I honestly thought this play was going to be about a middle-aged woman taking care of a bunch of children. And I guess it kind of is, in a way. Instead, it’s about a turn of the 20th century Southern family squabbling over inheritance, business interests, and their own truly awful natures.
In the movie version, which I have not seen, Bette Davis plays the lead role of the sister who sort of tries to hold it all together. The plot involves the family yelling at each other trying to work through their each individual share of an investment to bring a cotton processing plant down to their neck of the woods in order to reduce shipping costs and increase production. With a clear nod to the Jim Crow and sharecropping South and with a sense of how cheap labor only shifted in its nature from slavery, and how the actual mindsets of the Southern whites involved didn’t necessarily change at all, this is a very prescient play about the nature of prejudice and greed.
The play itself is just fine, but it feels a little empty and dated. One of those plays that existed in competition with the cinema or perhaps written for the two different markets.
Interestingly, this play feels like an inverse to the play I reviewed earlier in the year The Piano Lesson, in which a black family in the North is looking to invest backwards in the land that had once enslaved them. These two plays feels connected in a kind of inverse way. The August Wilson play argued that you cannot correct the past by simply possessing it, and this play argues that you must give up on the past in order to carve out a new way in the world.