SALFORD — When Leena Devlin, the managing artistic director at Steel River Playhouse in Pottstown, read the script for "Alabama Story," she loved it but couldn't fit it into Steel River's season.
She's still doing the show, though. She'll be starring in it in her first performance at DCP Theatre, where "Alabama Story" will have its Pennsylvania premiere Friday, April 5.
"Community theater is like that," Devlin said. "We're all just one big community."
The show tells the real life story of Emily Reed, portrayed by Devlin, Alabama's state librarian in 1959 when a segregationist state senator demanded that the children's book "The Rabbits' Wedding" be removed from Alabama libraries because it was about a black rabbit marrying a white rabbit. Putting her career and library budget at risk, Reed refused to remove the book but conceded to put it on special reserve shelves. A separate story in the show tells about two childhood friends, a black man and white woman, reunited in the 1959 Montgomery, Ala., setting in which the play occurs.
"I think people will walk away with different feelings about the play. Everybody responds to a different character in a different way," playwright Kenneth Jones said in a telephone interview from his New York City home.
"Some will see it as a civil rights play, and some will see it as a censorship play, and some will see it as a play about a persecuted woman, and some will see it as a play about a powerful woman," he said.
"It's also very funny," he said, "and full of character."
Jones said he learned about Reed's story when he read her obituary in The New York Times in 2000. While he was working another full-time job, he kept returning to Reed's story and in 2009 went to Alabama for boots-on-the-ground research and subsequently wrote the show, which had its world premiere in 2015.
Six decades after the events depicted in "Alabama Story," the story still is relevant, show members said.
"I think it's, unfortunately, extremely timely still," Devlin said. "It's really about discrimination in so many forms."
She said the show is well-written and unique in its structure.
It tells the story from the viewpoint of each of its characters, Patrick Gallagher, who portrays Reed's library assistant, said.
"It's not one-sided," Gallagher said.
"It definitely has a point of view," Devlin said.
"But it shows a little bit of where everybody comes from," said Jane Spigel, the show's producer.
Gallagher said his character teaches Reed, who moved from a different area of the country, about the culture of the south.
"He trains Emily about what's really happening," Gallagher said.
Garth Williams, who wrote "The Rabbits' Wedding," illustrated many children's stories, including "Little House on the Prairie," "Charlotte's Web" and "Stuart Little."
Jay Fletcher portrays Williams in the DCP production.
"I'm sort of the narrator," Fletcher said of his role. "I'm like a moving prop, I think, kind of connecting the scenes and the characters."
Bill Joachim, who portrays the senator, described his character as "very charming" and "very nasty."
He said the senator is a library supporter, but segregation is more important to him.
The characters of Joshua and Lily, who reunite after having been childhood friends, are not part of the library story, but their story happens in the same time and place, Spigel said.
The two, she said, are "living what integration is starting to look like."
Jones said it was gratifying to him when a woman who saw "Alabama Story" in Montgomery, Ala., said it accurately reflected the Montgomery she grew up in.
"I'm not interested in cartoons or caricatures," he said. "I'm not interested in stereotypes."
"Every character is complicated and presented as people are," Suki, the show's director, said. "The script does a good job, and my actors are doing a wonderful job of playing the characters as honestly as possible and not just falling into archetypes."
As a director, she seeks out shows that are relevant and have a purpose, she said.
"I enjoy being involved in theater that makes a difference," Suki, who is Steel River Playhouse's marketing manager, said.
"It's also important to me that we create space in the performing arts for voices that haven't always been given space, haven't always been given time or consideration," she said.
"Alabama Story" looks at the concept of equality and equity at a point in this country's history during which things were changing and "there was a massive upheaval of what had become the norm," Suki said.
The show looks at specific people, she said.
"Very much the show focuses on the people involved," she said.
"Alabama Story" will run April 5, 6, 12, 13, 18, 19 and 20 at 8 p.m. and April 7 and 14 at 2 p.m. at DCP Theatre, 795 Ridge Road, Telford (Salford Township).
Tickets are $18; $16 for students, seniors and children 12 and younger.
Tickets and information are available at dcptheatre.com or 215-234-0966. Tickets are also available at the door.