as Dr. John Seward Karl Miller as Jonathan Harker André Sogliuzzo as Maxwell and others Sheelagh Cullen as Mrs. Westenra and others Denise Carole as Tart and others Directed by Rosalind Ayres. Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles.

Featuring: Denise Carole, Sheelagh Cullen, John Glover, Karl Miller, Lisa O'Hare, Moira Quirk, David Selby, Andre Sogliuzzo, Simon Templeman, Nick Toren, Matthew Wolf

The Duchess of Padua

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Duchess of Padua is a tragic melodrama that centres around a young man named Guido Ferranti who has come to Padua to learn the secret of his birth. There he is told that his father's life was ruined by the current duke of Padua; Guido is convinced that he should revenge his father's life by murdering the duke. He agrees at first to undertake this mission, but later balks at the task, only for it to be carried out by his lover, Beatrice, the wife of the murdered Duke. The play ends in further bloodshed, with the double suicide of the lovers.

The Duchess of Padua, written in 1883, is Oscar Wilde's second play. Written for, but ultimately rejected by, the American actress Mary Anderson, it finally premiered anonymously at the Broadway Theatre in New York.

Easy Virtue

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In Easy Virtue, John Whittaker brings home his new wife for the first time. Some years older than her husband, Larita is a woman of class, beauty and experience, with a worldview, we find, in stark contrast to the single-minded morality of her new sisters- and mother-in-law.

At first a tense truce reigns, but after a summer of boredom and mental lassitude, Larita is confronted with the facts of her past: scandalous according to her outraged in-laws; but mere truth to Larita, who refuses to be brow-beaten into hypocrisy by the priggish social system of her new relations.

In the introduction to Coward’s Collected Plays: One Sheridan Morley wrote: “Easy Virtue is essentially The Second Mrs Tanqueray brought up to date... What is intriguing about the play, apart from the light it throws on Coward as a craftsman working from the models of his immediate theatrical and social past, is the way it mocks the conventions, prejudices and complacencies of its period while remaining well inside the drawing-room barricades. No writer of Noël’s generation ever went more directly to the jugular of that moralistic, tight-lipped but fundamentally Twenties society.”

Easy Virtue was first performed in New York in 1926.

Hay Fever

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Hay Fever, one of the best-loved of all Coward’s plays, was reckoned by Tyrone Guthrie to have ‘as good a chance of immortality as any works of an author now living’. This comic masterpiece, first performed in June, 1925, has survived the years beyond even Guthrie’s glowing prediction.

Hay Fever tells the story of a busy weekend at a country house, where each member of the Bliss family has invited a guest to stay, without informing anyone else. Judith, a recently retired actress contemplating a swift return to the stage, has invited her young admirer Sandy Tyrell, who believes he is in for a romantic tryst with an unattached beauty. Judith’s husband David is working on the last chapter of his novel The Sinful Woman, and has invited the sweet ingénue Jackie Coryton to keep him company, and perhaps provide fertile ground for research. Not to be outdone, brother and sister Simon and Sorel have each invited an older lover, Myra Arundel and Richard Greatham respectively, each one anticipating having the house, and their lover, to themselves.

Instead, all four guests are forced into close quarters with the four members of the host family, each one more eccentric than the last. Parlour games turn to rancour; romantic alliances split and reform with flippant ease, recalling at once the dry wit of Wilde and the carnivalesque atmosphere of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As Saturday evening climaxes into a clamour of melodrama, each of the invited guests begin to rue ever accepting an invitation from the inimitable Blisses.

Loot

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A black farce masterpiece, Loot follows the fortunes and misfortunes of two young amateur thieves, Hal and Dennis. Dennis is a hearse driver for an undertaker. They have robbed the bank next door to the funeral parlour and have returned to Hal's home to hide-out with the loot. Hal's mother has just died and the pair conceal the money in her coffin, hiding the body in a cupboard. Unluckily the body is discovered by the predatory Fay, who had been nursing Hal’s mother and has now very quickly engaged herself to marry his father. With the arrival of Inspector Truscott, who insists on posing as a man from the Water Board, the thickened plot turns topsy-turvy. Playing with all the conventions of popular farce, Orton creates a world gone mad and examines in detail English attitudes at mid-century.

Loot was first staged in 1965 at Cambridge, and though the first production was not a success, the play soon received acclaim as a masterwork of dark farce and morbid comedy.

Star Chamber

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A group of actors and theatre-related people arrive fitfully for a committee meeting of the Garrick Haven Fund, a charity for elderly and impoverished actresses, but the transactions of the committee are far less interesting to them than their own affairs. Between a leading lady with an enormous soppy dog, a mediocre comedian, a vaguely dotty actress with wet shoes and several other well-meaning participants in various stages of thespian eccentricity, very little business is conducted, and rather a lot of hysterical posturing is performed instead.

Star Chamber is a short play from the Tonight at 8.30 cycle, conceived by Coward as an antidote to the boredom of a long run of the same script. It is a sequence of ten plays to be performed by the same cast in sets of three, alternating matinées and evenings, ranging from farce to melodrama to romantic comedy.

After touring, Tonight at 8.30 was produced at the Phoenix Theatre in London in 1936.

Still Life (Coward)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Still Life is the love story that would become the classic film Brief Encounter. Laura is a happily married housewife who travels by train into the nearby town once a week to shop and change her library book. One week she gets a piece of grit in her eye from the passing express train, and is rescued by Alec, a doctor who visits the town every Thursday to work at the hospital. As they meet each week — first accidentally, and then quite deliberately — in the station refreshment room, they fall deeply in love. Their passion is only matched by their horror at betraying their families: they remain poised only on the edge of happiness.

Still Life is a short play from the Tonight at 8.30 cycle, conceived by Coward as an antidote to the boredom of a long run of the same script. It is a sequence of ten plays to be performed by the same cast in sets of three, alternating matinées and evenings, ranging from farce to melodrama to romantic comedy.

After touring, Tonight at 8.30 was produced at the Phoenix Theatre in London in 1936.

Ten Tiny Fingers, Nine Tiny Toes

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A story of motherhood set in a totalitarian society where children must be perfect specimens if they are to be allowed to live. Ten Tiny Fingers, Nine Tiny Toes is caught between laughter and despair: a passionate, comic, alarming play.

In future Britain, the population is divided into five segregated classes: only those in the upper strata of society are permitted to reproduce, and Dot and Pete are arrested for an illegal pregnancy. Lucinda and Ralph haven’t been able to conceive; luckily for them they can afford to buy a Government baby, artificially conceived and guaranteed to be beautiful and healthy. But scans reveal that the foetus has nine toes instead of ten. In a world where babies are bought and sold and advertised, everyone is surprised to find that Lucinda doesn’t want her money back.

Ten Tiny Fingers, Nine Tiny Toes was first performed in 1989 at the Library Theatre, Manchester.

Vera, or The Nihilists

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Vera, or the Nihilists is an early play by Oscar Wilde. Written in 1880, some twelve years before his first major theatrical success with Lady Windermere's Fan, it is a tragic melodrama which takes as its heroine a fictionalized version of Vera Zasulich, a Russian revolutionary in the pre-Bolshevik era; a 'Nihilist' as Dostoyevsky and Turgenev would have called her.

In Wilde's play, Zasulich is exhorted by her imprisoned brother to join the Nihilist movement in Moscow. There she rises up the ranks to become one of the movement's top assassins. She falls in love with a fellow revolutioanry, the brilliant Alexis, who in time will reveal a secret identity so unexpected that will test to the last Vera's love and commitment to her ideals.

Vera, or the Nihilists was originally programmed to premiere in Britain, to be produced by actor-manager, Dion Boucicault. Instead, political tensions were such in Britain at the time that Wilde decided to defer production. Instead, it premiered in New York in 1883, moving on to Detroit for a modest run.

A popular theatre genre that came to be equated with sensationalism and excess. Melodramas emerged in the nineteenth century from eighteenth-century French and German productions that combined music (melody) with drama. The use of music and the Gothic influence of virtue overcoming horror diminished, and melodramas turned to more domestic themes and later gave way to realism before succumbing to cinema and subsequently television. Few original melodramas were written; many were simply translations or adaptations from novels. By the beginning of the twentieth century productions were becoming increasingly spectacular. The genre lost its impetus early in the century but survived in various forms. David Belasco in the United States generated his own version; Alfred Jarry in Ubu Roi wrote a highly influential comic melodrama; and Sartre wrote an intellectual melodrama in Crime Passionel. Stoppard parodied the form in The Real Inspector Hound while Orton offered a burlesque of it in Loot. According to some theorists, a distinction can be made between tragedy, which deals with internal flaws, and melodrama, which deals with external forces.

from Adriana Hunter, The Continuum Companion to Twentieth-Century Theatre, ed. Colin Chambers (London, 2002).