Of the many theatrical forms that have aged badly, 19th Century melodrama has perhaps suffered the most, moving from the most popular theatrical form of its time to complete obscurity and the object of derision.
Or campy laughs, spectacular sets and stock characters. That's the case in the Empty Space's production of Augustin Daly's first play, Under the Gaslight, running May 26-July 9 at the Seattle company's home theatre.
In Daly's 1867 script, the beautiful young Laura Courtland, belle of New York society, is plunged into poverty by a terrible secret from her past. She must claw her way back to the top while facing evil villains and finding her perfect hero. Under the Gaslight introduced to the world the oft-parodied melodramatic idea of a heroine being tied to the railroad tracks by a fiendish, moustache-twirling villain while a train bears down on them. In his time, Daly adapted over 90 plays but suffered from his unwillingness to publish any of them.
In an effort to create a sense of 19th Century theatre-going, Empty Space artistic director Eddie Levi Lee has interspersed the action with olios, 19th Century variety acts used to fill out the production and satisfy the average customers' desire for all forms of entertainment. Olios could be anything from comedy sketches to popular songs to animal imitations.
Starring in Gaslight are Anthony Curry, V. Joy Lee, Jeffrey L. Treadwell, Imogen Love and Bhama Roget. The design team includes Carol Wolfe Clay (sets), Misty Reubens (costumes), Timothy Wratten (lighting) and Nathan Anderson (sound, musical direction, original compositions).
Tickets are $26-$18. The Empty Space Theatre is located at 3509 Fremont North. For tickets, call (206) 547-7500. The Empty Space Theatre is on the web at http://www.emptyspace.org.
After the Empty Space run, the production will move to the Kirkland Performance Center in Lake Washington. Dates are July 13-16. For further information and reservations, call (425) 893-9900.
-- By Christine Ehren