Writer: Paul Minx
Director: Sarah Berger
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Seven years after the first black United States President took office, 1965 feels like a lot more than only half a century ago. The Long Road South, Paul Minx’s searing comedy/drama, first seen at the Hope Theatre along the road from here in 2014, takes us back to a time when America was a country on the cusp of change as the burgeoning Civil Rights movement was beginning to make its mark.
Set in Indiana, the play shows us a dying social order, represented by a white middle-class family whose world is crumbling and their two black home helps who are taking tentative steps to break free and find the road to a better life. These characters, like the country that they live in, have reached a crossroads.
Jake Price (Michael Brandon) has hit a career crisis but pretends that everything is normal. His wife Carol Ann (Imogen Stubbs) has hit the bottle, her life so lacking in purpose that she cannot be bothered to get dressed, but she clutches at a last claim to refinement by insisting “I don’t drink…I imbibe”. Their teenage daughter Ivy (Lydea Perkins) lounges on the patio, perfecting her suntan and filling the void in her life by attempting to seduce Andre, the “coloured” gardener.
The play’s title alludes to the struggle of Andre (Cornelius Macarthy) and his intended wife, the house’s maid Grace (Krissi Bohn) to cast off the shackles of the past and move south to Alabama. He seeks reunion with his daughter, taken from him in cruel circumstances, and she, an aspiring writer, wants to play her full part as a Civil Rights activist. The dignity and fortitude of this couple, contrasting with the decadence of their white “masters”, gives the play its most haunting images.
The confidence of Minx as a playwright is demonstrated by the ease with which he finds so much comedy in, what is.essentially, a serious emotional drama. This is the right approachbecause the frustrated and angry Jake, the drunken Carol Ann and the rebellious Ivy are all characters to be laughed at and pitied rather than despised. After all, they are merely filling roles that the society of their day had cast them into and, by 1965 standards, they would probably have considered themselves liberals.
Sara Berger’s production moves seamlessly between the play’s changing tones, extracting five impeccable performances. The action takes place on a thrust stage, giving the audience a proximity to Adrian Linford’s patio set that heightens the play’s dramatic and comic impact.
Minx’s work is a striking piece of new writing, telling us the way that things were in order to make us contemplate how racism persists in a much-changed world. When Berger’s production reaches a point of optimism for the future, the Roy Orbison track It’s Over is heard playing in the background, prompting us to ask ourselves the question: “is it really?”
Runs until 30 January 2016 | Image: Truan Munro