The cast of the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater production Alabama Story by Kenneth Jones gathers for the first time Aug. 3 in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, to begin building the East Coast premiere of the social-justice drama set in “the Deep South of the imagination.” WHAT artistic director Jeffry George directs. Alan Campbell, the 1995 Tony Award nominee of Sunset Boulevard, will wear many hats in the fact-inspired play about a persecuted librarian and a divisive, bigoted politician.
This is the second regional production of the play currently in rehearsal. It will make its Midwest debut by Peninsula Players in Door County, Wisconsin, on Aug. 17.
On Cape Cod, Campbell — Joe Gillis in Broadway’s Sunset Boulevard — will play children’s book illustrator Garth Williams, who narrates the story of the author’s controversial picture book about bunnies. In “The Rabbits’ Wedding,” a black rabbit marries a white rabbit, causing a cultural earthquake in 1959 Montgomery.
WHAT presents the acclaimed six-actor play Aug. 25-Sept. 25 at the 220-seat Julie Harris Stage. Opening night is Aug. 27. (Single tickets are now on sale online or by phone.) It will be the third of five regional productions of the drama in 2016 following an eight-week run by Florida Studio Theatre that attracted 14,000 theatregoers and sold the most spring single tickets in the company’s history. (Here’s a review.)
Michigan and Illinois productions are also planned for this fall (representing the first university and amateur productions). The play, which had its world premiere by Utah’s Pioneer Theatre Company in 2015, was a 2016 nominee for the Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award and was a 2014 finalist in the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. It was a 2015 winner of the Broadway World Awards in the category of Best New Work.
Are you a theatre producer seeking a free perusal copy of the script? Ask for one here.
Alabama Story borrows from real events touching on censorship and Civil Rights issues in the Jim Crow South.
Here’s how WHAT bills the play: “A gentle children’s book with an apparent hidden message stirs the passions of a segregationist senator and a no-nonsense state librarian in 1959 Montgomery, just as the civil rights movement is flowering. Inspired by true events, Alabama Story puts political foes, star-crossed childhood friends, and one feisty author on the same page to conjure a Deep South of the imagination.”
The WHAT Alabama Story company includes Campbell as storyteller Garth Williams (known for his artwork for “Little House on the Prairie,” “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little”), who gamely jumps into many supporting roles; Christopher Chisholm as Senator E.W. Higgins, who wants the book and the librarian purged from the state; Valerie Stanford as embattled librarian Emily Wheelock Reed; Nathan Winkelstein as fellow librarian Thomas Franklin; Chauncy Thomas as Joshua Moore; and Samantha Able as Lily Whitfield.
The production team includes costume designer Gail Buckley, lighting designer Bailey Costa, scenic designer Richard Chambers, sound designer Nathan Leigh, production stage manager Jamaica Jarvis and assistant stage manager Sammy Landau.
Alabama Story examines Civil Rights through the lens of censorship. Alabama politicians insisted that “The Rabbits’ Wedding” was pro-integration propaganda designed to sway young minds toward race-mixing. The battle between the senator and the librarian made international headlines.
The public political drama is contrasted with the private personal story of Lily and Joshua, two childhood friends who reunite in adulthood in Montgomery and rehash painful events of their past. She’s white; he’s African-American. Their story deepens the play’s theme of how character is tested in times of extraordinary social change.
WHAT performances of Alabama Story play Thursdays-Mondays at 8 PM Aug. 25-Sept. 25.
Between March and November WHAT produces mainstage productions and one family production, plus a variety of concerts, lectures and films. Visit www.what.org.