As I sit to write this column tickets are booking quickly for the closing weekend of “The Full Monty.” As I stand near the doorway after final curtain I’ve seen expressions of pure joy on the faces of many patrons and heard them say “I laughed until … I cried, sides hurt, my cheeks hurt …” well, everything hurt.
The entire Players company is thrilled Door County audiences connected with these average Joes and relished the vocal and comedic talents of this great cast. Thank you for embracing “The Full Monty” with such gusto, the energy in the audience each night was electrifying.
Wed. Aug 17, is opening night of the fourth show of our 2016 season, and the Players switch gears from an upbeat musical to a vibrant, engaging story based on actual events. The Midwest premiere of Kenneth Jones’ “Alabama Story” features Players veteran actors Carmen Roman and Greg Vinkler set in Montgomery, Alabama in 1959 and centers around a courageous librarian who stands up for the right to read.
Players audiences will recall Carmen from such productions as “Masterclass,” “A Man for All Seasons,” “A Little Night Music,” “Red Herring” or “The Uneasy Chair.” Carmen is portraying Emily Wheelock Reed, a librarian in Alabama who in 1959 refused to pull a children’s book, “The Rabbits’ Wedding” from the shelves. Emily passed away in 2000 and her obituary in The New York Times caught the fascination of Jones.
Greg portrays E.W. Higgins, a fictional amalgamation of those calling for the book to be removed. “The Rabbits’ Wedding” was attacked by The Montgomery Home News, a publication of the Montgomery, Alabama, a chapter of the White Citizens Council, on the ground that it promoted racial integration and a very vocal segregationist senator.
Brendon Fox is directing “Alabama Story.” Brendon made his Players directorial debut with “Opus” in which Greg played a violinist in a world famous chamber group. I was able to chat with Brendon for a few moments about “Alabama Story,” I hope you enjoy our conversation!
Q. What intrigued you about “Alabama Story”?
A. I was intrigued by “Alabama Story” in a number of ways. I love plays that explore actual events, and view history through a theatrical lens. It’s a smart, moving, funny play about passionate people at a moment in the 20th century when social and political movements were beginning to gather steam. Jones tells a big story with a handful of characters, and I loved the mix of intimate relationships and political gamesmanship. It’s a cross between “Inherit the Wind” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” And I love books! I worked at a library in middle school, so to have a chance to tell the story of a real librarian who stood up to power to safeguard literature was very exciting to me.
Q. What ties the people “Alabama Story” together?
A. All of the characters are dealing with issues of censorship and suppression in some way. Some characters are confronting it on the political level – who decides what books are in our libraries, and which are not allowed? Some characters are censoring themselves, because there are things in their past that are too painful to confront.
Q. What have you see grow/developed from your first reading of the play to its final days of rehearsal?
A. This is an extraordinarily brave cast. They have breathed vivid, three-dimensional life into these characters. Because of that, we have discovered layers and complexities to every one of them – even more than I realized was on the page. They have also found so much humor and humanity, I’m excited to share their work with the audience very soon.
Q. Did you read “The Rabbits’ Wedding” as a child?
A. I didn’t! I wish I had read it, but I wasn’t aware of it until Greg approached me to direct the play. I realized that I did know Garth Williams’ (the author of “The Rabbits’ Wedding”) work as an illustrator of “Charlotte’s Web” and other classics. I love his artwork, and I was immediately impressed by the detail of the illustrations and the beautiful story of “The Rabbits Wedding.”
Q. How is the story relevant to today?
A. I think the story of the play has so much relevance today. The characters are caught up in an era of change socially and politically – like we are now. They all have different opinions about how to cope with the shifts going on around them. While the play certainly takes a stand regarding censorship, it gives everyone humanity and depth. It shows us that being open to change can be challenging but ultimately inspiring and hopeful. On one level, the play is about the battle over a children’s book in the late 1950s. But there are still battles over books in schools and libraries today, so the play is not dated in that way at all.
Q. Anything else you’d like to share?
A. I am excited to share this warm, witty play with Peninsula Players audiences. The relationships are powerful, and the characters’ journeys are exciting. The designers are thrilled to plunge the audience into the late 1950s, including evocative music and beautiful costumes.
“Alabama Story” is on stage through September 4. A pre-show seminar will be held Wednesday, August 24, with Door Library Director Becca Berger as she discusses the history of censorship and banned books. A post-show discussion with the cast and creative team will be held Friday, August 19. For tickets or more information give our Box Office a call at (920) 868-3287 or visit www.peninsulaplayers.com. We hope to see you by the bay soon, where the sun sets, the curtain rises and the stars shine.