‘Dead Towns of Alabama’ deals with Southern history, culture
by LaTonya Darrisaw
Jun 15, 2012 | 5852 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Behind every good writer is an interesting story drawn from personal inspirations and unique experiences. The story behind Barry Bradford’s “Dead Towns of Alabama” is a familiar one borrowed from Bradford’s own personal challenges growing up without his father in Birmingham. Now, audiences have the opportunity to see that struggle mirrored through Nathan Coleman, a 45-year-old bookstore clerk, on stage at Jacksonville State University starting June 20.

“The main character of this play is a little bit of myself,” Bradford said. “He [Nathan] is struggling with the memory of his father and trying to sort out who he is and answer questions about his own life.”

Eric Traynor, director of “Dead Towns of Alabama” and assistant professor of drama at JSU, said he was anxious to bring this story to the stage.

“In some aspects, we can all relate to trying to get in touch with our past and the people that raised us,” Traynor said. “Audiences can relate to the need for that connection to the past so we can understand our present.”

Bradford, a University of Alabama graduate who has written four plays, considers himself an Alabama playwright. While he now resides in Louisiana, most of his plays have been written about situations in Alabama and people who live there.

“The South has a great deal of rich culture and, along with a rich culture, there’s a whole lot of pain in Southern history from all sides,” he said. “My plays deal with religion, alcohol, firearms and racism because those are the things that tend to run through our history. It makes life down here colorful and strange sometimes, but very interesting to write about.”

JSU has performed several of Bradford’s plays already and to perform “Dead Towns of Alabama,” which won the 2011 Southern Playwrights Competition, is an honor for both Traynor and the cast. Bradford expressed his excitement in seeing JSU take on one of his productions for the third time.

“Barry’s had several productions on our stage before and one of the things I like about him is that he addresses some important issues without beating you over the head with them,” Traynor said.

“The first time I had the opportunity to see one of my plays done was just so much fun, and it was interesting to see what they [JSU] did with it,” Bradford said. “The way the students throw themselves into these projects is such a joy to watch.”

The cast of “Dead Towns of Alabama” has been met with a few challenges that even Bradford acknowledges.

“I’ve thrown them some curves because the characters in some of my plays are old and students pulling that off is not so easy, but they did it,” he said. “I’ve come away from it learning something about myself and my own plays. The only way a playwright can learn if something works or doesn’t work is to see it on stage.”

Traynor insists the cast has been working hard to bring Bradford’s script and characterization to life for audiences.

“I’ve got a wonderful cast that I think are very well-suited for the parts they’re playing, even though some of the characters are older,” he said. “I think they’ve all done really well because they have a respect for the playwright and the kind of emotional and psychological challenges these characters bring.”

Traynor said the set designer, Carlton Ward, also did a good job with setting the scene in a “very realistic and rustic design approach.” While Bradford hopes his plays get picked up by other theaters across the state, the main thing he wants audiences to do after watching JSU’s production of “Dead Towns of Alabama” is to think.

“We tend to look back on the past with rose-colored glasses, but there are good and bad things about the old and new South,” he said. “I want people to figure out those issues of where we’ve been and where we’re going, and hopefully, the change and progress is in the right direction.”

Traynor echoed that sentiment stating, “There are some really important racial issues in this play that get addressed throughout it but not in an overwhelming way.” he said. “I like that Barry writes about these flawed characters that help us to see our own flaws and strengths, too.”

“Dead Towns of Alabama”

7 p.m. June 20 - June 23; and 2 p.m. June 24

Where: Ernest Stone Performing Arts Center, corner of 11th Street and Church Avenue, Jacksonville

Cost: $10 for adults, $8 for JSU staff and senior citizens, $5 for students, military and children

Contact: 256-782-5648
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‘Dead Towns of Alabama’ deals with Southern history, culture by LaTonya Darrisaw

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