by CARYL BUTTERLEY, director of THE SUGAR BEAN SISTERS
Rooted in the folklore of the peoples who populated the South, in particular the dark folktales of Ireland and the spirit world traditions of Africa, “Southern Gothic”, as a literary genre, came into its own in the 1920s and 30s with the works of William Faulkner and his characters that “cry the tears of a misbegotten people struggling to make sense of a world that has moved on without them”. It grew in stature with the addition of such writers as Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy and Carson McCullers.
Of the defining features of southern gothic, one of the most striking is the sheer volume of women at the center of the stories. Some strong and resilient, some broken in body or spirit, but all given their place as the central character with the story told through their eyes.
Other hallmarks of the genre include characters who are long since deceased but still controlling the living, often times even manifesting as an actual spirit or ghost… Imprisonment, either literal or figurative, with characters that live in Fate’s prison without hope of parole… Off-kilter characters, many of whom are “not right in the head”… Violent and shocking deaths… And an overall world view where the magical and fantastical are accepted as part of everyday existence.
And then there is the sense of place…
It wouldn’t be southern gothic if you didn’t feel like you’d been “thrust into the center of a dusty, peach-scented, lonely town where porch-bound widows rock gently on creaky rockers, rusty pick-up trucks drive by filled with grimy farmhands, and flies and mosquitoes circle glasses of cool lemonade”.
THE SUGAR BEAN SISTERS takes southern gothic away from the literary and bookish and brings it full circle to its origins in oral history. The wit and humor of the skilled storyteller is reintroduced with “a bold and outwardly callous juxtaposition of the tragic with the humorous, the immense with the trivial, and the sacred with the bawdy”.
So come hear our tale. And remember…
“Sometimes you can’t tell an angel from a devil. Sometimes they’re one and the same. And if you don’t know which move to make… stay real still.” — The Reptile Woman
Carson McCullers’s essay, “The Russian Realists and Southern Literature” 1941
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