BWW Review: ALABAMA STORY Brings an Intriguing Southern Tale to WHAT
Alabama Story, which recently opened at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater, begins and ends with the simple, child-like need for the characters to both tell and beckon the audience to prepare for a story: a story that tells of the South but deals with much that is not southern in nature, a story that was not meant to turn into anything other than something with a happy ending. Alabama Story tells a story of people who have stories, make up stories, and never saw the proper end to their stories: all taking place in the turbulent years leading up to the 1960's.
Issues of segregation, traditional values, the mores associated with anything black in a convenient worldview of "black and white" join to provide the basis of stories of people affected in different ways, all culminating with less than storybook endings but instead the simple reality of what was. What is personal must be told on a larger scale, and the simple act of storytelling runs rampant in the beautiful collaboration of what we now call our "Alabama Story."Written by Kenneth Jones and directed by Jeffry George, Alabama Story celebrated its world premiere a little over a year ago and has now made its way to the WHAT for its East Coast premiere, becoming the new best reason for theater goers and history lovers alike to visit this wonderful theater.
WHAT has given its audiences quite a repertoire of shows this summer season that, as may have been noticed, teach beautiful and tangible lessons about controversial topics in ways that are human and relatable even to those who can only share in the unfolding of a show's plot and not the experiences of which it tells. Alabama Story brings something a little different to the table: the plot is already an expert storyteller, relying upon the theater's need to tell a story to those eager to listen, but the stories told here are not so blatantly meant to teach...at least not in the way that extends full responsibility of doing so to this show alone. The audience is meant to listen and not judge, even though much judgment is passed by those characters involved. Listen:
Alabama Story begins when renowned children's book illustrator Garth Williams writes a book called "The Rabbits' Wedding," a simple story about a black and white rabbit who marry. Yet, because of what was going on during the time at hand, the story is misinterpreted to represent a forward movement towards integration: something that many in 1959 Montgomery, Alabama were firmly against. Furthermore, non-southern born Emily Wheelock Reed becomes the new State Librarian and so, too, becomes "segregated" because of her outsider status and criticized for her lack of opinion on the race separation issue, in no relation to the job she is meant to perform. E.W. Higgins is a public figure who seeks to wreak more havoc in preserving the South he has known all along than make his state a more habitable place to live for all. Lily and her childhood negro friend Joshua coincidentally meet again to rekindle a lost relationship that was forced to end and now has the potential of being found yet again.
WHAT continues to target the crux of that beautiful realization of what it means to be a human being regardless of era or race, credence or sexual desires; with Alabama Story, the straightforward nature of the show, allowing character expression amidst overwhelming issues of race, has almost a stark quality about it that almost says to the audience "This is how it was, but that doesn't mean there isn't something good and decent to be found here." Hence the characters and their morality: Lily, who with child-like naiveté asks Joshua why everyone can't just exist together - a comment which he gives a rather snarky but realistic answer to that confirms wishes won't change anything. State Librarian Reed who does not wish to remove the "The Rabbit Wedding" from shelves but must do so to keep the peace, even though her assistant Thomas doesn't condone her weakness.
Without condemning or criticizing and giving the subtlest of opinions Jones show how one story almost tantalizes another into being created and told, proving that humans are proficient storytellers, even when fact and fiction, when the difference between thought and reality intermingle to create something that isn't necessarily there or true. That is when great shows like Alabama Story take the stage.
Samantha Able, Chauncy Thomas, Nathan Winkelstein, Christopher Chisholm, Valerie Stanford and Alan Campbell make up a wonderful cast that make this show so enticing for audiences to just sit and listen. Their characters are strong presences in this production, condemning or supporting or whatever each chooses to do with confidence that makes any good storyteller convincing in their own right. In theory, is't that what an actor does best?
All stand in the midst of a beautiful and somewhat overwhelming set that almost seems to engulf them, making these characters seem small in the face of what surrounds them: a perfect visual representation of this plot. The floor is also slanted, as though all are on a precipice that may or may not leave them standing tall in the end, if at all. It is reminiscent of a game - a childlike game whose participants are forced to play a part and move within the confines of this "board" without falling too far off The Edge. What a way to add to the intrigue this show has already shown audiences to possess.
So, Alabama Story is simple enough to be enjoyed by everyone, complicated enough to be accepted as such and beautiful in its presentation for all to acknowledge, without forming opinions, the truth of what Montgomery, Alabama was. This is a wonderful production that I enjoyed very much, and I hope that you, too, may be engrossed in the story of people just like us who, because of the time in which they live, must try extra hard to determine what it means to simply be a human being.
Alabama Story opened at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater (located at 2357 Route 6) began performances on August 25th and will continue thru September 25th on the Julie Harris stage. Tickets range from $12-$45 and may be purchased by calling the box office at (508) 349.9428 or by visiting http://www.what.org/alabama-story/. The performance schedule is as follows: Thursday-Monday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday September 25th at 3:00 p.m.
Enjoy the show!
Photo Credit: Michael and Sue Karchmer