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Preston Lane Makes Some Music

The artistic director of North Carolina’s Triad Stages discusses his production of Reynolds Price’s New Music Trilogy.

Preston Lane
Preston Lane

The late Reynolds Price is considered one of the country’s great Southern novelists, but he was an accomplished playwright as well. In 1989, the Cleveland Play House first presented his New Music Trilogy, consisting of the plays August Snow and Night Dance, and Better Days. Now, for the first time since then, the trilogy is being presented by Triad Stage in Greensboro, North Carolina, the writer’s native state. TheaterMania spoke with Triad’s artistic director, Preston Lane, about his personal association with the trilogy, his company’s commitment to the playwright, and why the work has been so underappreciated for so long.

THEATERMANIA: How did you first become acquainted with this relatively obscure trilogy?
PRESTON LANE: Actually, I have loved the plays ever since Theatre Communications Group published August Snow in American Theatre magazine in 1990 or something like that. At that time, I was an actor, and I used Porter Farwell’s monologue as an audition piece for a few years. And when TCG published the entire trilogy, I really fell in love with the plays, and I’ve been looking for the opportunity to stage the entire trilogy together.

TM: Your company presented a 2003 production of August Snow. Was Price deeply involved in that production?
PL: He came in as our InSight scholar, which is that special Sunday matinee where we bring a scholar in to talk about the play. I had no idea — I’d seen him read, I had read a lot of his works, I have heard wonderful things about him — but I didn’t know if he was going to be one of those playwrights that you cower and hide from after they’ve seen what you’ve done with his work. But he was moved to tears by the production. He was so complimentary about the production, and he was very proud of the work the actors had done. He came back several times, took the actors out for dinner, and called them all by their character names throughout the dinner.

Gayton Scott, Mark Mozingo, and Matthew Delaneyin August Snow
(© Jeffery West)
Gayton Scott, Mark Mozingo, and Matthew Delaney
in August Snow
(© Jeffery West)

TM: So, is that the moment you really decided to do the trilogy?
PL: After that event, I promised him that we would stage the entire trilogy. Like many promises, I didn’t forget about it; it just kind of got pushed aside by whatever the particular need of the day was – until the day that he passed away [January 20, 2011]. One of my colleagues stopped me in the office and said, “What if we did the entire trilogy to honor him?” And that’s how it came about.

TM: What do you find so compelling about these plays?
PL: As a whole, the trilogy is fascinating because it addresses some remarkable issues about how we make families, where we choose to place our love, and the way we make homes — a place where people can live and love and be true to themselves. Each of these is shown through the struggles of the main characters, Neal and Taw, and then of course all those who surround them.

TM: Why do you think the trilogy has lapsed into obscurity?
PL: There are a couple of reasons. We kind of want two kinds of Southern writing in the theater. We either like it Southern Gothic style; you know, throw in Blanche Dubois, a lobotomy or two, and a crazy aunt in the attic, and we can sort of sell that. Or we like it kind of quirky-funny character wise, with ladies getting their hair done in a beauty parlor, somebody shoots their husband and drinks lemonade. Plays that treat the South as a complex, psychologically real everyday kind of place, I think are really hard to sell. When we walk into a room and hear Southern accents, we expect behavior from Tennessee Williams or Beth Henley, and not what we get here.

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