Set in Indiana in 1965 during the summer of the civil rights marches in the South, Paul Minx’s Offie-nominated drama takes us to the home of a white middle-class family and their two black domestic workers. Grace and Andre are planning to head South the next day to support the voting rights movement as soon as they have collected their wages but the Price family do not want them to leave.
The drama focuses on Andre, a religious gardener with a secret past, who has become the best friend and a father figure to Ivy Price, the Lolita-like teenage daughter. Andre has prepared her for the Bible-quoting competition over the summer and Ivy expects him to be there when she is winning the top prize. Meanwhile Ivy’s mother Carol Ann is spending her days drinking in her underwear whilst father Jake is busy fighting unions as one of the managers in a meat factory. Grace urges Andre to leave and to join the historical march to help change the world: Alabama or bust! The aspiring writer is tired of being treated as a second-class citizen and her patience with the white people has long run out unlike Andre’s whose main purpose for going to Alabama is to see his institutionalised daughter. Prodded by Grace, Andre politely confronts Jake about the outstanding wages. Jake is not amused.
The writing is witty and at times very funny but the tone of the play is melancholy. Ivy and Carol Ann seem to come straight out of a Tennessee Williams play – fragile and hurt by life. Carol Ann drinks to forget about a family secret whilst her coarse husband is fighting his own demons. Ivy is fantasising about Andre and won’t refrain from any manipulation, even blackmail, to make him stay. The Price family can be seen as a microcosm reflecting the state of mind in the US at that time. Although Indiana is in the Midwest, there is racial segregation as Grace and Andre are forced to drink from a separate tin cup and are treated little better than their brethren in the South. Grace represents the new Black woman, self-confident and proud whilst the good-natured Andre appears to be stuck in the past, doing his best not to upset his employer.
Director Sarah Berger creates a compelling production with an outstanding cast, especially Cornelius McCarthy as the thoughtful Andre and Krissi Bohn as the resilient Grace. Imogen Stubbs resembles a broken flower as the chronically unhappy Carol Ann, Lydea Perkins is sprightly and seductive as Ivy, and Michael Brandon convinces as the patriarchal Jake.
An intriguing production with an impressive cast.
Reviewed by: Carolin Kopplin
The Long Road South is playing at the King’s Head Theatre until 30 January