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Play about Bear Bryant a hit for Alabama Shakespeare Fest

Oklahoman Modified: June 8, 2009 at 2:43 pm •  Published: June 8, 2009
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/articleid/3376070/1/pictures/576886">Photo - This undated photo, supplied by the American Civil Liberties Union in January 2009, shows Rodney Clark playing legendary Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant in the Alabama Shakespeare Festival's production of "Bear Country." The festival announced Monday, June 8, 2009, that the play will be performed in August at the Virginia Samford Theatre in Birmingham,Ala.
This undated photo, supplied by the American Civil Liberties Union in January 2009, shows Rodney Clark playing legendary Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant in the Alabama Shakespeare Festival's production of "Bear Country." The festival announced Monday, June 8, 2009, that the play will be performed in August at the Virginia Samford Theatre in Birmingham,Ala.
The play takes place on what is supposed to be a retiring Bryant's last day in his Tuscaloosa office. The coach reflects on his life, including how he got his nickname by wrestling a carnival bear. When he retired in 1982, Bryant had won more games than any major college coach in America.

Clark said he was apprehensive about portraying a man who is still beloved by Bama fans. But the audience reaction changed that.

"The show turned into one of the most fun plays I've done in my life," Clark said. "On opening night we had 20 of his former players in the audience and they just loved it."

Clark said the atmosphere during the play's run in Montgomery often resembled a football Saturday outside a stadium, rather than a theater that in recent years has staged high tragedies like "Othello" and "Macbeth."

"We had people tailgating. For a theater to have people tailgating, that's a dream," Clark said.

After Birmingham, Vigilant said ASF hopes to take the play to Tuscaloosa and other locations around Alabama. He said ASF has been getting calls from theaters around the state that want to host the production.

"At ASF, one of our missions is to tell Southern stories. We want to bring this story to more people because we were pleased with the response," Vigilant said.


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