Preston Jones

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Preston Jones grew up in New Mexico, although his name is usually associated with Texas, the setting of his series of plays A Texas Trilogy. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of New Mexico in 1958, after which he taught briefly in high school before pursuing graduate studies in theater at both Baylor University and Trinity University, eventually receiving a master’s degree from Trinity in 1966. At both universities Jones was the student of Paul Baker, who was also the director of the Dallas Theater Center.

In 1960 Jones began acting at the Dallas Theater Center, and soon after he also began directing plays there. He remained with the Dallas Theater Center until his death in 1979. Jones lived with his first wife in Colorado City, a small town in west Texas that eventually became the fictional town of Bradleyville in A Texas Trilogy. Jones’s second marriage was to Mary Sue Fridge, the set designer at the Dallas Theater Center. She later designed the stage sets for A Texas Trilogy.

In 1972 Jones took charge of the Down Center Stage, the small experimental theater connected with the Dallas Theater Center. He tried to recruit regional playwrights to write for the group, and when he was unable to find enough material, he began writing scripts himself. This activity eventually resulted in A Texas Trilogy, which ran on Broadway for sixty-three performances in 1976.

The first play of the trilogy, The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia, takes its title from the name of the fraternal lodge that meets in a room on the third floor of the Cattlemen’s Hotel in Bradleyville, Texas. The play is set in 1962 as the lodge, a white supremacist organization that broke away from the Ku Klux Klan in 1902, is preparing to initiate twenty-one-year-old Lonnie Roy McNeil, its first new member in years. The lodge had had branches all over Texas and Oklahoma in the 1920’s, but by 1962, on the eve of America’s civil rights movement, the group was an anachronism. The greatest indication of the self-incriminating nature of racism is the fact that Colonel Kincaid, the World War I veteran and a senior member of the lodge, has entrusted the initiation book to Ramsey-Eyes, the hotel’s black custodian, because the colonel does not trust the white lodge members.

The title of Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander also summarizes the play’s plot. The protagonist, whose double name, Lu Ann, reflects her Texan origins, still preserves her maiden name, Hampton, an indication that her life has been static since she was a high school cheerleader. She also uses the last names of both of her former husbands, Dale Laverty, who drove a cattle truck, and Corky Oberlander, an inspector with the Highway Department who was killed in a traffic accident. After Lu Ann is visited by her high school sweetheart, Billy Bob Wortman, who is now a preacher in Kansas City, with a wife and four children, Lu Ann confides to her mother that she never could have married him because his name sounds silly, apparently unaware of the humor implicit in her own name.

The title of The Oldest Living Graduate concerns Colonel Kincaid, the senior lodge member of the first play in A Texas Trilogy, who had graduated from the Mirabeau B. Lamar Military Academy in 1905. When that institution moves from Galveston to the colonel’s hometown of Bradleyville, he is scheduled to be the guest of honor because he is the only living member of the school’s first graduating class. The colonel is not impressed with such reverence for tradition, however, and with his memories of the horrors of World War I, he further deflates the heroic posturing of the academy’s officials. The Oldest Living Graduate also includes a subplot concerning the colonel’s son, Floyd.

After completing A Texas Trilogy, Jones shifted the setting of his plays to his native New Mexico. A Place on the Magdalena Flats represents his attempt to write a tragedy, and Santa Fe Sunshine is a satire of the artistic community in Santa Fe. Remember is his most directly autobiographical play.

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