A North Carolina native son, spectacular author, poet and playwright, Reynolds Price is certainly a man deserving honor and respect, especially among the theatrical and literary crowd of his home state. That’s why Greensboro Public Library, NewBridge Bank and Triad Stage have teamed together to present a four-month celebration of the man with “a great Southern voice.”
The library’s program, continuing now through April, One City, One Author, includes more than two dozen events honoring Price and his work. NewBridge Bank and Triad Stage will pay their respects to the recently deceased Price by presenting his New Music trilogy in its entirety, a feat which has only been tackled once before in the plays’ history.
Under Preston Lane’s artistic direction, the theater will use two separate casts to tell a story that spans four decades and follows a family in a small eastern North Carolina town. Part 1 begins in August 1937 with August Snow, when a young family finds the meaning of sacrifice and commitment in the Great Depression. The story continues into the second play, Night Dance, which is set at the end of WWII.
Part II, a performance sold separately, presents the last play in the series, Better Days, which takes place just after the Vietnam War.
“[The plays are] so much about family and community in the way that I know from growing up in the south,” Lane said. “But it’s also a universal story about family and how it is that we make families and how it is we make homes. These are plays that are very much about characters who are struggling to find love, to find family, to find a place where they belong.
“What fascinates me about the play is how the characters relate so much to the time in which they take place,” Lane continued. “Like in the last play, the country does long for better days, and that’s so much reflected in what the characters are going through as well.”
Lane first read the set of plays when they were published in the early ’90s and knew then that he wanted to direct them. He embarked on that journey in 2003 at Triad Stage by presenting August Snow as part of their second season. “I thought it’d be a great play to sort of represent that core value of ours — that unique, Southern voice,” Lane said. “It really does celebrate North Carolina.”
Lane lamented how excited and honored he and his staff were that Price, who was teaching at Duke University, had agreed to not only come to see the production, but to even speak after a performance.
“When I asked Rich where Price was, he said [Price] needed a moment to collect himself; he was offstage, crying,” Lane said. “He had been very moved by the production. So when he came out to speak he said it was the best production of August Snow he had ever seen.”
After that performance, Price returned on several occasions to again see Triad Stage’s production of his play, taking the time to get to know the cast and even taking them out to dinner — calling them each by their character’s name.
“It was an incredible honor because Reynolds Price has meant so much to me as a writer,” Lane said. “It’s always been a highlight of my time here in Greensboro.”
It was during the 2003 performance that Lane made a promise to Price that he would one day present his trilogy in its entirety — something that had not been done since 1989. “But I really hadn’t thought through the financial implications of that,” Lane laughed.
Year after year, Lane was forced to delay his commitment due to its great financial and theatrical challenge. It wasn’t until Price’s sudden passing last January that gave Lane and his business partner Rich Whittington the push to overcome those obstacles in Price’s honor.
“We already had the season planned, which threw everything up into complications,” Lane said, “but we looked at a way to do it because we felt that this was the time to honor him and his commitment to North Carolina.
“I am very sorry that I delayed keeping my promise to him until after he passed away,” Lane continued. “But I’m really thrilled that so many of his family will be joining us and I’m thrilled that we will be able to honor his work in this way.”
New Music, is presented in two parts in rotating repertory at Triad Stage, 232 S. Elm St. Part I: August Snow and Night Dance runs Feb. 12-March 17. Part II: Better Days runs Feb. 21-March 18. Special weekend marathon performances of both parts are Feb. 25, 26; March 10, 11. For tickets visit www.triadstage.org or friendsofgpl.blogspot.com, or call 272-0160.