The Plays

Under the Gaslight
A five-act play written by Augustin Daly, it was first produced at the New York Theater on August 13, 1867 and played for 47 performances. The plot features a woman named Laura Cortlandt (played by Carrie in chapter 29) who is jilted by her lover and discovers that she is an adopted daughter from a humble family. She runs away and encounters the play's villain, which leads to a series of evil plans and escapes. The play is most famous for employing the practice of tying the hero/heroine to railroad tracks (probably borrowed from English drama), which became a staple of the modern melodrama. Dresier incorporates actual lines and stage direction from the play into the novel.

Watercolor by
W. Russell Flint

Sister Carrie Chapter 8
There was so much interest in this Gilbert and Sullivan play that Sydney Rosenfeld wanted his production to be the first in the United States. Rosenfeld rushed the presentation to beat out rival theaters and the show first ran on July 20, 1885 at the Union Square Theater. His celebration was cut short as an injunction was obtained to stop further performances and Rosenfeld was jailed for "unauthorized production." After its "official debut" at the Fifth Avenue Theater on August 19th, it went on to dominate the 1885-86 season and achieved critical success amid an atmosphere rife with competing performances and legal battles. The play focuses on the disguised son of a Mikado who agrees to be beheaded in exchange for permission to spend a month married to the woman he loves. Its famous score includes the song Willow, tit-Willow1 and the play flourished at a time when there was a penchant for things oriental. To that point, Mikado had one of the longest runs in New York Theater at 250 performances. It was followed by the production of new version, widely considered to be inferior to the original, which moved on to play in Chicago. It is likely that this was the play attended by Carrie, Hurstwood and Drouet in the early 1890s.

King Lear
The Shakespearean tragedy was first performed in New York in 1754 and the title character was played by most American tragedians. It was often revived to varied success.

Rip Van Winkle
A four-act play by Dion Boucicault, it first appeared at the Olympic Theater on September 3, 1866 and played 35 performances. A morality play, the lead was played by Joseph Jefferson who helped to make changes to the play that would be crucial to its success. Based on the story by Washington Irving, the play is about a man who drinks himself to sleep and awakens to a changed world, where he is recognized neither by his wife nor his daughter. The play ends with Rip promising to stay sober and his wife, Gretchen, promising she will be a better spouse. The changes employed by Jefferson helped keep the play popular into the 20th century.

Joseph Jefferson as Rip
Jefferson as
Rip Van Winkle
The Old Homestead
The famous "rural play" in four acts was written by Denman Thompson and grew out of a vaudville sketch. It was first produced at the 14th Street Theater on January 10, 1887 and went on to play 160 times. It's plot focuses on a friendly New Hampshire farmer who goes to New York to find and reform his "derelict" son.

Theatrical History in Sister Carrie

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1Music provided by The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive