Dude Playwrights, Playwrights of the Past

J. Douglas Cook & Edwin Stoker/University of Utah plays part 2 (Edgar Allan Poe Fanfic & A Bizarro Western)

[Full disclosure: I have suffered several recent soul-crushing theatre defeats, including a playwright who nixed their 4,000 word blog profile I wrote last week as well as giving up a New York City production because the director quit. Oh, and some psycho lit my mom’s truck on fire. It’s been a stressful time, thanks.]

So it’s only fitting that I turn to the nemesis of my youth: The University of Utah. Supposedly the best school in the entire state, the state really doesn’t have that many universities…but UVU is doing a good job. You can even read my review of Shakespeare’s thoroughly dated play here. Still, the University of Utah seems to be considered number one (though not by BYU fans).

I haven’t talked about rejection in this blog, nor much about the business of writing for theatre, but I receive several rejection notices per day. These last two made me laugh. I sent them a play about a teenager who is half-potato and half-flamingo.

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Fair enough. Potangoes have a hard time being accepted, but it was followed by the discovery of another play I sent to the same theatre (a Western for seniors).

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Excuse me, I writhe when I wanna writhe…

Whenn you google “writhe GIF”


Update: Last night I got rejected for an interview because apparently the theatre suffers from phone anxiety and has never heard of Skype. 

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I literally lost two NYC opportunities in two days, though actually I’ve lost nothing.

Back to the blog…

In 1928 the accurately titled book University of Utah Plays was published. The book contained the well-crafted plays of Althea Thurston, whom we recently covered. It also contained some other, lesser-crafted plays, written by J. Douglas Cook and Edwin Stoker.

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They made the paper.

I know this blog tends to feature vibrant female authors of all backgrounds – and we did feature a female University of Utah author from the same book – but every now and again old dead white males wrote awful plays that must be ridiculed. Especially in their college years.

The plays are the western The Boomer and A Man of Temperment, based around Edgar Allan Poe.

The Boomer

Not the American football player. Nor the generation that screwed up America. This “boomer” seems to refer to an itinerant worker, in this case, a wagon train guide. More on that soon.

Stage Westerns do exist. Maybe the biggest was The Squaw Man. This isn’t The Squaw Man. In fact it’s not much of anything. There is a plot.

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Later the play specifically mentions Utah as the location.

The plot basically is this: wuss-boy Hugh loves coquettish Betty, whose tastes run a bit more adventuresome. She teases tough guy/sociopath-in-dialect Black Luke – who makes advances tries to rape her. Frustrated in his rough wooing rapiness, Luke blames Hugh and challeneges him to a gunfight. You’ll have to follow this to see the ending…

Here is bachelor number one:

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And here is our unlucky bachelorette:

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Basically Hugh follows Betty around pitching woo and generally failing. Betty loudly announces she has another chaperone.

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“struck as by a thunderbolt”

Thunderbolt or lightning bolt, it’s all the same to Pikachu.

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“petty defiance” 

That earplugging is impressive.

Close enough.

Looks like we may be interpreting this play through GIFs, kiddos.

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Damn, Hugh. Now I’m embarrassed for EVERYONE.


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Can we learn more about Betty’s “secret amusement”? It’s the most interesting part of this oater so far.


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Sounds like Hugh needs himself a relationship time machine. So glad Betty is smart enough to not fall for the “you would’ve married me a while ago” trick.

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Hugh….don’t tell her what to do. Seriously.

Alas, we get our first peek at Black Luke.

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“yet he is attractive”

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“But I knows what’s got under his hide.”

Lonely Luke + Bored Betty = DRAMA!!!

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Aww, Luke’s “been a-hankerin'” and Betty’s been “blocked up here like a fly in a bottle.”

What could happen next?????

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“I’ve been a-watchin’ you” Luke goes full creep.

Millennial Luke.

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“Y’know I ain’t never done this before;” What? Use a semicolon in dialogue? Luke, please.

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Yeah. It’s not really working out.

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Is “half-menacingly” really any better than “menacingly”????

Betty freaks out and Hugh scomes to the rescue. He sends Betty away so him and Luke can have some “man talk”

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Black Luke: Self-aware villain.

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This isn’t Hugh’s day.

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Says you, Hugh.

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“Insane cry”

This popped up as the GIF for “insane cry.”

Hugh still doesn’t want to fight/shoot/do anything so Luke gets all weird and threatens him with…the lash????

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“resentfully stiffen” Hehehe.

“red tongue of flame”


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Don’t kick a man when he’s…oh wait. never mind.

Of course it’s Betty’s fault – as this comtemporary review points out:

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Cherchez la article here.


Robert Edwin Stoker was born in in Salt Lake City in 1902. His mother was born in Holladay, Utah and his father was from England. They appear to have been Latter-day Saints. He died in 1959 and has two headstones for some reason. I couldn’t find much else out about his life.

A Man of Temperment

This is actually the better play. Mostly because it involves Edgar Allan Poe, who, like so many others, was a failed playwright.

Why can’t we use the sideburns picture of Poe more often? 1842/3.

Our play has these people hanging out, except for Poe.

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They’re waiting for Poe. Good to know we’re dealing with a “fact-based play” here. Hehe.

Cook sets up the scene….a lot.

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Everyone gets all judge-y on poor Edgar.

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That’s Mrs. Shelton defending her fiance. And as for Poe’s supposed boozing ways…

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Altree is kind of a jerk.

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But Barton is straight up Douchemeister 3000 material.

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A photo of the author from a 1918 newspaper article about teaching the foxtrot at the University of Utah.

I guess the neat thing is if you’re Edgar Allan Poe, people will actually wait for you if you’re late:

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Oh, snap! I do like that Shelton points out that Poe was a reputed drunkard – the facts are pretty mangled.

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Dude supposedly had a sensitivity to alcohol. I appreciate that the play mentions this.

White decides he knows what’s making Poe late.

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Tell you what…theatres paying playwrights sometimes pretend it’s an act of charity.

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Southern “gentlemen” and their reputations.

I love that here, everyone who was dissing him suddenly wants to be his friend. Don’t fall for it, Ed!

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The author around 1918. He wrote home about his war experiences.

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Oh no!!! He’s shown up plastered. And prays?

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So he’s not drunk after praying? Was it all an act? Or was there divine intervention?

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Oh, he’s getting published! Well hot damn! He’s got a career!

I’m actually unsure if this is a drama or comedy. Dramedy?

J. Douglas Cook was the son of W.L. Cook who was a pioneer court reporter in Utah [dude had an original copy of the John D. Lee trial]. His father was from Ogden and his mother was from Beaver. They were Christian Scientists.

He was administrator of Tule Lake after the evacuation order. Here is a photo he took of children there. More research needs to be done on this.

As a side note for those really into theatre, here are some performing artists/showbiz folk who were imprisoned at Tule Lake:

Playwright Hiroshi Kashiwagi

Actor Pat Morita

Yep, the US Government imprisoned Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid aka Arnold from Happy Days aka Pat Morita.

Animator Jimmy Murakami

Actor Yuki Shimoda

Actor Sab Shimono

Singer Hana Shimozumi

Light opera singer Hana Shimozumi.

Actor George Takei

He is also listed as a “research attorney” at times. He did write a radio play out there that was broadcast in 1938. He had an article published in The Saturday Review in 1954 about composers. I don’t know when he died.

Hopefully, he had a lot of time to contemplate his role in the imprisonment of thousands of his fellow Americans.

Next time we’ll bring you a more interesting plays. Thanks for reading!!!!

In the near future you can look forward to Chilean, Indonesian and Pennsylvania German writers.

Meanwhile, here’s a list of all our playwrights.



Female Playwrights, Playwrights of the Past, Unknown playwrights

Althea Thurston

This week we bring you an unknown playwright who was based in the weirdest state in America my home state and who attended the worst university in the whole goddamned world my alma mater.

Utah birthed this tool:

The University of Utah flag, stained red by the blood of past memories…or by a horrible police department.

Not only was Althea Thurston prominent locally, but in 1921, her one-act play The Exchange was included in a book of contemporary one acts with such famous playwrights as Barrie, Gregory, Chekov and Strindberg. Not bad company at all. Let’s see what The Exchange is about.

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The Plot

Like many shorter works, The Exchange is based upon a simple, yet entertaining and dramatically/comically fruitful supposition: in some realm beyond, there is a judge and a judge’s helper, an imp.

People who are dissatisfied with their lot in life may approach the judge for an exchange. For example, a vain woman wants her developing wrinkles to stop. After being given several options, she decides to exchange an aging body for deafness.

A poor man wishes to be rich, but at what price? Indigestion, naturally. Let’s take a look at our cast of people who are unhappy with their lot in life and what they exchange it for. This sort of exchange goes on for several unhappy people.

Note: I’ll intersperse some photos of a 2014 reading at Forman Christian College in Lahore, Pakistan throughout the article. Thank you to Amani Durrani for the photos.

You can totally see it listed 2nd on the poster in back.


The characters are based upon archetypes (vain girl, poor man, rich idiot) but are broadly drawn with comedic flair.

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Poverty does indeed suck. At least the dude isn’t a criminal.

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Perhaps “poor” refers to his decision-making skills. Be prepared to enter the Twilight Zone, Poor Man.

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On a scale of 1-10, Vain Woman is about 1,000 on the Unlikeability Factor.


The Judge tries to help:

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“You don’t want me to be unhappy, do you?”  (Actually, I do)

And thus, Vain Woman is cool with being deaf.

The Rich Citizen shows up.

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“Day and night.” Rough life, bro.

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Lack of introspection. Surprisingly, the Rich Citizen doesn’t want to be a bartender. I also like that apparently many bartenders have exchanged their occupations.

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He could have a whole show based on himself if he were a bartender.


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“By Jove.” Here’s what milk production looked like in British propoganda at that time.



This is where The Exchange really rises to the top (and I believe deserves a spot aalongside those other contemporary plays). The theme seems to be stated right at the beginning (just like they teach you in creative writing class).

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“misalliance” may be an allusion

I like the “defective heart” and “lazy liver” bit. But the true theme is people want to change their miseries, but not their vices. And people minimize their own shortcomings while maximizing others’.


After the exchanges, The Former Poor Man and the Vain Woman have this exchange:

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Be careful what you wish for.

The fun part is, everyone returns to the exchange, trying to recover their former problems, but it isn’t so simple. The Judge is gone and has sent this letter:

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They’re stuck with their new problems and I can’t say that I feel sorry for them.

The singular drawback to this play would be the stereotypical portrayal of the Vain Woman.


The Exchange was originally performed in 1919 and published in 1922 in Contemporary One-Act Playsedited by B. Roland Lewis, who just so happened to be Thurston’s playwriting instructor at the University of Utah.

The play later appeared in University of Utah Plays in 1928. It is head and shoulders above the other plays by University of Utah students. These other plays will be profiled in an upcoming post.

However, in the 1928 publication Thurston had a second one-act play, the allegorical And the Devil Laughs.

This play isn’t as good as The Exchange but it has its moments.

The Plot

In some bizarre allegory-land, several folks cross paths:

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The humans are all looking for the Safe Road, though invariably end up on the Forbidden Trail.

Do you think Thurston knew that 90 years later people in Lahore would enjoy her play?
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The allegory is obvious: “Safe Road” = 9 to 5 job. “Forbidden Trail” = world of playwriting.
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Production in Utah from 1931.


The characterization is much thinner in this piece.  The most interesting character seems to be The Girl, though the protagonist and catalyst for everything is The Youth.

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He said “Hell” –

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If all it takes to impress women is taking the Forbidden Trail, I’m there.

Doesn’t Forbidden Trail sound like an oater from the 1930s?

There was another one from the ’20s.

The Youth is supposed to be some kind of punk, but The Girl is the one doing her own bit of rebelling – or trying to.

The Manshows up:

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I’m just gonna point out that even The Youth – whom The Girl seems to have an interest in, simply treats her like any man in a 1920s Utah-written allegory would: “You go do girl stuff. Now!” He doesn’t deserve The Forbidden Trail.

I like how The Man acts like a pastor who just got caught reading a pornographic magazine “for the articles.” The temptation of The Forbidden Trail is too much.

The kids notice this:

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I appreciat the fact he can say “That will do, young smarty” whilst being angry.

“I have read of its wickedness…”


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The Young Men’s Advice League sounds exciting.

And they’re not sexist: there’s one for the women, too!

But here’s where the Girl’s character really shines through:

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Next a Husband and a Wife enter. They are looking for The Safe Road.

And of course they strive to protect the Youth and Girl from the horrors of the Forbidden Trail.

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Great, The Girl has a savior complex. She’s exchanged her love of forbidden adventure to a love of socially acceptable daring-do.

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Yes, I know this page comes earlier, but the Husband and Wife are just annoying here as anywhere.

“I wasn’t married…” Excuses, excuses.

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Commadnly. Bristling. Indignantly.

The play gets a serious case of the weirds and it simply ends with everyone slowly being sucked into the Forbidden Trail by a laughing devil. The Girl is the last to submit:

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I want to thank The Book Garden for actually having a copy of this.

About the other plays in the anthology, we’ll cover them fairly soon.

About Ms. Thurston, she seems to have been a college student a bit later in life. And she married a rich dude.

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And for permission back then, we learn Ms. Thurston’s address:

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She lived in the Avenues, which is still very upper-middle class artsy in Salt Lake City.

Thanks to the magic that is Google maps…

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It’s a very shy house, built in 1901.

Here’s a newer video trailer for The Exchange:


I haven’t been able to find her other plays. However, I did find a spring “pageant” of hers which I will put here in its entirety.

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Here is a poem she published in 1921:

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For more playwrights, click here.


For more about Althea Thurston, here is The Exchange in its entirety.

Here is that reading in Lahore.

A production from 1950.

The premiere of The Exchange in 1919.