Theatre Review: Strange Fruit Grows

By CAMMIE BAGLEY

Athens Editor

The Piedmont College Department of Theatre put on a show this past weekend that brought a piece of history back to life that hasn’t been touched since 1945. The play, Strange Fruit, was performed Oct. 1-4 on the Swanson Mainstage Theatre. 

Directed by Thom Fogarty, the show was about racism in a small, Georgia town. The play is based on the novel, Strange Fruit, by Lillian E. Smith. 

Smith was a Florida native who found her way to Rabun County, Ga. in the early 1900s. Smith was a civil-rights activist that lived in Rabun County while helping her family run a camp for girls. 

She wrote Strange Fruit in 1944, and it was performed once on Broadway. But, at the time, the director changed aspects of the play that Smith disliked. 

Piedmont College’s version of this historically significant play was much closer to the view that Smith had for it. Fogarty had the ability to take the original script and incorporate the footnotes that Smith had written in order to direct the show the way she envisioned it, all those years ago.   

Between seventeen actors on stage, many portrayed more than one character. The main characters were the only ones who stuck to one role. Actors played all genders and races, which added some irony to the play itself. 

The play had a lot of controversial language and topics, such as inter-racial relationships, controversy over religion and even touched on women’s inequality. Despite how scandalous some of the content was, the young actors involved in the show handled it very well and gave an authentic performance. 

The set consisted of two, small, wooden houses, a pharmacy and a diner. One house was built larger and more decorative, portraying the white family’s home, while the other was a smaller, more run-down home, which was the black family’s home. This, along with the other aspects of the set design, conveyed the race separation.  

The issues addressed in this play disclosed the tensions between races in the early 1900s that carried on throughout history for a long time, that even exist today in some ways. 

Though Strange Fruit was written many years ago and at a very different time, it is just as valid now as it was then. Piedmont College’s Theatre Department, along with the help of Thom Fogarty, retold the story that Smith intended to tell 71 years ago, and they did it the way she intended for it to be told.