“I don’t drink…I imbibe”
In the midst of the US Civil Rights Movement igniting, Paul Minx’s The Long Road South takes a micro-perspective on this momentous time, looking at the experience of a single family in the baking heat of an Indiana summer. Andre and his partner Grace have spent the summer working for the Price family but now the time to leave, and more importantly to get paid, has come, it’s proving a lot more difficult than anticipated.
Andre has been employed as a gardener and also to tutor the daughter of the family for a Bible-speaking contest but his religious resolve is being tested by the precocious Ivy, whose determination to ‘get her man’ proves to be the spark in a powder keg already full of simmering tensions. Jake Price is having trouble at work, his wife Carol Ann is lost in an alcoholic haze, Andre is desperate to be reunited with his institutionalised daughter Jule and his partner Grace is anxious to join the protests.
Based so firmly in the domestic sphere as captured in Adrian Linford’s garden set, the explosions that come are relatively muted and ultimately offer fairly limited dramatic tension. Rather, the pleasures come from detailed character moments – Carol Ann’s unthinking but still shocking racism in making Andre and Grace drink from different cups to her household, the clenched fists of reformed addict Andre, the raging at the world from the Willy Loman-like Jake.
Minx’s writing could afford to be a little more adventurous, it’s not just Arthur Miller invoked here, there’s a certain debt to Tennessee Williams, and twist a little more unexpectedly. But Sarah Berger’s production is excellently cast – Imogen Stubbs revels in the gin-soaked humour and humanity of Carol Ann, Michael Brandon is full of tension as Jake and Lydea Perkins is striking as the teenager painfully desperate to be more mature than she is. And in a world of shifting racial perception (that could be more usefully shown here) Cornelius Macarthy and Krissi Bohn lend dignity to their misused employees, clinging onto the hope of a future that, well, is at least a little bit brighter…