FRANK BLOCKER IS EVERY MAN AND WOMAN
by William Gooch
published June 19, 2009
Southern Gothic Novel: The Aberdeen Mississippi Sex-Slave Incident
now playing Off Broadway at
Stage Left Studios
through June 24
The South, with its fertile ground of eccentric characters, has long been an ideal location for playwrights to spin their webs of
family dysfunction, racial inequality and dialogue packed with witty diatribes about love, life, death and dreams deferred. Broadway and
Off-Broadway have never been stingy about producing these weeping willow melodramas—Steel
Magnolias, Driving Miss Daisy, and the most recent Horton Foote drama, Dividing the Estate, come immediately to mind—but never have the Great White Way or downtown theatres
experienced such a zany coterie of characters as those conjured up in Frank Blocker’s Southern Gothic Novel:
The Aberdeen Mississippi Sex-Slave Incident.
Set in Aberdeen, Mississippi, a town not known for anything more than sweltering heat, mobile homes and men named Bubba and Earl,
Southern Gothic Novel spins a humorous tale of sexual repression, good ole southern boys’
culture and white slavery. That’s right, white slavery! Go figure. As implausible as this seems, Blocker brilliantly crafts a story that
weaves all these elements into a seamless, hilarious comment on changing lifestyles in the South.
That said, Frank Blocker’s South is not the old South of old Hollywood movies and novels where old men spit tobacco juice and
delicate, perspiring females in gauzy sundresses talk of cotillions and beauty secrets. This is the new South that is made up of more than
an aging white gentry and sullen black folks. There are Chinese restaurants, Mexican hunks, Bubbas on the down low, and the occasional
handsome Denzel Washington–type mystery man. Blocker’s eccentric mixed salad of zanies preen, pontificate, and plot their way to love and
self-validation. And one man, Frank Blocker, portrays all 17 misfits, with nuance and off-kilter brilliance.
The storyline centers on Viola Haygood, a starry-eyed hopeless romantic who dreams of fairy-tale domesticity. Being that she lives
in Aberdeen, where there are few choices for suitable male companionship, Viola vigorously pursues any available Lancelot. Because of a
series of unresolved missing persons, Aberdeen residents are leery about being out at night unaccompanied. On one such night, Viola
encounters a handsome, dark mystery man at Big Otis’ Saloon, and hence begins a rapid succession of twists and turns that would leave
audiences dizzy if it were not for Blocker’s masterful script that illuminates each scene and character without overwhelming.
Told in a narrative style, with nothing but a bare stage and a few props, Southern Gothic Novel demonstrates that Blocker
is an expert at creating detail through mime and suggestion. We can almost see the junebugs lazily crawling up the water tower in the late
evening sun, good ole boys with their twangy vernacular who seem larger than life, and the sassy black patroness of Big Otis’ Saloon is as
comfortable and familiar as a warm winter sweater.
In Southern Gothic Novel, Dixie has changed its tune. Though old times are not forgotten and southern humor is still intact, the characters and situations are
more diverse and culturally relevant. Southern Gothic Novel bears witness that the
lives led in small towns are sometimes more interesting than we big city folks could possibly imagine.
williamgooch @ stageandcinema.com