A 5-Act Uncle Tom
On the titlepage of the New York Public Library typescript, which has been marked up for use as a promptbook, is written "Robert Sawyer | Ithaca, Michigan | Oct. 15 1956." A second typescript at the Theatre Research Institute of The Ohio State University has two names, written in different hands, on its titlepage -- "L. Verne Slout" and "Pat Whiteford" -- as well as the place "Vermontville, Mich." (written in Slout's handwriting). In a third hand at the top is written "Rep. Company Script" and "One of last Rep. Co's to play U.T.C." Harry Birdoff's INVENTORY lists the "L. Verne Slout Players (AKA Toby & Ora Slout Players Tent Show)" as a U.T.C. company that was active in 1936 and 1943-1950, so that might be the "Rep[ertory] Company," and Whiteford might have been an actor in the troupe.
Morton's play derives directly from the Aiken text, but condenses the action into five acts that require only five sets (you can see drawings for the set designs of Acts 2-5 in the first text below) and a smaller cast than most Tom Shows (the first text also includes a chart for "doubling" actors in more than one role; Eva, for example, is played in a wheelchair, so that the same adult actress who plays Eliza in Acts 1 & 2 and Emmaline in Act 5 can be a little girl in Act 3). Reducing the cast and the number of sets would enable a company to play to smaller audiences and still hope to turn a profit.
Of course, much of the story is sacrificed to the economy measures taken by the script. The emphasis is more on humor than sentiment: Deacon Perry's comic courtship of Ophelia, for example, is moved to Act 3 to eliminate Aiken's Vermont settings, but that means its humor overlaps the scenes of Topsy's conversion and Eva's death. This script also contains stage business for "Jubilees" -- African American performers -- if the company includes them, and helps us get a sense of how these "extras" were used in the Tom Shows.
The first script is from
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
All rights reserved.
The second script is from
Theatre Research Institute, The Ohio State University