Peppermint Creek brings historic book-banning battle to the stage


The quote “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes,” attributed to Mark Twain, is an apt summary of the central theme of Peppermint Creek Theatre Co.’s current production. “Alabama Story” is a cautionary tale that reminds us that the hatred and bias of the civil rights era are not bygone.

Based on true events, Kenneth Jones’ script centers on a 1959 book-banning battle between Alabama state Sen. E.O. Eddins and State Librarian Emily Wheelock Reed. Eddins believed that author and illustrator Garth Williams’ children’s book “The Rabbits’ Wedding,” in which a white rabbit and a black rabbit wed in a forest among their friends, promoted desegregation and was a threat to the Southern way of life.

In drafting his play, Jones renamed the senator E.W. Higgins (David Brooks) but retained the real names of the protagonists, Reed (Gini Larson) and Williams (Jeff Boerger). Jones also created a fictional pair of childhood friends, Joshua Moore (Isaiah Scruggs) and Lily Whitfield (Xia Skowronek). Lily is the daughter of a prominent cotton company magnate, and Joshua is the son of the family’s housekeeper.

After becoming estranged at age 12, the friends reunite 20 years later in downtown Montgomery as the censorship battle rages on around them. Their interactions are independent of the main plot but serve to illustrate the theme of personal growth through reconciling the past, present and future.

The cast is solid, but its leads truly stand out. Boerger plays several characters throughout the play, primarily Williams. The second act opens with Williams addressing the audience directly about the controversy of his book, and Boerger’s performance is wry, sly and charming. His portrayal of Higgins’ elderly mentor, Bobby Crone, a segregationist who exhibits some wisdom in his twilight years, is particularly moving.

Larson is perfect as Reed, a stoic, no-nonsense woman who approaches her job with professional integrity, even in the face of personal attacks. She holds her own in a particularly cringeworthy exchange during a Senate committee meeting as Higgins delves into her personal life. When it becomes necessary to apologize to assistant Thomas Franklin (Ayden Soupal), she does so with sincerity, then guides him efficiently back into their work.

Set designer Ro Salarian’s clever backdrop is key to fast scene changes, which are much needed since the play runs two hours and 10 minutes. The backdrop is a giant book, with the pages serving as the library, a park and the state Legislature buildings. Cast members quickly turn the pages as they exit, setting up the next scene. Keep an eye out for Easter eggs incorporated into each page.

In the lobby, audiences can read about ongoing attempts at book censorship around the state of Michigan. Many of these incidents involve books that promote inclusion and acceptance of LGBTQ+ people, a sober reminder to audiences that intolerance of “the other” still exists. Reed’s battle was won, but the war rages on, and history continues to rhyme.


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