History is in the making at Piedmont College, where the play “Lillian Smith’s Strange Fruit” is returning to the stage 70 years after its Broadway premiere.
Based on Smith’s bold debut novel, the play follows an interracial relationship in a small 1920s Georgia town and speaks to the effects of hate and separation on the lives of people and their communities.
Piedmont’s Department of Theatre and Lillian E. Smith Center are working with New York director Thom Fogarty to restore the play to Smith’s original vision for an October run.
“The profound themes and intense conflicts addressed in this play and in the novel are still extremely relevant today and focus our attention on the ongoing struggle for justice and social change,” said Craig Amason, director of the Smith Center. “Producing the play on our campus offers a wonderful opportunity to revive this important dramatic work and highlights Piedmont College’s connection with Lillian E. Smith.”
The late Lillian E. Smith of Clayton was one of the first Georgia writers to shine a light on the South’s ingrained system of segregation. From the 1940s through the 1960s, she wrote a series of novels and nonfiction books that attacked the Jim Crow laws of the era. Her 1944 novel, “Strange Fruit,” was a national sensation.
In 1945, she and her sister, Esther Smith, worked with actor and director José Ferrer to adapt the story for the New York stage. The original Broadway production had a rather tumultuous history, however, which Smith described as a “bitter and terrible fiasco.” She was disenchanted after facing daily demands for rewrites she felt compromised the integrity of the play. The production was exceedingly lavish, with realistic sets that were clunky and unwieldy. After receiving mixed reviews, it closed Jan. 19, 1946, after 60 performances.
Smith pronounced “Strange Fruit” was never to be produced again and held true to her word. Her literary agents and estate have never allowed a new production to move forward.
That changed in 2010 after the discovery of Smith’s unaltered play in her sister Esther Smith’s archive, along with letters revealing Lillian Smith would have been open to a new production far removed from the version produced on Broadway. Thom Fogarty, artistic director of the New York repertory theatre company 360repco, revised and restored the play.
Now, after five years of workshops and readings, the play is finally ready.
“Lillian Smith’s Strange Fruit” returns to the stage at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 1-3 and 2 p.m. Oct. 4, at the Piedmont Swanson Center, 365 College Drive, in Demorest. The play is intended for mature audiences because of adult content.
Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. Piedmont students, faculty, and staff are admitted free. Tickets can be purchased at www.piedmont.edu/fa or by calling the box office at 706-778-8500 ext. 1355.
For more information, visit www.piedmont.edu/fa or call 706-778-8500 ext. 1355.