Whenever the history of social change is reduced to clearly defined points on a timeline, key persons will inevitably be pushed to the margins — if not left off the page entirely. For this reason alone, the History Theatre's production of Nellie serves as an encouraging indication that one tremendously influential figure in the struggle for equality is not to be forgotten. A new work from renowned local playwright Kim Hines, Nellie recounts the life of civil rights and labor activist Nellie Stone Johnson, envisioning how a rural childhood on a northern Minnesota farm and her studies at the University of Minnesota led to her pioneering efforts as a union organizer. As an African-American woman, Johnson had firsthand knowledge of the way ingrained social prejudice could cripple individual potential. She spent her life fighting against such forces, whether by unionizing workers at the all-male Minneapolis Club in the 1930s, advising Hubert Humphrey on civil rights reform, or contributing to the formation of the Minnesota Democratic-Farm-Labor Party (DFL). In bringing Johnson's life to the stage, Hines is also practicing her subject's progressive beliefs by adding a corrective measure of racial and gender diversity to local theater. Hines criticized the lack of such diversity in the Guthrie Theater's 2012-13 season, and her commitment to providing alternative options would no doubt make her subject proud. In previews through January 25.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Jan. 26. Continues through Feb. 17, 2013