Amy Baldwin and Matthew Scott Campbell will face off as ideological foes in the West Virginia premiere of Kenneth Jones’ highly theatrical Alabama Story, playing Greenbrier Valley Theatre May 12-21. Campbell is the current producing artistic director of GVT, the resident Equity company in Lewisburg, WV. Artistic associate Jenna Sulecki directs the story of a librarian in the Deep South who protects a children’s book deemed controversial by a state senator bent on banning it.
Rehearsals began April 25. Based on a true story from 1959, the six-actor play pits state librarian Emily Wheelock Reed against state senator E.W. Higgins over the issue of a picture book called “The Rabbits’ Wedding.” In the book, a rabbit with white fur marries a rabbit with black fur. Senator Higgins wants the book burned. Learn the history behind the play here.
In addition to Virginia actress Baldwin and Matthew Scott Campbell, the cast for the production at the designated State Professional Theatre of West Virginia features Henian Boone as Joshua, Ian Kramer as Thomas, John Little as Garth Williams (and others) and Kelsey Waltermire as Lily. Learn more about director Jenna Sulecki here.
The Alabama Story production team includes scenic designer Richard Crowell, costume designer Jenna Fawn Brown, lighting designer Tonry Lathroum, sound designer Abigail Coppock, properties designer Dani Rust, production stage manager Elizabeth Salisch, assistant stage manager Sydnei Williams.
Given the current cultural climate of books being banned or challenged in schools and libraries across the United States, Alabama Story is seeing an uptick in interest from professional, amateur and school theaters. The GVT staging is among 12 productions planned around the country in 2023-24. It has already been seen in more than 40 cities in the U.S.
The play is published and licensed by Dramatists Play Service.
In 2019, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote, “At a time when intolerance is on the upswing and empathy is under siege, Alabama Story is just the play we need.” The play has been hailed for its highly theatrical, playful, comic and tragic approach to a little-known story of censorship, Civil Rights and American character.
Here’s how Dramatists Play Service characterizes Alabama Story: “As the Civil Rights movement is brewing, a controversial children’s book about a black rabbit marrying a white rabbit stirs the passions of a segregationist State Senator and a no-nonsense State Librarian in 1959 Montgomery, Alabama. Meanwhile, childhood friends — an African American man and a woman of white privilege — reunite in adulthood, offering a private counterpoint to the public events swirling in the state capital. Political foes, star-crossed lovers, and one feisty children’s author inhabit the same page in a Deep South of the imagination that brims with humor, heartbreak, and hope.”
The 2023 GVT season also features a new Catherine Bush adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; the Stuart Ross jukebox musical Forever Plaid; Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s Next to Normal; Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling; and A Christmas Carol, adapted from the Dickens novella.