Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The author of "The Rabbits' Wedding" doesn't seem to have ever visited Alabama, though Williams appears on stage throughout, in narrative moments and playing incidental characters. But if he did visit this version of the state capitol in Montgomery, he might have been slightly disappointed. The characters in Mr. Jones' script are not as colorful as those in Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird": there are no crazy neighbors, nor any mysterious Boo Radley. Instead, these fact-based Southerners (60 years ago) seem resigned to a long, painful march for everyone, toward civil rights. It's a little short on magic, but strong in resolve.
Really, I liked it a lot. And I suppose every white Southerner in the show is revealed to have at least a dash of Boo Radley in him or her: awkward, even humiliated, as each transitions into a world they don't quite understand. But, in Alabama Story, the strange psychological poetry of Southern fiction is supplanted by a kind of acerbic Northern knowing-enough, at least, to make a Missourian feel progressive by comparison. The two-hour and thirty minute drama rewards us for coming as far as we finally have: its tone is flatteringly egalitarian, and celebrates learning and thinking and rationality. Against these, there can be no law. But nicotine-stained Senator E. W. Higgins (played with domineering charm and squinty eyes by actor Carl Palmer) might be able to stave off some of that learning and thinking and rationality, through his state's budget hearings over the library system run by Ms. Reed. He finds her strangely independent, being educated north of the Mason-Dixon line.
It's a very nice clash of personalities, with the ultra-crisp Ms. Paulsen (Tony nominated for her role in The Kentucky Cycle) up against Mr. Palmer's folksy senator from Demopolis (which was also the setting of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes). The senator's favorite book is "Tom Sawyer," and favorite movie is Song of the South. So there's a lot of Southern culture, by association. And in a roundabout way, that whets our appetite for a fictional human love story that mimics "The Rabbits' Wedding."
That develops concurrently, outside the public buildings, on the edge of Montgomery's Oak Park, which (ironically) has been closed to discourage public integration. Corey Allen is adorable there as Joshua, the son of a black maid from Demopolis; and beautiful Anna O'Donoghue plays Lily, the trapped-but-elegant white girl who grew up on that same cotton plantation. Their relationship, harkening back to a shared childhood, is funny and poignant and even frightening. Rounding out the cast in the "present" of 1959, Carl Howell does very nicely as Ms. Reed's library assistant, in a show that's rich in psychological intent.
The story also flourishes thanks to a grand set, and lighting effects, and a veritable warehouse of period costumes, all of which are impeccable.
Alabama Story, through January 27, 2019, on the mainstage at the Loretto-Hilton theater building, 110 Edgar Rd., St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.repstl.org.
The Players, in speaking order:
Additional Production Artists: