Cumberland County Playhouse will conjure “the Deep South of the imagination” in fall 2020 with a new Tennessee production of Alabama Story, the fact-inspired drama about a children’s book that outraged politicians — and the librarian who risked everything to protect it. This booking marks the 33rd regional presentation of Kenneth Jones’ acclaimed six-character, one-set play since its 2015 world premiere by Pioneer Theatre Company.
The Crossville, TN, company — located halfway between Knoxville and Nashville — will present the drama in its Adventure Theater, the Playhouse’s intimate three-quarter space Oct. 9-Nov. 12, 2020. CCP producing director and CEO Bryce McDonald will direct, The creative team and cast will be announced.
The social-justice play has been hailed for its examination of civil rights and censorship issues but also for its humanity, humor, high theatricality and its exploration of American character. The Washington Post said it was a play “of national relevance,” while the St. Louis Post-Dispatch called it a “crowd-pleasing and imaginatively theatrical comedy-drama,” adding, “at a time when intolerance is on the upswing and empathy is under siege, Alabama Story is just the play we need.”
If you work for a theater and you’re interested in the script, request a free perusal copy here.
Here’s how Cumberland County Playhouse bills Alabama Story: “Truth is stranger than fiction when a book about a black rabbit marrying a white rabbit is put on the shelves of the Alabama State Library in 1959. This gentle children’s book with an apparent hidden message stirs the passions of a segregationist State Senator and a no-nonsense State Librarian in Montgomery, Alabama, just as the civil rights movement is flowering. A contrasting story of childhood friends — an African American man and a woman of white privilege, reunited in adulthood in Montgomery that same year — provides private counterpoint to the public events of the play. This thought-provoking drama spiked with humor, heartbreak and hope has been hailed as one of the best new Southern plays in years.”
The play was an audience favorite in its recent Indiana premiere by Actors Theatre of Indiana. Read what critic Jay Harvey said about it, on his Upstage blog. Emily Wheelock Reed, the librarian at the center of the story was raised and educated in Indiana, and found herself persecuted by lawmakers — one in particular, Senator E.W. Higgins, drawn from a real state senator named E.O. Eddins — when she landed the job of state librarian of Alabama and refused to fully remove a picture book about a black rabbit that marries a white rabbit.
The play has its earlier Tennessee premiere by Clarence Brown Theatre in Knoxville in 2018. The News Sentinel opined at the time, “This isn’t heavy-handed social commentary. Alabama Story is more like our Southern great-grandmothers who cloaked steel-hard determination with velvet gloves. [Jones’] story often shows how everyday people try to do what’s right in their world. Maybe that’s its best lesson: an invitation to think how each of us would — and will — act in such times.”
Founded in the 1960s by New York actor and writer Paul Crabtree and his actress-model wife Mary Crabtree, who had roots in Crossville, the Cumberland County Playhouse is now the only major non-profit professional performing arts resource in rural Tennessee, and one of the 10 largest professional theaters in rural America. It serves more than 145,000 visitors annually with two indoor and two outdoor stages, young audience productions, a comprehensive dance program, a concert series and touring shows. Learn more about the Playhouse’s history.
Alabama Story, set mostly in Montgomery, will get its capital premiere by Alabama Shakespeare Festival in March 2020. Artistic director Rick Dildine will direct. ASF gave the play its first seminal reading in 2013, in its Southern Writers Festival.