Sweet, interesting and thought provoking, Alabama Story is exactly the kind of show you want from a small local theater. Now playing at City Lights Theater in downtown San Jose, the show discusses the importance and impact of literature in a complex world. Dealing with issues of race and censorship, the show feels distinctly modern while being historically grounded in 1959 Montgomery, Alabama.
Alabama Story tells two simultaneous but separate stories, one real and one fictional. Firstly, there is the true story of librarian Emily Reed and her real life battle against censorship of certain books in the public library system. In particular, she defends The Rabbit’s Wedding, a children’s book where a black bunny and a white bunny get married. A state politician sees this as promoting interracial marriage and launches a campaign against the book’s availability and by extension on Miss Reed herself.
The secondary story of the show is the fictional reunion between two childhood friends, one black and one white. While not based on a true story, this plotline is equally memorable and thought provoking, adding an African American voice to the otherwise white play.
All six of the actors in the show are very believable in their actions and convictions. There are moments that are slightly overacted and feel too big for the small space. But for the most part the actors suck you into the world of the show and admirably portray their characters both real and fictional.
Steve Lambert, in particular, is memorable as he plays a number of various roles including the author and illustrator of The Rabbit’s Wedding, Garth Williams. Each of Lambert’s characters has a distinct vocal and physical style that helps to differentiate them.
The play’s script does fall into one common pitfall that, while not surprising, needs to be mentioned. Even though this is a story about inter-race relations and the minority experience, five of the six actors are white. It is not unusual for stories about minorities to put white people in the foreground—it can be seen in everything from The Help to Dances with Wolves. The problem is fairly unavoidable in this true story about a white librarian being singled out by a white politician in the South. But it’s still worth pointing out that in a play about interracial marriage features exactly one non-white person and zero interracial couples.
Alabama Story is quite good. Its story is solid and it is both entertaining and thought provoking. The play feels timely and unique and its strengths easily outweigh its weak points.
Alabama Story is playing at City Lights Theater Company at 529 S. Second Street, San Jose now through February 18, 2018. Tickets run $19-$44.