Kenneth Jones’ fact-inspired drama Alabama Story, the tale of a librarian persecuted by a politician in the Jim Crow South, will be produced by at least six regional theatres in the 2017-18 season. (Note: Since the posting of this piece, the number of presentations around the country jumped to 11 for the 2017-18 season.) The play about Civil Rights, censorship, artistic freedom and the right to read — to say nothing of the clash of the personal and the political — was a 2016 nominee for the Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award. The play has already been seen in six markets since its world premiere in 2015.
Set in “the Deep South the imagination,” the six-actor drama blends historical and fictional characters as it explores the true story of a children’s picture book that outraged segregationists in 1959 Montgomery, Alabama. Garth Williams, famous for illustrating “Stuart Little,” “Charlotte’s Web” and “Little House on the Prairie,” created a book about a black rabbit who marries white rabbit. Alabama State Librarian Emily Reed is confronted by segregationist politicians who seek its removal from state libraries — going so far as wishing to see the book burned. The innocent book is viewed as a tool to brainwash children into embracing “race mixing.”
Playwright Kenneth Jones characterizes Alabama Story this way: “It’s a romance, a political thriller, a memory play, a workplace drama, a tearjerker, a comedy, and a discussion about race, censorship and American character. All of it has a hint of Thornton Wilder to it, as author Garth Williams serves as a kind of narrator and protean participant. Most important, it’s a play about how we behave when we face terrible circumstances — how character is revealed in times of transition, change and crisis.”
In the 2017-18 season, Alabama Story will be produced by Lamb Theatre in Sioux City, IA (September 2017); City Lights Theatre Company in San Jose, CA (January-February 2018); Majestic Theater in West Springfield, MA (January-February 2018); Clarence Brown Theatre in Knoxville, TN (February 2018); Vermont Actors Repertory Theatre in Rutland, VT (April-May 2018); and Red Mountain Theatre Company in Birmingham, AL (March 2018).
The latter booking in Birmingham marks the Alabama premiere of the play following earlier development (and the first public reading) by Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery in 2013. Alabama Story had its world premiere in January 2015 by Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City, under the direction of Karen Azenberg. Red Mountain Theatre Company will stage the play as the centerpiece in its first Human Rights New Works Festival in March 2018.
Florida Studio Theatre artistic director Richard Hopkins, himself a Southerner, called Alabama Story “probably the best Southern play I’ve read in 10 or 20 years.” The play was a hit for FST in Sarasota in spring 2016.
Its recent regional success has prompted dozens of perusal requests for the script from theatres throughout North America. (Request a script here.) A seventh regional Equity staging is currently in negotiation for spring 2018.
Embedded within Alabama Story’s tale of the librarian and the lawmaker is another story of childhood friends: Joshua, an African-American man, and Lily, a woman of white privilege, are reunited in adulthood in Montgomery that same year. Their story provides private counterpoint to the public events of the play.
The Cape Cod Times wrote that the play “artfully explores Southern attitudes when the civil rights movement is catching fire” and that “Jones effectively unites the political and personal.”
Alabama Story was a finalist the 2014 National Playwrights Conference of the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center. It had its world premiere by Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City, UT, under the direction of Karen Azenberg, who directed its three developmental readings as well.
Jones’ drama Two Henrys (O’Neill NPC Semi-Finalist) has been developed by Pioneer Theatre Company, Pacific Resident Theatre, Hudson Stage Company and Florida Studio Theatre.
His rueful comedy Hollywood, Nebraska, seen in a 2016 reading by Off-Broadway’s TACT/The Actors Company Theatre, will get a four-week workshop with public performances at the 2017 Wyoming Theater Festival Aug. 21-Sept. 17. He is at work on two new plays and a musical. Learn more about his work here.
Alabama Story is licensed through the author.