Writer Fred Alley – an honest heart

Fred Alley loved to write.

I don’t mean he merely enjoyed it, or even that he was profoundly dedicated to it.  No, siree.

Fred, AFT’s brilliant co-founder, loved writing as passionately as Romeo loved Juliet.  He loved it the way a 10-year-old loves the pealing bell at the end of the last school day before summer vacation.

You hear about writers who lock themselves in a garret for hours to crank out a manuscript.   That wasn’t Fred.   He could hardly wait to get back to his bedroom to work, whatever the hour of the day or night.


I’ve been recalling this recently because this summer we’re presenting two of Fred’s most charming works, “Fishing for the Moon” and “Lumberjacks in Love”.   Both have music by James Kaplan.

Thousands of you are familiar with the hilarious book and lyrics for these shows.  But only we lucky cast members realize that Fred’s delight in writing extended even to the stage directions in the script.

Most playwrights have pretty mundane stage directions.  They’ll write stuff like “Biff enters”.  And Fred has some like that, too.

But here are some colorful examples from “Lumberjacks”, back for its sixth season:

For reasons explained in the play, a young woman known as The Kid (played this summer by Jessica McAnaney) has spent her whole life pretending to be male.  She disguises herself by wearing what Fred poetically describes as “a mustache no more substantial than a streak of coal dust.”

To pursue a lumberjack with whom she’s fallen in love, she pretends to be a mail order bride wearing a hat she’s concocted out of a wicker basket and a few odds and ends. Here’s Fred’s description of it:  “She is crowned by a magnificent hat that looks something like a ruffed grouse mating with Raggedy Ann.”

How does he describe The Kid’s shaky attempt to act feminine?  “She sweeps into the room with a graceful attitude but little grace.”


Later, the real mail order bride (performed by Monica Heuser) shows up.  She’s dressed in elegant Victorian style.  According to Fred, “Rose appears.  She is fashionable.  Perhaps she has wandered in off the set of the Oscar Wilde comedy playing next door.”

As Rose sings to a clownish lumberjack called Dirty Bob (Doug Mancheski).   Fred writes, “Rose uses Bob’s pathetic carcass to demonstrate.”

But the most significant stage direction is on the opening page:  “Although the show is silly, it should be played with an honest heart.”

If you go to much theatre, you’ve seen comedies that are full of bluster and frantic activity, yet are the dramatic equivalent of opening a gaudily-wrapped birthday present and finding a box containing a jar of pickled chipmunk livers.  In contrast, Fred’s comedies are all uplifting.   Deliriously in love with the written word, Fred was only interested in choosing the precise words that would make you feel a little better about yourself and this crazy life.

Silly, but with an honest heart.  That was Fred Alley all the way.