by CAROLE EGLASH-KOSOFF
[dropcap]Things[/dropcap] were not always as simple as some history books, or award-winning films, would let us believe. In the mid-19th century, not all southern Negroes were treated as benignly as they were in Gone With The Wind, nor as violently as it was depicted in Twelve Years A Slave. The end of the Civil War brought the end of slavery but it did little to end the violence and brutality inflicted on the freed slaves.
In the early 1940s, Howard Fast chronicled that first magical decade of Reconstruction in his book, Freedom Road. It was a story that stayed with me. Under the protection of Union soldiers, hope flourished throughout the states of the defeated Confederacy… racial equality was beginning to take hold. Those hopes were annihilated in 1876 when all Union troops were removed after the Tilden-Hayes compromise and the unique “decade of summer” was followed by a “century of winter.” It would be almost 100 years (during the 1960s) when civil rights efforts would begin to yield results — until another chance at equality would be possible for our nation.
The novel, When Stars Align, and its sequel, Winds of Change, attempt to tell this story. I was moved to bring the first part of this saga to the stage because the drama of live theater can evoke emotions in a way that is not possible by the written page. It’s a vital part of our history and important for audiences to understand it so that they can move forward, not backwards, with issues of discrimination and repression.
With its diverse population, Los Angeles is the perfect place to launch this play. I have traveled to more than seventy countries. I spent almost two years working in the black townships of South Africa. Southern California, while it still has its racist incidents, is far more color blind than other cities around the United States and most other countries. I feel fortunate to live here and to be able to explore such themes.
The experience with the creative process has gone far beyond what I had expected in the beginning. Director John Henry Davis, who has helped me to evolve as a playwright, has joined me as co-writer of the play during its adaption from my novel. Working with a mixed-race cast on racial issues encourages discovery, tolerance, and a harmony that we all wish to be extended far beyond the theater.
This cast has become so engaged in the twists and turns of the story that they have done extensive research on their own. They learned more about what Louisiana was like at that point in time. They’ve researched how slaves were treated — discovered the songs and music that salved tired hearts and souls at the end of a long day picking cotton. Who were those who believed in complete white superiority? What was good? What was evil?
Now, at the time that this play premieres, we have a society, once again, struggling with racial issues… with people being judged by the color of their skin. We acknowledge economic disparity, judicial disparity, educational disparity; it has been with us from the time we were a fledgling nation. When Stars Align reminds us that these are timeless issues. More than 150 years have passed… you’d think we could have done better.
NOW PLAYING: WHEN STARS ALIGN at the Odyssey Theatre, through October 4.
The Civil War begins and American society is forever changed. Seeds of hope are taking hold in the hearts of a boy and a girl determined to be more than friends, and a household that was built on unwavering tradition is caught in the maelstrom. Can the stars align for the birth of new equality, and for two people fighting for a future together?