One year after “The Drowsy Chaperone” filled the Yale University Theatre with laughter, this fall’s Dramat mainstage will address a more sobering topic.
“Parade,” by Jason Robert Brown, revisits a dark moment in American history. The play is based on the true story of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager who was accused of raping and murdering a 13-year-old employee named Mary Phagan. The musical is set in Georgia and revolves around Leo’s trial. While the show explores issues such as bigotry, media sensationalism and the culture of the American South during the years leading up to World War I, its main focus is the love between Leo and his wife, Lucille, according to four students involved with the production.
“I firmly believe that the story is fundamentally not about racism, bigotry, persecution or the South — beyond all that it is about love,” said Philip Jameson ’16, the show’s musical director. “The only way to do this show is to paint it as a love story.”
Alexandra Butler ’17, who plays Angela, an employee of the governor of Georgia, explained that Leo’s love for his wife develops gradually, as he realizes that she is the only one who truly supports him throughout the trial process. Leo is surrounded by people who are against him — the racist southerners are suspicious of him, his lawyer betrays him and one of his family members is waiting for Leo to die so he can seize his estate, Butler said.
Sarah Krohn, the show’s director, said that Leo and Lucille are unhappy in their marriage until Leo’s arrest brings them closer emotionally. Two duets between Leo and Lucille perfectly embody the growth of their love, Jameson said — in the first act, there is a song titled “Leo at Work/What am I Waiting For?” in which Leo is at the factory and Lucille is at home singing about how her marriage is unfulfilling. But near the end of the show, they sing “All the Wasted Time,” in which they are holding each other and singing in harmony, he added.
But Christian Probst ’16, who plays Mary’s friend Frankie, said there is another key love story in the play: the townspeople’s love for their homeland. The opening song, titled “The Old Red Hills of Home,” puts forth the idea that the characters in the play are united by their common ‘home’ of Marietta, Ga. and that community members should love one another, he said. The notions of ‘home’ and ‘community’ are echoed throughout the show, Jameson said.
Krohn and Probst noted that this type of love leads to a mob mentality that turns the townspeople against Leo partly because he is an outsider.
“‘Love of homeland’ is an idea that’s historically been used to justify horrific acts, and we see how patriotism and xenophobia can go hand in hand in this play,” Krohn said. “Leo, as a Yankee and a Jew, is an easy target.”
Jameson explained that the townspeople’s suspicion of Leo originates largely in their desire to protect their community at all costs — a belief embodied in the character of Tom Watson, a member of the group of townspeople who are adamantly against Leo. In his two most impactful songs, Watson attempts to rally the community against Leo in the name of saving the integrity of their homeland.
The three cast members interviewed noted that while one may be tempted to view the play solely as a condemnation of southern bigots in the early 1900s, the show does not aim to criticize any particular group. In fact, Jameson said, the show creates parallels and highlights similarities between all of the characters, regardless of their background, instead of singling out any particular demographic. He noted that even the patriotic “The Old Red Hills of Home” features a melody that is partially an adaptation of a Jewish prayer, creating a blend of American militaristic culture and Jewish heritage.
Virginia Doyle ’17, who plays Mary Phagan’s mother, said that while part of her character’s contempt toward Leo is due to religious differences, the play places much more emphasis on the comfort and solace that religion can provide. She noted that though Leo is a Jewish northerner and Mrs. Phagan is a Christian southerner, both turn to religion in times of hardship.
“Parade” opens tonight at the University Theatre.