Burning Coal Theatre Company will kick off its 2003-2004 season with the world professional premiere of legendary American director Adrian Hall’s two-part epic stage adaptation of All the King’s Men by three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Penn Warren (1905-89). This gritty 1946 political novel, which won the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, is the thinly disguised story of the hardscrabble life and meteoric political career of flamboyant and corrupt Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator Huey P. Long (1893-1935), who campaigned for office as a reformer only to succumb to the very vices that he inveighed against.

“The original book was awarded [the Pulitzer Prize],” writes Burning Coal artistic director Jerome Davis in preshow publicity, “for Warren’s extraordinary story of Willie Stark, the Louisiana hayseed lawyer who goes on to win the governor’s mansion as a champion against political corruption, only to be brought down, in the end, by the same corrupt tendencies that he fought so hard against early in his career. Renowned critic Malcolm Cowley said that Warren was ‘more richly endowed than any other American novelist born in the present (20th) century.'”

Dubbed the “Kingfish” because of his dictatorial manner, the real Huey P. Long was a backwoods Southern populist demagogue with national aspirations. He campaigned as a friend to the “little man,” pushed his Share-the-Wealth program (“every man a king”) in the U.S. Senate, and even threatened to challenge incumbent President Franklin D. Roosevelt for the Democratic Party’s 1936 presidential nomination. But an assassin’s bullet cut short Long’s life and career in 1935.

Director/playwright Adrian Hall will stage Part One: Hope of the Heart and Part Two: Willie Stark! Oct. 3-26 in the Kennedy Theatre at the back of the BTI Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh, NC. In 1964, Hall founded the Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1981, Trinity Rep won a Tony® Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. From the mid-1980s until his retirement in 1989, Hall simultaneously ran the Trinity Repertory Company and the Dallas Theatre Center.

Hall subsequently directed regionally at the Actors’ Theatre of Louisville, Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC), and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; on Broadway (On the Waterfront); Off-Broadway (King Lear, starring F. Murray Abraham); and for Shakespeare in the Park.

“Adrian Hall is a force of nature!” claims Theatre Communications Group executive director Ben Cameron.

Davis writes, “[Hall] wrote his original version of All the King’s Men, with significant input from Robert Penn Warren, but left out ‘Chapter Four,’ which jumps back in time to the Civil War and the story of Cass Mastern. In 1990, the LATC invited him to direct ‘Chapter Four,’ which became Hope of the Heart. The two plays were workshopped with University of Delaware students in February of 2003.”

“[Part 1: Hope of the Heart] is set during the Civil War, and deals with an illicit love affair that ends in betrayal and death,” Davis writes. “The play then introduces its young protagonist, Jack Burden, to a country lawyer, destined for greatness. [Part 2: Willie Stark!] is a thinly veiled depiction of the rise and fall of Huey Long, Louisiana’s infamous governor, known as the ‘Kingfish.’ The play follows the tragic events that culminate in Stark’s demise at the hands of a beloved doctor working at one of the hospitals Stark had built during the Depression.”

Davis told Robert’s Reviews: “Adrian has been writing and directing variations on All the King’s Men for about a quarter century. This is the first time the entire production has been mounted by a professional company. My wife, [Burning Coal managing director] Simmie Kastner, and I went to Delaware to see the University of Delaware’s Professional Theatre Training Program production in February, which Adrian used as a prelude to our production.”

Davis says, “[All the King’s Men] is about a young man of some means, Jack Burden (Steven Roten), who is struggling to find his way in the world. He becomes wrapped up in the life and work of a brilliant young politician, Willie Stark (Dan Kenney), who quickly rises to become the Governor of Louisiana. The play is based loosely on the life of the Kingfish, Huey Long.

“Adrian is continually trying to find a way to make the story clear,” says Davis. “This includes editing the text, finding visual representations of the ‘idea’ in a given moment, and finding what he calls the ‘super prop’ that piece of furniture or prop that tells the audience immediately where they are and what is going on.”

Davis says, Sonya Drum’s set is “an empty space with an edifice on either end: one, the Louisiana Statehouse, the other a shantytown shack.” Chris Popowich’s lighting is “stark” and Mary McKeithen’s costumes are “elegant to raggedy,” says Davis.

The production team for All the King’s Men also includes technical director Jennifer Becker, sound designer Al Singer, and properties designer Miriam Balme. Davis says the show’s background music will include songs by Randy Newman.

Besides Messrs. Kenney and Roten, the cast includes: Bob Barr, Lynda Clark, Sarah Fallon, Lynne Guilielmi, David Byron Hudson, Carl Martin, Greg Paul, Brandon Roberts, and JeriLynn Schulke.

“Adrian Hall is one of the most important stage directors in the history of the American Theater,” claims Jerome Davis. “His work here is a continuation of work that he began years ago, in collaboration with Robert Penn Warren (who was then at Yale), and that has continued at Trinity Rep in Providence and at the Dallas Theatre Center, to name a few.”

Burning Coal Theatre Company presents All the King’s Men-Part One: Hope of the Heart Friday, Oct. 3 and 17, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 4-5, 11-12, and 18-19, at 2:30 p.m.; Thursday, Oct. 23, at 7:30 p.m.; and Saturday, Oct. 25, at 2:30 p.m. and All the King’s Men-Part Two: Willie Stark! Saturday, Oct. 4, at 7 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 5, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday-Sunday, Oct. 10-12, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 18-19, 7:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, Oct. 24-25, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 26, at 2:30 p.m. in the Kennedy Theatre at the back of the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 2 South Street, Raleigh, North Carolina. $15 per part ($13 students, seniors 65+, and active-duty military personnel) or $25 for both parts. 919/388-0066 or http://www.burningcoal.org/ticketsATKM.htm.
. Note 1: The Oct. 4 performances will be sign-language interpreted, and the 7 p.m. performance will be followed by a “Talk Back” session led by Dr. Jeannie Woods, professor of theater at the Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC, and author of Theatre to Change Men’s Souls: The Life and Artistry of Adrian Hall. Director Adrian Hall, cast members, and the design team will answer questions. Note 2: The Oct. 5 shows are pay-what-you-can performances.