Whenever reviewers can’t readily categorise a new play they reach for a mixture of comparisons – so The Long Road South could be ‘half Far From Heaven, half Death of a Salesman’ in that it’s about a proud man who loses the job by which he defines himself, and a quietly dignified black gardener sexualized by a white woman. It’s a lazy trick we all employ, but here I think it pays tribute to the wide range of literary and historical sources which colour Paul Minx‘s careful, considered writing.
He also draws from life: Minx – whose ‘day job’ is as an executive coaching specialist at Morgan Stanley and about which I hope he one day writes a play – was influenced by a handyman who worked for his family in Indiana, and who wanted to go South to be part of the civil rights movement but lacked the courage to abandon his job and home to do so.
It’s about 1965, in the anxious period between the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King, and so in the absence of a midnight choo-choo the Price family’s gardener and his girlfriend who is their maid plan to drive to Alabam’ to claim his daughter from a children’s home, join the movement and start a new and independent life. Almost in real time, because this all happens over the course of a grill-out-on-the-patio dinner, each family member contrives to delay their departure.
First, and most thoroughly nasty in a horrendously accurate performance by Lydea Perkins, the pubescent daughter Ivy tries to manipulate André into staying by flirting and when that fails, by blackmailing him that she’ll tell her forceful father he seduced her. As her mother, the wonderful Imogen Stubbs is a classic fallen-apart Midwestern housewife for whom the bottle has become her crutch, and clearly robbed her of any taste or discernment since she slobs about on the edge of sanity in a lime green negligee, weepily demanding André’s prayers and protection. Late to the party comes Michael Brandon as Jake Price, a first-rate study in fine-tuned mid-life anger, and a meat-packing Lear in the machinating hands of his daughter.
Watching all of this, with a mounting sense of fury is the ticking time-bomb of Krissi Bohn, superb and stealthy as the maid Grace. Grace has writing aspirations and her notebook is clearly just one vengeful chocolate pie recipe away from Minny Jackson in The Help. If you root for anyone in this play, it’s her.
As both the plot pivot and the main protagonist, Cornelius Macarthy measures his complex characterization of André with steady confidence, releasing the different facets so slowly and surprisingly as to make the events entirely credible. It’s not often you want a 90-minute play to be longer, but the dramatic tensions might be better stretched across two acts and an interval.
Maybe not much happens, but it’s a riveting slice of life from someone who was there at the time. Well worth seeing.
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