Alabama Shakes Cooks Up Aaronville Dawning World Premiere; Opens Jan. 24

News   Alabama Shakes Cooks Up Aaronville Dawning World Premiere; Opens Jan. 24 A Southern woman tells stories about the folks in her hometown as she cooks food for a funeral wake in the world premiere of Aaronville Dawning, beginning Jan. 22 and opening Jan. 24 at Alabama Shakespeare Festival's Octagon in Montgomery.

Linda Byrd Kilian's play mixes Southern cooking with Southern storytelling as her aged character's past rises like cooking aroma from a hot stove. Performances of the one-woman play, developed as part of ASF's Southern Writers' Project, continue in repertory at The Octagon through March 2. Artistic director Kent Thompson directs.

Actor and Texas native Carole Monferdini makes her ASF debut as Lemy Babin Caldwell, "an elderly woman (who) tells the secrets of her small Mississippi town while keeping her own secret secret," according to production notes. The play is part of SWP's Festival of New Plays and is the 13th new work launched there.

Monferdini's credits include Off-Broadway's The Club directed by Tommy Tune, for which she won an Obie Award.

In production notes, the actress said, "Aaronville Dawning is about all the people's lives in a small community where everyone knows each other. I experienced some of that in my youth as did anyone who grew up in a smaller town.  I felt like I knew these people."

Playwright Linda Byrd Kilian is a native of Mississippi, where she has been a teacher for 25 years. She is also a teacher consultant with the Mississippi Writing/Thinking Institute, which is a division of the National Writing Project.  For two years she wrote the column "Byrd's Eye View" for Jackson's weekly newspaper, the Northside Sun. This is her first play.The play, ASF literary manager Gwen Orel told Playbill On-Line, is "one of those finds a literary manager dreams about.

She explained, "I was a last-minute replacement to be a judge on the Mississippi Arts Commission, for the Literary Arts Fellowship.  Every other year they do playwriting/screenwriting and creative non-fiction (alternating with fiction and poetry). I received a huge binder about three days beforehand, with the 20-page excerpts in them, and the cover letters by the writers.  Most of the plays were not very good, but Linda's cover letter jumped out at me — [and] the 20-page excerpt just blew me away.

"Tired and cranky as I was, I was in tears three times — I remember being particularly struck by the character's description of an old mama sow lying by her dead piglets, 'grieving-like, thinking-like.'"

Orel said despite the seemingly loose frame of an old woman telling stories, the piece had both a dramatic hook — why hasn't the subject of the funeral spoken in 60 years? — and theatrical activity against a ticking clock (the food has to be made in time for the funeral).

"It was obvious that this was the work of a born playwright, but not an experienced one as the overdetailed stage directions and formatting made clear," Orel said. "So that was exciting. But most exciting was just the writing itself, the originality, the authenticity, the humor, the memorable turn-of-phrase.  Sometimes I think I tracked Linda down and invited her to the October [Southern Writers Workshop] just so I could find out how the play ended!"

Designers are Ed Haynes (scenic), Elizabeth Novak (costume), Liz Lee (lighting), Don Tindall (sound). Gwen Orel is dramaturg.

Ticket prices range $12-$37. For more information, call the ASF box office at (334) 271-5353 or toll free at (800) 841 4ASF or visit www.asf.net.

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The award-winning Southern Writers' Project (SWP) was founded in 1991 by ASF artistic director Kent Thompson to further ASF's mission of developing plays that explore and celebrate Southern issues and topics, African-American experiences, and Shakespeare and the classics. Originally funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, SWP provides a venue for Southern writers, encourages new works dealing with Southern issues and topics, including those that emphasize African American experiences, Shakespeare and the classics, and creates theatre that speaks in a special way to ASF's unique and racially diverse audiences.

The Alabama Shakespeare Festival is the sixth largest Shakespeare theatre in the world and is designated as The State Theatre of Alabama. ASF has been located in Montgomery since 1985 when it moved from Anniston as a result of Mr. and Mrs. Wynton M. Blount's gift of a performing arts complex set in the 250-acre Wynton M. Blount Cultural Park.