Southern Freud Chicken

Nov 8 2011 | By More

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Review by Thom Dibidn

Word of Mouth Cafe

There’s more than a touch of whimsy to Joel Houck’s fascinating and engaging little trip through his childhood in America’s South for Liminal Theatre, playing for a limited period at the Word of Mouth cafe off Leith Walk.

Houck’s one-man show comes from what you would call the Deep South. The part of America where slavery was the last to be abolished and where racial segregation in schools still existed into Houk’s early childhood. A rural country previously glimpsed through the writing of Twain or in Abel Meeropol’s Strange Fruit.

This is that country, yet a different one. For an opening scene Houck is James Beauregard – a refined southern gent speaking to the assembled parents and putative attendees to his finishing school for young Southern gentlemen. A school which is to prepare them for life in the uncouth north.

It is a delivery which, although rather too understated to work as well as it might, begins to bring a real sense of the refined upbringing Houck’s forebears of “proud Southern losers” might have had. Refined not because of their work or their station in life, but because of their demeanour and their attitude to propriety.

There is a shared humour here, too. The comedy of love, of misunderstanding and what is true, do not change where ever you are from. “Love is a matter of chemistry,” Beauregard observes. Adding sagely that “there is a lot to learn from the physics as well”.

That understatement does get in the way, however. Houck’s Beauregard never really transcends his position in the unadorned kitchen area of the Word of Mouth cafe. For all that what he has to say is fascinating and intriguing the scene-setting is not adequate. So that when Beauregard asks the “ladies to leave for Mint Jelups on the veranda”, their imagined departure is a strange little hiatus rather than a further insight to his world.

Beauregard’s appearance is only a fifteen minute segment of the slightly under-an-hour production. But you feel there is much more there to reveal.

When Houck returns as himself, however, the whole piece begins to achieve the depth that is missing from the opening scene. At least after a slightly disconcerting start in which he opens a bottle of Coca-Cola and a bag of salt peanuts, slips a handful of the latter into the former, knocks back a slug and proceeds to offer the surprisingly refreshing result around the room.

When he does get started, there’s a comfortable storytelling structure at work. He builds up to the telling, in the broadest of Southern accents, of a nursery story that originated with the slave woman who would have looked after his ancestors as children.

With the recurring promise of the story providing a backdrop, Houck diverts into reminiscences of his own childhood that add depth to what has gone before. There are graphic descriptions of preparing fishing bait and songs he and his brother wrote about the process.

But what really sticks, in amongst Houck’s description of Southern life in the Sixties, is his graphic account of how to catch frogs at night, and how to prepare them for the removal of their legs. The gruesome procedure is told without an ounce of relish, apology or repulsion.

This, you feel, is the epitome of the stoic southern gent: able to talk in detail of an alien world yet keep his audience at ease. Yes, Houck needs more dynamic direction, but his matter-of-fact delivery succeeds in transcending the setting and showing you a world through eyes you never knew existed.

Run continues Thursday 10 – Saturday 12 November

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Word of Mouth Cafe website:


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