City Lights Theater Company, the resident professional theater in San Jose, CA, will produce the West Coast premiere of Kenneth Jones’ six-actor drama Alabama Story, introducing California audiences to the little-known true story of a Montgomery librarian who stands up to a state senator intent on banning a children’s book in the Deep South of 1959.
Lisa Mallette, executive artistic director of City Lights, announced the six-show 2017-18 season titles at a gathering of supporters and subscribers on April 19. Alabama Story will run Jan. 18-Feb. 18, 2018. Casting and a creative team will be announced at a later date.
Here’s how CLTC bills the play: “It’s 1959 and the Civil Rights movement is starting to grip America. In Montgomery, Alabama, a fight over a controversial children’s book — one in which a black rabbit marries a white rabbit — pits librarian Emily Wheelock Reed against segregationist Sen. E.W. Higgins. Childhood friends reunite, only to be caught up in the political and racial tensions of the time. Inspired by true events, this drama explores tests of character and emotions that reshaped our nation.”
Alabama Story, a nominee for the 2016 Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, had its world premiere in 2015 by Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City. By 2018 it will have enjoyed a dozen regional productions since its premiere. In addition to playing San Jose, in 2018 it will get its Western Massachusetts premiere, its Iowa premiere, its Tennessee premiere and (finally) its Alabama premiere, among other stagings.
In Alabama Story, a children’s picture book called “The Rabbits’ Wedding” stirs the passion of a segregationist politician who does not appreciate its content. Artist and author Garth Williams (who created images for “Little House on the Prairie,” “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little”) fashioned a delicately illustrated story about rabbits of different colors marrying in a moonlit meadow. The freedom-to-read conflict between lawmaker Higgins and librarian Reed made international headlines.
Garth Williams himself becomes a character in the six-actor drama set in “the Deep South of the imagination.” A parallel story set in the same year charts the reunion of former childhood friends — an African-American man and a white woman — who meet in adulthood to unpack a painful event from their past.
Playwright Kenneth Jones characterized the highly theatrical Alabama Story this way: “It’s 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.”
City Lights operates in an intimate 100-seat venue, offering contemporary plays, including area premieres and world premieres — like the new adaptation Frankenstein by Kit Wilder, now through April 23.
CLTC’s 2017-18 slate also includes Aaron Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird, Laura Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes’ In the Heights, with an additional play to be announced.