This play is set in Montgomery, Alabama, a place that has so much historical significance, both as the Cradle of the Confederacy and the Cradle of Civil Rights. “Alabama Story” is a powerful play by Kenneth Jones and is inspired by real events in “the Deep South of the imagination”.
The incident springs from an innocent children’s story book published in 1958 (one may say it hides an apparent message promoting diversity). Author and illustrator Garth Williams (best known for his illustrations in Charlotte’s Web and Little House On the Prairie) released a book called The Rabbits’ Wedding, where a black rabbit marries a white rabbit. This gentle children’s book created a massive stir and ignited the passions of a State Senator who harbored strong segregationist agenda. Senator Higgins (Erik Gandolfi) issued a request for the book to be pulled out of state’s library shelves on the charge that it promoted “race-mixing”.
The story would end there, if it was not for a no-nonsense State Librarian, Emily Reed (Karen DeHart). She counters him saying that the book is an important vehicle for educating the impressionable youth and young minds must get all the information available so they can make their own decisions about people and circumstances. She in fact, ordered the book to be pulled out of shelves and out of general circulation and instead put it in reserve circulation so that it would always remain available.
This public feud unfolds against the backdrop of intimate story of childhood friends, Joshua (Bezachin Jifar), son of a house slave woman and Lily Whitfield (Maria Giere Marquis), daughter of a slave owner.
This is a simple yet powerful play that makes a bold statement about how a character may be tested at critical times and those who can withstand the test of character are the powerful figures that reshape the community; reshape a nation. Reed faced tremendous political pressure from the state politicians and at one time she said, “We have had difficulty with the book…. But we have not lost our integrity”. Mixed in with the politically charged focus of the play, there is some courtroom drama, childhood love, hint of passion, and a glimpse into how history may have unfolded in so many different ways, big and small, in private and intimate recesses of one’s mind and in public arena, during one of the most significant periods in America. Superb direction is by Lisa Mallette, who is in her 17th season at City Lights.
I declare, this is a not-to-miss play of this theater season and will be running at City Lights Theater in San Jose, until February 18, 2018. For tickets, check the website www.cltc.org .