The Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library, PEN America and Butler University’s theater department are partnering to present a one-night-only staged reading of Kenneth Jones’ fact-inspired censorship drama Alabama Story in Indianapolis Sept. 28 as part of the 2018 Banned Books Week. The script-in-hand troupe will be a mix of professional actors, board members of the KVML who identify as actors, Butler theater majors, and one professional librarian who will play persecuted Alabama state library director Emily Wheelock Reed, the Indiana-raised and educated librarian who would go on to become a hero in the Freedom to Read movement.
Courtney Elkin Mohler, assistant professor on faculty in Butler’s department of theater, directs the six-actor drama that touches on censorship and Civil Rights issues in “the Deep South of the imagination.” The playwright will appear at a post-show talkback.
The play — a nominee for the Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award and a Finalist in the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference — introduces the world to the little-known true story of a librarian named Emily Reed, who was targeted by politicians for protecting a children’s picture book in the Jim Crow South. Reed, who died in 2000, was raised in Culver, IN, and educated at Indiana University in Bloomington.
In the two-act Alabama Story, a gentle children’s book with an apparent hidden message — a black rabbit marries a white rabbit! — stirs the passions of a segregationist State Senator and a no-nonsense State Librarian in 1959 Montgomery, Alabama, just as the civil rights movement is flowering. Another story of childhood friends — an African-American man and a white woman, reunited in adulthood in Montgomery that same year — provides private counterpoint to the public events of the play. Political foes, star-crossed lovers, and one feisty children’s author inhabit the same page to conjure a Deep South of the imagination.
Alabama Story had its world premiere in January 2015 by Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City. By spring 2019, the highly theatrical play will have been produced in at least 20 cities since its premiere, in productions large and small, including staged reading events like the one planned in Indianapolis. (Ensemble Theatre in Cleveland is fully producing the play now to Sept. 30, and Repertory Theatre of St. Louis produces it Jan. 2-27, 2019, in the 60th anniversary year of the real events.)
Theaters and producers wishing to read a perusal copy of the script should ask for one.
The free Indy performance will play 6-8 PM Friday Sept. 28 and is followed by a talkback with librarians and playwright Kenneth Jones at Eidson-Duckwall Recital Hall at Butler University, 4600 Sunset Avenue in Indianapolis. Although this is a free event, reservations are suggested.
The Indianapolis cast features Chris Lafave as Garth Williams and others, Haley Loquercio as Lily Whitfield, Isaiah Moore as Joshua Moore, Kyle A. Thomas as Senator Higgins, Sheridan Stormes as Emily Wheelock Reed and Zach Adamson as Thomas Franklin.
Playwright Kenneth Jones characterizes Alabama Story as “a romance, a political thriller, a memory play, a workplace drama, a tearjerker, a comedy, a discussion about race, censorship and political desperation, and a rumination on the power of books. 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.”
Banned Books Week, an annual initiative of the American Library Association, sheds light on continued attacks on books and materials in libraries. This year’s Banned Books Week is Sept. 23-29, and is celebrated in libraries across the country. Check out the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library’s events for Banned Books Week.
Playwright Kenneth Jones characterized Alabama Story as “a romance, a political thriller, a memory play, a workplace drama, a tearjerker, a comedy, a discussion about race, censorship and political desperation, and a rumination on the power of books. 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.”
Renowned author Kurt Vonnegut took an unflinching look at the world, tempered with a satirical eye and sardonic sense of humor. In honor of his wit and wisdom, the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library champions the literary, artistic, and cultural contributions of the late writer, artist, teacher, and Indianapolis native Kurt Vonnegut. The library and museum serves as a cultural and educational resource unique to the nation.
Learn more about Butler University’s department of theater.
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.