Southern Gentlemen and Other Myths

By Thomas C. Dillehay
Directed by Stephen Huff
Abingdon Theatre
Non-union production (closed)
Review1 by Sheila Mart

Southern Gentlemen and Other Myths is an engrossing drama, set on a farm in middle Tennessee in the 1930s. Its four characters are brought together following the death of the father and owner of the farm. The play opens with Mai, who has an inherent love of the land (due perhaps to her having "worked for her keep" on the farm over the years), preparing a celebratory meal for them: Sy, David, and Clyde, the hired hand, whom she has invited to join them against the snobbish objection of David, who feels he should eat in the barn.

What gradually evolves, while they await the reading of the will, is an expose of the human weaknesses and strengths of all four. Three of them, Sy, Mai and David, appear at first to be brothers and sister, although it is soon revealed that they are not related. Sy is the child of his mother's relationship with a lover before meeting the recently deceased father. Mai was an orphan taken in as a young child and raised by the mother and father. David is the only true blood relative of the father, not the mother; and as he later points out, feels that only he should inherit the farm. It seems that the father was so disgusted with Sy, who is gay, that he went out and had a relationship with a whore - which produced David.

Sy, who was a teacher until his proclivity for young men was discovered, is perhaps the most pathetic of all the characters. Although David tells Clyde about Sy, Clyde defends him, because Sy has been trying to educate Clyde - a lonely, uneducated soul - all his young life. So here you have each character bringing various degrees of emotional baggage to the mix. It turns out that David is the sole beneficiary of the will, and that sparks a resolution that reveals surprises about Mai and David, especially the latter in his confrontation with Sy.

Mr. Dillehay has written a beautifully balanced play, except that the setting up of the opening scene is too long, maybe because it was not sustained by the actors. And the confrontation scene between David and Sy could be tightened.

The acting - from everyone - was of high calibre. Michael Conwill (Sy) was particularly impressive in an emotionally demanding role. Kathleen Hunt (Mai) was extremely credible and moving, although her last scene required more in-depth emotion. Igor Goldin (David)'s performance was commendably solid and affecting. Brian Franklin (Clyde) is an excellent actor for someone so young, and of the whole cast, was the only one who was consistent with his accent - maybe because of his background.

Stephen Huff did a perfect job directing in a strangely configured space.

There were no specific lighting, set design, or costume people credited, but all these aspects of the production were well integrated. The lights were effectively handled by the Abingdon Theatre Company. The set (almost non-existent except for a few chairs and two tables) was ably organized by stage manager Susan Hannigan. As for the costumes, the actors took care of these admirably.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 Sheila Mart