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The Day Jack London Got Pinched

Dec. 5-8, 2002

In the summer of 1894, while visiting Niagara Falls, 18-year-old Jack London was arrested and charged with vagrancy for sleeping on the streets. He spent 30 days in the Erie County Penitentiary on the west side of Buffalo, N.Y.

According to JackLondon.com, this 30-day imprisonment was a turning point in his life. It was so degrading that it made him decide to turn to education and pursue a career in writing.

Jack London, of course, went on to become one of the most successful American writers of the early 20th century. Among his tales was "The Road," a story he wrote about his experiences in Niagara Falls and Buffalo.

"The Road," in turn, inspired another acclaimed writer, Buffalo native Tom Fontana. He wrote a play, "The Day Jack London Got Pinched," based on London's tale.

On Dec. 5-8, 2002, Lee Tergesen portrayed the young Jack London in a series of benefit performances of Tom Fontana's play at the American Globe Theatre at 145 W 46th St., New York City

The performances, followed by an opportunity to have drinks with the cast at a nearby pub called O'Lunney's, benefited the American Globe Theatre and the Shakespeare for Schools program. 

The play was directed by Linda Laundra and co-starred Tom Fontana, Lee Tergesen, Kirk Acevedo, Scott William Winters, and muMs, who all worked together on "Oz."

Here's an account from Anne, who saw the Dec. 7, 2002, evening performance:

When the play started, Tom narrated the story of Jack London as an older man looking back on his youth. Then Lee burst in as the young Jack who was hanging out in Buffalo and explains how he got arrested for just walking down the street. During Tomís narration, Lee kept interrupting to explain a term or add a different point of view. It was quite amusing. Tom kept getting more and more frustrated at his younger, more arrogant self.

Then the other cast members came out and played several different roles, including Jack London, as the story was told. Kirk Acevedo acted out Jack Londonís time in jail and muMs played a man he befriended in jail. 

Scott Winters played the judge who sentenced the men to jail for vagrancy. Several times he had to say the line "30 days" over and over to announce each new sentence and he did it with aplomb. 

Lee was amazing. He seemed so completely at home on the stage. I sometimes watched him when others were speaking and it was fun to see him react to the others as if he was hearing all of it for the first time. 

At one point, Lee messed up one of his lines, which set everyone laughing and smirking. I think everyone messed up a line at one point, but they recovered themselves quite well and we all got to laugh with them, which was a real treat.

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Related Links

Jack London page

Jack London.com

Theatermania site:
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Theatermania site:
Oz executive producer and creator Tom Fontana and cast members of the HBO series perform onstage in The Day Jack London Got Pinched. This adaptation of London's The Road is presented for five performances only to benefit the American Globe Theatre. The play is set in 1894 and self-proclaimed hobo Jack Drake's wanderlust has taken him via "box-car" to Niagara Falls, where he lands in an Erie County penitentiary on a vagrancy charge. How much has the penal system changed in the last 100 years? How much has remained the same? Who better equipped to explain than Buffalo native Tom Fontana and his chain gang from Oswald State Penitentiary?