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BWW Review: ALABAMA STORY Tells A Tale about Censorship and Segregation at Undercroft Theatre

"Tell me a story." Washington Stage Guild's cast tells two stories.

The area premiere of Kenneth Jones' play Alabama Story, directed by Kasi Campbell, tells of a tale which takes place in Montgomery, Alabama during the 1950's. Alabama Story touches topics ranging from segregation to censorship. Based on a true story, the play's main plot thread centers of a librarian named Emily Wheelock Reed (Julie-Ann Elliott), supported by her assistant Thomas Franklin (Christopher Herring) and her confrontation with Senator E.W. Higgins (Steven Carpenter) over the Alabama Library system stocking the shelves with "The Rabbits' Wedding", written and illustrated by Garth Williams (Nigel Reed). In parallel with Emily's story is a plantation owner's daughter, Lily Whitfield (Jenny Donovan), and the son of a former slave, Joshua Moore (Gerrad Alex Taylor), who reconnect after years of not seeing each other. The production's small cast brings their characters to life in many ways and delivers the dry humor of Jones' script well, but there are holes within the story's fabric.

What the audience seems to enjoy the most about Alabama Story is the dry humor sprinkled within Kenneth Jones' script. Laughter is plentiful especially during scenes in there are banter between Elliott's Emily and Carpenters' Senator Higgins, as well as scenes with Nigel Reed's Garth speaking directly with the audience about how he was indeed the author of the "offending" book. Besides the dry humor, there are plenty are moments of dramatic tension which are very prominent in a scene at Oak Park between Donovan's Whitfield and Taylor's Joshua Moore. Herring's Thomas Franklin and Elliot's Emily play off each other well during their time together on stage especially in a scene in which Emily accuses Thomas of a wrongdoing that he did not do. Overall, the cast thrives well in the dry humor and get those laughs. Also, they are able to stir the audience's emotions beyond the laughs. Despite the cast's best, the production's pace is slow moving due to long monologues. However, the pace is made up for by the cast being able to draw out lively characters.

At no fault of the cast and production runners, the play's script glosses over the tension of the Civil Rights Movement happening around Montgomery during the 1950's. In one particular scene, Joshua Moore briefly mentions his green book, which was a guide of safe places for African Americans to visit during their travels, but the ramifications of this aren't mentioned again. The sense of urgency and danger faced by African Americans going about their daily lives during this time period isn't shown. This results in a dearth of dramatic tension that devalues the subject matter and creates a slow-moving, low-stakes story.

Washington Stage Guild's production of Alabama Story is a timely story as it hints at issues of race and censorship, but it is slow moving and doesn't explore the issues presented as deeply as it could have.

ALABAMA STORY plays at the Undercroft Theatre - 900 Massachusetts Avenue, NW Washington, DC- through April 15, 2018. For tickets, call the box office at 240.582.0050 or purchase them online at http://stageguild.org/performances/.

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From This Author Hannah Wing

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