This photograph has intrigued me for many years. It shows Arline (front, center) with her sister Mercy (front left) and friends posing as the Cast of Characters from the drama “A Noble Outcast.” My students laughed at the tall fellow in the back row. They thought he looked so mock-stern. We all understood the pose better when we realized that his part was “The Villian or James Blackburn.” I have often wondered about this play. Was it a mystery? A parlour romance? A farce? Sometimes, mostly in the wee hours of the morning, I search on the internet for references to the drama but I don’t seem to get very far.
The Google gods were smiling recently, however, and I began to locate information about this late 19th century melodrama — yes it was a melodrama. In fact, the number of references to the play indicate that it was a popular amateur theater production by at least 1907.
Written in 1888 by John A. Fraser, the play was performed from Strathcona, Canada to Atlantic City to Wellington Township, Wisconsin. The number of references to local productions indicate that the drama was well known and well received throughout small-town America. Alas, it is difficult to find the script itself. Copies seem to be held in the Princeton Library and the New York City Library but it is not widely known today, and those libraries are a bit off my beaten path.
Fortunately, a local historian in Curry County New Mexico also found an interest in the old-fashioned drama. Don McAlavy read about the play in the memoirs of his wife’s grandfather, Levi J. Whiteman, who produced the play with friends in Portales, New Mexico in 1907 when he was 20 years old . Mr. McAlavy seems to enjoy a challenge and he took on the task of finding a copy of the script and then staging a production in 1994 for the Clovis Pioneer Days.
With this new clue to the whereabouts of a script, I took to the internet for further research. Mr. McAlavy is no longer living in New Mexico, but he still writes a history column for the local newspaper. He responded quickly to my email and told me more about the script he located and used for the 20th century production.
I have a copy of the original melodrama. That copy of the “A Noble Outcast” was used by others and many of the pages were written on, crossed out, but most of it is readable.
Mr. McAlavy has very kindly offered to share a copy of the script with me, and I am excited at the prospect of actually reading the 80-page play and discovering the roles played by Arline and Mercy as Frances Lee, Leading Lady and Mrs. Lee, the Colonel’s wife.
Please stay in your seats; I will be back with more after the Intermission.