by Brian Coats, Education Programs Associate
NOTE: This Play Guide may contain mild spoilers about the story of the show. If you like to be completely surprised by the play, you may wish to wait until after seeing it to read the Play Guide.
January 2 – 27, 2019
Garth Williams: The author and illustrator of The Rabbits’ Wedding, the book at the center of the controversy. He acts as a narrator and plays various characters throughout the play.
Emily Wheelock Reed: As the Director of the Alabama Public Library Service, she makes it her mission to provide the best literature to the people of the state, no matter the cost to her career.
Thomas Franklin: Emily’s assistant, who supports her fight against censorship and shows great concern for her safety.
E.W. Higgins: Based on a real-life state senator, he goes head-to-head with Emily Wheelock Reed in a fight to remove The Rabbits’ Wedding from the shelves of the Alabama Public Library Service.
Joshua Moore: Though he lives in Detroit, Joshua returns to Montgomery periodically to volunteer at Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and runs into a friend from his past each time he does so.
Lily Whitfield: She grew up with Joshua, as his mother was a servant in her family’s home; they were friends, but their differences in social standing kept them from truly understanding one another.
What's the Story?
Montgomery, Alabama, 1959. Emily Wheelock Reed, the Director of the Alabama Public Library Service, finds herself in a head-to-head battle of morality with Alabama State Senator E.W. Higgins over a children’s book. The book in question, The Rabbits’ Wedding by Garth Williams, features a rabbit with black fur marrying a rabbit with white fur. Higgins demands that the book be pulled from every shelf in the state, but Reed and her assistant, Thomas, refuse. As the conflict escalates, each character is forced to confront their place in the changing landscape of the South.
Elsewhere in Montgomery, Joshua Moore, who has briefly returned to Montgomery to do volunteer work with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, runs into Lily Whitfield on the street. Lily and Joshua grew up together, as Lily’s father owned the cotton plantation where Joshua’s mother was a servant. As the play continues, the two begin to meet each time Joshua returns to town, each visit revealing more about their troubled past and the divide that exists between them.
The Deep South of the Imagination
Kenneth Jones’s Alabama Story tells the true story of Emily Wheelock Reed, the Director of the Alabama Public Library Service in the late 1950s, and her fight against censorship of library resources to the libraries of the state. While Reed was a real figure in American history, and this event surrounding Garth Williams’ book did take place, Jones places his action in a world that feels both factual and fantastical.
As Garth Williams, the author of The Rabbits’ Wedding and narrator of the play, states, the play takes place in “The Deep South of the Imagination.” Language such as “once upon a time,” as well as other indicators of a fairy tale atmosphere, is used to introduce the play in the prologue, wherein it is made abundantly clear that this is a “story” and not a historical account. Some characters, such as Reed and Williams, are based on real people, but inside the play they are placed in fictionalized events, meetings and situations. The senator, named E. W. Higgins in the play, is based on a real state senator of Alabama, E.O. Eddins, who really did challenge Reed over The Rabbits’ Wedding, an event which made national headlines.
Alabama Story works like a memory play, similar in style to Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie or Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. It is a character piece, an exploration of opposing views set in a world that is recognizable as our own but also different than what we know our world to be. While fans of history can look up the events surrounding the drama, history is only one part of the story that Kenneth Jones is interested in telling. For the rest of the story, you truly have to see it to believe it.
Join us on the Mainstage as we explore the fantastical, imaginative world of the American South in Kenneth Jones’s Alabama Story!