Carlos Ibarra, Sean Hayden, and Eric Percival in a scene from Another Horatio Alger Story | Gustavo Monroy
Description: An inner city high school teacher tries to save an at-risk student by exposing him to the work of 19th century rags-to-riches author Horatio Alger; but as he moves through Alger’s Ragged Dick, he must confront the author’s complicated relationship with boys – and ultimately, his own.
First Produced: 2012
Date Added: 4/17/2012
Content Advisory: This play contains mature content in its exploration of relationships between gay adults and youth
Gay and Lesbian ·
Show Biz ·
Art and Artists ·
True Stories ·
Gender and Sexuality ·
Literature and Writing ·
Mostly Male Characters ·
Large Cast Size
1 Act, 90 Minutes
0 Females, 7 Males
Another Horatio Alger Story is fully protected by copyright law and is subject to royalty. All inquiries concerning production, publication, reprinting or use of this play in any form should be addressed to Rochelle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Author:
This play explores the meanings of “a Horatio Alger story” on several levels: the rags-to-riches stories written by Horatio Alger Jr.; the promise of American success that has become synonymous with his name; and the complex story of Alger’s own life—which, though mostly hidden, may shed some light on the homosexual experience in 19th century America.
My initial impressions of Alger came from the briefest introduction in high school. I knew that his books had been popular in the late 19th century and that he promoted the belief that any American can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I’ve always been fascinated with Gilded Age America, especially its theatre, so a few years ago, thinking that Alger might be a fun read, I grabbed a copy of Ragged Dick to read on a flight. I was amazed to learn that prior to writing this book, Alger, then a Unitarian Minister in Cape Cod, had been accused of sexual relations with two teenage boys. Had Alger’s actions not come into public light, it’s possible he may never have come to New York, nor ever met the street boys who would inspire his stories. As I set out to devise a theatre piece about Alger, I wanted Alger’s voice in the play, but I found he left little personal writings behind and I didn’t want to put words in his mouth.
Exploring Alger’s novels and biography, I wanted to understand how Alger’s ideas are perceived by American youth today. I also wanted to explore the friction between internalizing but not achieving standards of success prescribed by American ideology; and the universal conflicts revealed in Alger’s (mis)behavior with at least two boys. Boundaries are so important when adults become involved with youth. I believe this is what Alger struggled with, and our headlines are now filled with stories of adults who overstep and harm both youth and themselves. What is missing from public discourse are more nuanced discussions of how such situations arise. Like Alger’s accusers, we often paint the story in black and white. This play aims to look at the problem in shades of grey.
The play has benefited from two workshop productions in New York City. It awaits a fully realized production.
The play moves across several settings and eras: a contemporary a public school classroom and apartment; a variety of locations in NYC circa 1860’s (albeit a fictional portrayal); and New England rooms in the 1860’s. Settings may be suggested by projections, lights and sound. Furniture may be literal or suggestive, but nothing that stops a fluid, sometimes dreamlike flow.
The play calls for two acting styles: contemporary scenes are realistic; Ragged Dick scenes are intended to be played in a 19th century acting style with melodramatic gesture and expression.
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Original Production Information
Another Horatio Alger Story was presented in 2012 in workshop form as part of the Metropolitan Playhouse’s Horatio Alger Festival in New York, with the following cast and credits:
Philip Johnson: Sean Hayden
Horatio Alger, Jr: Eric Percival
Ragged Dick: Logan James Hall
Horatio Alger Senior and others: Jeremy Lawrence
Solomon Freeman and others: Joe Aiello
Henry Fosdick and others: Matt Wray
Alberto: Carlos Ibarra
Director: Jim Gaylord
Dramaturg: Jamee Freedus
Associate Producer: Heather Olmstead
Stage and Graphic Design: Chris Kalb
Costumes: Amanda Seymour
Sound Design: Matthew Pritchard
Lighting: Christopher Weston
Artistic Director for Metropolitan Playhouse: Alex Roe
The play was originally developed with the Theatre Askew Drafting Table. The playwright thanks Tim Cusack, Richard Sheinmel, William Alex Runnells, Walter Brandes, Robbie Tann, Brandon Chinn, David Gautschy, and Liam Torres for their contributions to the play’s workshops.
I am indebted to the Alger scholars who provided research, insights, and theories into Alger’s life and work—Gary Scharnhorst, Jack Bales, Carole Nackenoff, and Michael Moon.
For the seventh time, Metropolitan Playhouse is presenting a "Living Literature Festival," in which the life and work of one or more artists from American's past serves as the inspiration for new works of independent theater. Previous editions devoted to a single writer focused on four of the 19th century's "biggies"—Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and Edgar Allen Poe—writers whose works I (and, I suspect, most audience members) were very familiar with, having studied them in school and/or read them for pleasure as kids or grownups.
This year's subject, however, is a figure much less well-known. Once I started to think carefully about it, I realized that all I really knew about Horatio Alger was that he was the guy who promulgated the mythic idea of the American Dream—pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, working diligently, and becoming successful—in a series of books that, I had to admit, I barely knew the names of, let alone had ever read. For me, the appeal of the Horatio Alger Festival was not just the chance to see some diverse new plays by indie writers, but to immerse myself in a neglected (at least by me) but nonetheless significant American writer.
Another Horatio Alger Story, written by Jason Jacobs and directed by Jim Gaylord, was my favorite among the works I sampled. Jacobs juxtaposes three stories here, intelligently and deftly. One is Alger's own, here alluded to only in the shadowy bits of fact and hearsay that exist on the record. A second is the story of Ragged Dick, Alger's magnum opus, here related in playful story-theater fashion that never comments on the sentimentality or hokiness of the book but lets us experience its earnest message with a kind of guileless charm.
Framing both of these tales is Jacobs' main plot, about a man named Philip Johnson who teaches English in a New York City public school. When we meet him, Mr. Johnson is telling one of his students, Alberto, that he's gotten caught cheating, having stolen a term paper about The Scarlet Letter from the internet. Mr. Johnson gives Alberto a chance to redeem himself by reading and writing about Ragged Dick. Both student and teacher find parallels in their own situations in Alger's novel; and Mr. Johnson's ambivalent feelings of dedication and concern for Alberto mirror thoughts that Alger may have had for the boys who inspired him to write. Jacobs weaves themes of homophobia, sexual confusion, bigotry, intolerance, and the real dangers of life on New York City's streets (then and now) to create a complicated, fascinating drama.
Another Horatio Alger Story is excellently realized in a production that's spare but never feels bare-bones. Anchoring the piece is Sean Hayden in a smart and deeply felt performance as Mr. Johnson. He's supported by a fine company, including Logan James Hall (superb as the ingratiating if cliched Ragged Dick), Eric Percival as Alger, Carlos Ibarra (very convincingly a teenager, as Alberto), and Joe Aiello, Jeremy Lawrence, and Matt Wray in a variety of supporting roles.
Jacobs' play made me hungry to find out more about Alger and maybe, after all this time, to actually read one of his books. Whatever fare you choose in the Horatio Alger Festival will, I think, yield some food for thought about an American writer who almost all of us have heard of but very few of us know a lot about. Metropolitan's credo is to discover where we come from to better know who we are; this current Living Literature festival exemplifies their important mission brilliantly.
reviewed at the Horatio Alger Festival in 2012
Another Horatio Alger Story
FOSDICK: Now, Dick, before we begin, I must find out how much you already know. Can you read any?
DICK: Not enough to hurt me. All I know about readin’ you could put in a nutshell, and there’d be room left for a small family.
FOSDICK: I suppose you know your letters?
DICK: I know ‘em all, but not intimately.
FOSDICK: I must find a good piece for you to begin on… (looking over the paper)
DICK: Find an easy one.
(As PHILIP talks to ALBERTO, DICK and FOSDICK either read still, or frozen.)
PHILIP: So, what did you like about this part?
ALBERTO: Idknow. Just better.
PHILIP: Can you tell me why?
ALBERTO: I guess, like what you said about Dick trying to improve. And the way he treats Fosdick. He’s all right.
PHILIP: That sounds like a compliment.
ALBERTO: Whatever. It’s still corny shit.
PHILIP: Okay… but there’s something you find interesting here. I’m thinking this scene could be a good start for your paper.
PHILIP: I’d like you to tell me about what’s happening between these two boys, and why Alger thought it was important to show us this moment.
ALBERTO: (Packing up to go.) Idknow…
PHILIP: (Watching him withdraw) Tell you what: how about tomorrow you bring me your introductory paragraph, and we’ll start with that.
ALBERTO: (Stops on his way out; very cautious) You really want to help?
PHILIP: Yes. (Pause) What?
ALBERTO: Cuz -- there are other ways…
PHILIP: (Concerned) What (do you mean)?
ALBERTO: Nothing. (Exits)
(Alone PHILIP turns to ALGER.)
PHILIP: Isn’t this helping him...?
ALGER: One evening, I climbed the narrow staircase to the sixth floor of the Newsboys Lodging House. In the schoolroom, a hundred boys sat on benches, listening. They looked bright and intelligent. Their faces were marked with a sharpness produced by their circumstances. Thrown upon the world almost in infancy, they had an air of self-reliance and calculation. But for the instruction and advice, they would doubtlessly go astray and be ruined.
PHILIP: He has so little time to get some direction in his life.
ALGER: How cheap is virtue; how costly is crime. For one: a little money and care discreetly bestowed at the outset. For the other: untold suffering, and losses, and expenses for courts and jails, and a ruined man at the end.
PHILIP: You thought you could save them, didn’t you?