Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Long Road South; This Will End Badly

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Long Road South; This Will End Badly

Article excerpt

Paul Minx ventures boldly into Tennessee Williams country with The Long Road South . It's 1965 and the Price family are idling about at home in Indiana. In mid-August the air is heavy with frustrated sexuality. Carol Ann Price (Imogen Stubbs) is a kindly, buxom waster slithering decorously into alcoholic dereliction. Her daughter, Ivy, is a perky little menace who cavorts about the lawn in a skimpy bikini trying to elicit male attention. Jake, the patriarch, is a charmless redneck with anger problems and a secret backlog of unpaid debt. Waiting on these white-trash parasites are two black servants, Andre and Grace, who are smart, industrious, even-tempered and limitlessly patient. Andre is a gifted theologian who pines after his severely disabled daughter. Grace is an ambitious author from New York who scribbles away at her latest novel while doubling as the Prices' maidservant.

Even more remarkable is the distribution of ethnic prejudice in this household. The Prices are affected by the full spectrum of racial intolerance but Grace and Andre address not a single word of anti-white hostility towards their crass employers. Is this unbelievable? Andre even convinces himself that the Prices regard him as a family member even though he's required to drink water from a separate cup. When he asks Jake for his wages, the money is thrown at him in small coins, which bounce off his proud and unbending torso and fall to earth around his noble feet. The author seems to be treating his characters differently according to the colour of their skin. Dramatically, the plan misfires because the vividly flawed Prices are much easier to like than the high-minded Andre or the pompous Grace.

The taste for this sort of retro-drama in which antique bigotries are presented for the titillation of modern audiences began with the TV soap Mad Men . Every male character was a chain-smoking bottom-pincher with blatantly sexist and anti-Semitic views. The unexamined premise was that the prejudices of the 1960s were extinct and therefore safe to be publicly aired. And yet the desire to incarnate and inspect them afresh suggests that they retained some of their allure. The get-out clause is that the viewer today watches with a detached and sophisticated eye. But I wonder. There's a difference between being prejudiced and being a connoisseur, or archivist, of prejudice but it's an uncomfortable line to draw.

This Will End Badly starts badly. A lone urban male tethered to the loo in his one-bedroom flat bemoans the disappearance of his girlfriend. …

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