nytheatre.com review by Rachel Grundy
July 24, 2009
A 90-minute (or thereabouts) one-man show is hard to pull off. Luckily, in Southern Man, the writers, director, and performer manage to do just that, delivering an engaging and enjoyable show that has a wonderful mixture of comedy, poignancy, and drama.
Southern Man is based on the real-life experiences of a World War II POW, who enlists in 1939 after realizing that he was never going to make it as a farmer in North Carolina. Sent to the African desert, he is captured by Rommel's troops and endures a harrowing two years as a POW in various camps in Germany. The writers (Stuart Katz, Jeff Pierce, and Colleen Pierce) obviously have a huge affection for the real-life character and the script, although needing a little more polish, has great heart.
Jeff Pierce, as Jackson Taylor, displays typical Southern charm, warmth, and humor, drawing you into the character's story from the very start. Pierce also plays the 17-odd other characters in the piece, often having conversations with himself as all the different POWs in the camp and displaying an impressive range of dialects and accents. As a Brit, I was impressed that his English (and Scottish) accents are spot-on. He also gives each character a unique physicality, very hard to do when jumping between characters in the space of a line or two, but something he has great success at. He has some tough transitions at times, playing a character reduced to tears through loss or devastation and then switching back to the main character and continuing the story in Jackson Taylor's unhurried, friendly manner. It is a great testament to his skill as an actor and director Colleen Pierce's strong choices for each of the characters that it was so easy for the audience to follow him.
The scenery is appropriately simple, with a few wooden crates, black boxes, and a white sheet on the back wall that has projections of photographs on it, depicting his different locations during the five or six years of the story. At first, I wasn't sure if this would just distract me, but I found that it was very helpful to set the scene. Sometimes, I thought that Pierce's monologue didn't need as much description of each location, as it became redundant with the picture behind, but again this is something that further development of the show will tighten and improve. The director maximizes the small stage with her blocking and Pierce uses the whole space when moving from place to place within the story. He creates many laugh-out-loud moments with his comical characters, while also bringing us close to tears in more poignant moments, and never letting the audience's attention wander. As I stated at the start of this review, it's pretty hard to pull off a one-man show of this length. Kudos to the creators of this piece for doing so.