David Brian Alley, Jade Arnold, Katie Cunningham, Chris Klopatek, Brian Mani and Brittany Marie Pirozzoli will appear in the Southeastern premiere of Alabama Story by Kenneth Jones at the Clarence Brown Theatre, the resident Equity company of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville Jan. 31-Feb. 18, 2018.
Associate professor Kate Buckley directs the social-justice drama set in “the Deep South of the imagination.” The play charts the real-life story of a fierce “lady librarian” named Emily Reed (played by Cunningham) who is persecuted by segregationist state Senator E.W. Higgins (played by Mani), who took issue with her book choices.
Alabama Story — about an uproar over a children’s book some people think includes a hidden political message — will play the Clarence Brown mainstage. Typical of Clarence Brown productions, director Buckley’s cast is mix of Equity guest artists, faculty and graduate acting students. Get tickets and production information here.
The play is getting 11 productions around the country in the current 2017-18 season. It was a 2016 nominee for the Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award and a 2014 Finalist in the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. Request a perusal copy of the script.
The play is friskily narrated by children’s book author and illustrator Garth Williams (played by faculty member and artist-in-residence Alley), whose 1958 book “The Rabbits’ Wedding” created a firestorm in Alabama and other Southern states. The picture book, intended for children under the age of seven, shows the marriage between a black rabbit and a white rabbit. Garth Williams serves as a sort of omniscient participant and also assumes other roles.
Set in Montgomery in 1959, the six-actor Alabama Story weaves into the library tale a thematically relevant second story of former childhood friends, Joshua and Lily — he’s black, she’s white — who reunite that same year to revisit old wounds. (Arnold will play Joshua and Pirozzoli will play Lily. They are both UT graduate acting students.) Guest artist Klopatek will play Emily Reed’s assistant, a reference librarian named Thomas Franklin.
Alabama Story premiered at Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City in 2015 following development by Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Pioneer and Off-Broadway’s TACT/The Actors Company Theatre. By spring 2018, it will have been produced by at least 17 theaters around the country since its first appearance.
The production team of Clarence Brown Theatre’s Alabama Story includes scenic designer Becca Johnson; costume designer Kyle Schellinger; lighting designer Kate Bashore; sound designer and composer Joe Cerqua; stage manager Laura Wendt.
Calvin MacLean is Clarence Brown’s producing artistic director and head of UT’s theater department.
The 2017-18 season of the Clarence Brown also includes Rick Elice’s Peter and the Starcatcher; Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann’s musical Urinetown; A Christmas Carol, adapted by Edward Morgan and Joseph Hanreddy; Three Sisters, in a new version by Libby Appel; Dream of the Burning Boy by David West Read; Craig Lucas’ Blue Window; and a new commission, the strangers, by Christopher Oscar Pena. The latter is billed as a “modern response” to Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and will feature UT MFA students under the direction of UT theater professor John Sipes.
Learn more about the history and mission of Clarence Brown Theatre, the LORT company that operates three venues in Knoxville, TN.
In the small world department, actress Katie Cunningham was part of a developmental private table reading of Kenneth Jones’ play Two Henrys, organized by Off-Broadway’s TACT/The Actors Company Theatre. The three-actor family drama about grief in the HIV/AIDS crisis, has been developed by Pioneer Theatre Company, Pacific Resident Theatre and Hudson Stage Company.
His new six-actor play Hollywood, Nebraska, a rueful comedy about an actress returning to her dying small town and facing her place in the world, was recently seen in a popular workshop production at Wyoming Theater Festival.