Before its literary fashions were first updated, the South was enjoyed by several high-profile writers as a noble character, a pedestal upon which sugar-coated stories of antebellum grandeur and rosy shards of a once-prestigious aristocracy could be laid out for the masses.
“Gone With the Wind” and “Birth of a Nation,” in particular, introduced a brand of Southern history and culture to the entertainment mainstream with such self-aggrandizing bewilderment that most were unsure where fact began and fiction ended. Critics would later argue that similar “Lost Cause” depictions were the work of a battered ego fighting to either save the reputation of the Old South elites or avenge the defeat of its desperate soldiers, the suffering of its war-ravaged civilians, by rectifying the portrayal of their motives and ways of life.
But, as the horrors of early and mid-20th-century racial violence made national news, the country seemed to have heard enough from the South for awhile. What rippled was a justly deserved, although unwritten, new rule: no honest story about the South could be told without the acknowledgment of its wrongs at the forefront.
For the remainder of the 20th century, the increasingly withdrawn South wrestled with itself as a new generation struggled to understand its identity and its relationship with a country once believed to be its oppressive arch nemesis. Young artists scavenged the wreckage for remnants of a fractured culture, much of which had been appropriated, suppressed, revised or fabricated by Southerners and non-Southerners alike for so long that everyone seemed stumped by the truth.
All the questions among the debris of a failed rebellion funded by the heinous institution of slavery made it easy to mishandle the South’s story, effectively making its people even easier to repudiate or evade. For both pop culture and much of the Ivory Tower, the South became fun to poke with long sticks from big, bright cities. By the end, the South had successfully been entangled in a cultural and social paradox, depicted as equal parts evil, tragic, inferior and charming, living on in the national conversation as a place that public opinion either hated to love or loved to hate.
For the Memphis-born, Chicago-based playwright, actor and director Evan Linder, that’s a fence he still finds himself straddling. Like most Millennial Southerners, Linder is much too young to know the truth about the past from personal experience, but too old and informed to believe the falsehoods that guard it.
Instead, he’s made a name for himself as a playwright focused on the people caught in the boundaries of our humanity and understanding, often from a Southern perspective reflecting on evangelism, race, sexuality and gender.
After graduating from the College of Charleston in 2004, Linder left the Holy City to co-found the Chicago theater group, The Company, shortly before premiering his first production, “FRAT,” in 2009. His debut offered a darkly comedic peek into the secretive culture of Southern fraternities and introduced Linder as a writer pushing Southern topics toward the New South movement, a concept aimed at progressing social attitudes and breaking away from the image and ideologies of the Old South to tell the story of the South and its people more accurately.
The direction was well received by critics, ultimately named one of the best plays of 2009 by The Chicago Tribune, New City and the Windy City Times and helping launch Linder’s career to prolific proportions. “11:11,” a comedy recounting the night a group of young Christian camp counselors accidently drugged themselves, followed in 2010. Then there was 2011’s drama “The Warriors,” which illuminated the true lives of survivors from the 1998 middle school shooting in Jonestown, Ark.
That same year, Linder premiered one of his most acclaimed plays to date, “Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche,” a smart and quirky comedy that earned a nod for the “Best Overall Production” at the 2012 NYC International Fringe Festival, critical praise from The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Time out New York and others, as well as a publishing deal with Samuel French to fund more than 30 productions in the U.S., Europe and Australia.
His latest work takes place in the two-bedroom home of a young couple, Jim and Laurel Parker, who are found casually preparing for the birth of their first child in the small, northern Mississippi town of Byhalia. The Parkers are described as “broke ... loud ... and proud white trash,” but when Laurel gives birth to a mixed-race son, the couple must confront Laurel’s infidelity while the racially divided past of Byhalia awakens to the news.
“Byhalia, Mississippi” will hold simultaneous world premieres on Jan. 8, from Chicago to Memphis to Toronto to Charleston, before premiering staged readings in Birmingham, Ala.; Boulder, Colo.; and Los Angeles.
For its Charleston premiere, the Woolfe Street Playhouse, 34 Woolfe St., will host the production from Jan. 8-16, with performances running at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 8-9, 14-16 and 3 p.m. Jan. 10. Tickets are $20 for students with valid ID; $28 for seniors (62 and over); $30 for general admission. Tickets are available at the box office or online at www.WoolfeStreetPlayhouse.com. Go to the venue website or call 856-1579 for more information.
Born and raised in New Orleans, comedian Sean Patton began his career on the hallowed streets made famous by the Big Easy’s most legendary musicians. He moved to New York City to work the grueling and competitive circuit of stand-up in a city that breaks most aspiring acts, before splitting his residence with another tough show business city, Los Angeles.
With Patton’s material revolving around accepting personal imperfections to find what he calls the “beauty of the human flaw” through humor, he has been a featured performer at The Melbourne International Comedy Festival (2011), Just for Laughs Chicago (2013), Just for Laughs Toronto (2013) and Just for Laughs Montreal (2008, 2010, 2012). He also appeared on Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham,” IFC’S “Maron,” Comedy Central’s “Inside Amy Schumer,” “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” and “Conan” ahead of releasing his first Comedy Central half-hour special, “Ball-Busting Pigeon,” in 2013.
Like most great observational comics, Patton writes about his daily life, finding relevancy most often with younger audiences from his troubles accepting his personal appearances and exploring the darker corners of underground cultures. His rhythm accelerates when talking about relationships and navigating risky topics, including race, religion, sexuality and relationships in ways that get uncomfortably close to the line before dredging up the shining message of positivity from the gutter.
Sean Patton will perform at Theater 99, 280 Meeting St. above The Bicycle Shoppe, at 8 p.m. Thursday. Tickets are $12 at the door or online at www.Etix.com. Go to www.Theatre99.com or call 853-6687 for more information.
Filmmakers and screenwriters interested in submitting their work to the Charleston Film Festival have their chance to enter finished or unfinished reels before Aug. 6, or hard copies of a screenplay before July 18. The festival will be Nov. 2-6.
The festival’s selection committee will review films from all genres, regardless of play elsewhere in the U.S. or internationally. Feature films are required to be 50 minutes and over in length, while short films must not exceed 50 minutes in length. All films in a language other than English must be subtitled in English for festival presentation.
The festival will showcase more than 80 of the most promising nonstudio films, from features and shorts to documentaries. Upon acceptance, filmmakers must deliver final format for festival screening.
All genres and lengths for screenplays will be accepted as well, with the winners of a screenwriter contest to be announced during the festival’s closing awards ceremony.
Go to the festival website, www.CharlestonIFF.com for fee information and additional requirement guidelines.