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picture - Southern Gothic NovelTheater Review

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 @


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