Posting Date: March 16, 2009
"Night Blooms" reading raises relevant questions
By Liza Scales
Imagine an annual gathering of family and friends to celebrate the blooming of a plant—and, at the same time, to talk about one of the most important social events in the history of America: the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. That is the backdrop of Atlanta playwright Margaret Baldwin’s “Night Blooms,” a play based on a story of her childhood. During the gathering, the family struggles with their relational dynamics as they live through the monumental changes surrounding them.
Baldwin, a lecturer in theatre and performance studies, will present the concert reading of the play in the Social Sciences Building at KSU. Professional actors will read for the characters with some student involvement. “Reading in front of an audience is a valuable way to learn about a play,” explains Baldwin. “You get a suggestion of staging, what works and what doesn’t work—it’s vital.” The KSU American Studies Program , the Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project, the KSU Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, and the Horizon Theater Company are all sponsors of the performance.
“Night Blooms” was inspired by the friendship between Baldwin’s grandmother and her grandmother's African-American housekeeper, who became a nurse and cared for the grandmother during an illness until her death. During this time, according to a family legend, the two women rode together in the grandmother's Lincoln Continental—with grandmother driving and her nurse in the backseat—to watch the march. Although Baldwin later learned this incident was apocryphal, it inspired her to discover what really happened in Selma during the march.
The play also incorporates another childhood story, this one based on actual events. Her great-grandmother held annual "blooming parties" to celebrate the yearly blossoming of her night-blooming cereus plant. In writing "Night Blooms," Baldwin decided to merge the event of the "blooming" with that of the civil rights march to explore what could happen when family ritual collided with a moment of historical social change. "This is a story of the South that wanted to be told,” Baldwin says.
Because it is ultimately a story about a family dealing with change, she believes that her story is as relevant today as it would be any time. Baldwin thought that if she could tell this story, she could call herself a “real writer.” The questions raised in the play are hard ones to deal with, but they are “presented in an entertaining and inviting way.”
KSU Associate Professor Karen Robinson, who is directing the reading, agrees with Baldwin’s assessment. “This play reminds our society just how far we have come with the juxtaposition of the civil rights march and all that it stood for, and the current historical event of our first African-American president. The question raised for the future is to consider how much more work there is to do to live in mutual support of one another.”
First-year student actor Jessica McPhail calls “Night Blooms” a “new look into the story and struggles of those who were living at the time and witnessed the events.” She believes that, through this story, “the audience will be able to take a renewed look at the decisions that were made in how to deal with civil rights and the pressures of skin color.”
Baldwin is a national award-winning playwright who has previously presented a number of original works at Kennesaw State, including “You Always Go Home,” based on the stories of Kenyan students; “Roland’s Song: A War Story,” adapted from the medieval tales of Roland; and “Monkey King,” an adaptation of Chinese folk stories that was invited to the Shanghai Theatre Festival in China. She has served on the KSU since 2004.