By Patrice Worthy
The 2016-17 Alliance Theatre season draws on stories of the past and present for a diverse range of plays that aim to take audiences along on the journeys of private sacrifice made by those who stand up for freedom and fight injustice.
The Alliance season commemorates the 1958 bombing of The Temple, Atlanta’s oldest synagogue, which marks its 150th anniversary in 2017. “The Temple Bombing,” being performed Feb. 22 to March 12, follows the events that led to the attack in response to Rabbi Jacob Rothschild’s unwavering support of the civil rights movement. Janice Rothschild Blumberg, Rabbi Rothschild’s widow, said the timing is significant because of the similarities between the past and present.
“I think it’s important to the know the past to guide the future. People don’t know how similar this was to what is going on now and what was going on in the African-American community,” Blumberg said. “There were drive-bys in the African-American community that were not being reported. The bombing of The Temple was the beginning of the end because it was the beginning of them knowing it would be made public and we would come after you.”
The Alliance continues to tell the story of the civil rights movement with “Too Heavy for Your Pocket,” written by Jiréh Breon Holder, the winner of the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition and former Kenny Leon Fellow.
Running Feb. 4 to 26, the play follows two couples navigating the Jim Crow South. The show explores the sacrifices made by people who stand up to injustice and the toll on their families.
Like “The Temple Bombing,” this intense play explores the true cost of freedom by turning a microscope on interpersonal relationships.
Blumberg said she is proud of the city’s evolution since the bombing and is most pleased with the changing cultural landscape. She also said Atlanta is a community that supports good theater and good art, enabling challenging stories to be told.
“The most exciting change is diversity,” she said. “I love to see all the things Martin Luther King Jr. made possible for us.”
Mark Kendall, a member of Dad’s Garage, is pushing the envelope with “The Magic Negro and Other Blackity Blackness, as Told by an African-American Man Who Also Happens to Be Black,” a one-man show March 24 to April 15.
“Listen up: The Braves have moved to Cobb County, and in a strange turn of events MARTA has built a rail line to Cobb County. This is what we have all been waiting for: We can finally take black crime to Cobb County,” he joked. “And if anyone asks if you’re Stevie Wonder because you have a grand piano on a MARTA train, the answer is always yes!”
The fictitious turn of events highlights issues behind the slow progress of expanding public transportation in Atlanta and raises the question of how much crime you can commit riding MARTA. Kendall unapologetically embraces his blackness by piecing together thoughts blacks have in regard to the delusions that often fuel racism.
Jewish playwright Janece Shaffer delivered the biggest surprise of the recent preview evening when she took the stage to talk about her latest work, “Troubadour.” The love story, whose premiere run is Jan. 18 to Feb. 12, revolves around an aging country music legend and his son.
Shaffer explores themes of endings, unlikely pairs and finding your voice. Shaffer, who wrote “The Geller Girls,” said she wanted to write a story about country music beyond the cliché of the typical American country tale.
“I didn’t want to write a piece where people are sad,” she said. “I wanted to write a piece where people play music because they’re musicians.”
To complete the score, Shaffer said, she stalked Kristian Bush of Sugarland. They wrote the first song over biscuits, and from there “Troubadour” was born. After rehashing the behind-the-scenes story, Shaffer introduced Bush, who performed a song from the play.
“It’s hard to tell I didn’t know these people,” Bush said about the music he wrote for the play. “The story takes place at the Grand Ole Opry, and I just played there last week. It looks the same, so I had to make it sound the same.”
The Alliance season opens with the premiere of “The Prom” from Aug. 18 to Sept. 25, continues with “Ugly Lies the Bone” Sept. 16 to Oct. 9 and “Moby Dick” Oct. 12 to 30, and includes “Courtenay’s Cabaret: Home for the Holidays” Dec. 2 to 24.
More details and tickets are available at alliancetheatre.org.