Alabama, Ashley Driver, Edinburgh Fringe, Hippana Theatre, Kieran Fay, Olivier Leclair, Paul Harris, Paul Harris and Olivier Leclair's Alabama God Damn, Pleasance Dome, Sarah Connolly, The Deep South, Theatre Review
“I only gone done got myself seen Hippana Theatre’s ‘Alabama God Damn’ at the Pleasance Dome, and it’s as frisky as a jumping jack frog, yes sir indeed.”
Drawling Southern redneck quaintness is probably impersonated more than anything else by people in the UK. For us, it is one of the easiest accents to mimic. You might think that mocking some of the dirt-poorest people in the Western world would be a firm no-no, but the practice shows no sign of ever growing socially unacceptable. The normally blinding lights of political correctness are always dimmed whenever the redneck strides into the room. In a turning of history’s tables, this figure has now taken a place that would have been once filled by the blackface minstrel.
“Alabama God Damn” is written by Paul Harris and Olivier Leclair, who have cited the podcast S-Town as a chief influence. None of the writers and performers are Southerners and the merry aesthetic of their production comes to remind me of the ersatz-Americana Britpop band Alabama 3. Frank Crawford (Ashley Driver) is travelling back to his Alabama hometown to investigate the rather suspicious suicide of his friend Virgil (Leclair). He also has some unfinished business with an old flame called Dixie (Sarah Connolly). He tours the town like the angel who went down to inspect Sodom, looking repeatedly guilty and startled as his snowflake finesse comes up against the bluff, self-assurance of the townspeople. But he only gets ever more implicated in the town’s politics. You can take a man out of the South but…
Out of a talented and energetic cast, Leclair’s shoulders appear to bear the greatest weight. He has more redneck caricatures up his sleeves than there are stars in the pure country night sky. The play is complemented by interludes of sharp music, kicking off with a version of Tom Waits’ “Chocolate Jesus.” There is a nicely suspenseful quality to Frank’s adventure, since he does not make any headway for a long time and the minutes seem to be running out as he scrapes about the town. I was less sure of the story’s racial aspect, which is probably inauthentic and certainly lets a complicatedly riven society off the hook. Would Frank, a brown-skinned man, interact so freely with this town’s white hegemony? It could be that he originally went to the big city white and, corrupted by its communist ways, came back a more subversive hue.
We, a Fringe audience, have a lot of city in us as well. I will never be reconciled with how we are made to feel laughingly superior to these poor folks. I comfort myself with a remark that I once heard the feminist Camille Paglia make: that (to paraphrase her) those uneducated guys from the South who have learnt the Bible by heart know greatly more about cultural history than Harvard arts graduates who are versed in Foucault. There is nevertheless a colloquial flamboyancy within this play’s dialogue that means that the Southerners are never quite squashed by the satire. We also know that we can never be as true-hearted as them and this makes us uneasy.