Frank Blocker
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Frank Blocker

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By ANITA GATES
Published: January 27, 2009

Viola Haygood falls in love easily. A 23-year-old virgin with romantic fantasies, Viola flips over Mark Julius, a tall, dark and handsome new man in town who offers his handkerchief when she injures her elbow. Then he disappears. While she’s mooning over Mark, the other people in town are focused on some recent local kidnappings.

And not all these people are who they seem. They are all played, however, to a down-home fare-thee-well by Frank Blocker in “Southern Gothic Novel: The Aberdeen, Mississippi Sex-Slave Incident,” which he also wrote.
The solo show certainly isn’t a novelty anymore. A single performer playing a dozen different characters, switching accents and body language and, practically, souls? Ho-hum. Seen a hundred of ’em.

But Mr. Blocker, who was so adorable as a white-haired Southern granny and a bosomy beauty pageant coach almost nine years ago in “Eula Mae’s Beauty, Bait and Tackle” (which he wrote with Chuck Richards), is a standout. His 17 characters (one is the narrator; another is a June bug) include Viola; the newcomer bar owner Odessa (Big Otis) Cole; the dimwitted Jimmy Townsend, who loves Viola and even gave her the television set he won at a chili cook-off; and Mrs. Wong, the owner of what must be Aberdeen’s only Chinese restaurant. Every one of them has a flawlessly executed accent, mostly deep Southern. You did know that the word throw doesn’t have an “r” in it, right? The colloquial offerings include Judge Percy’s comment that he feels like a prostitute “standing in line on Judgment Day.”

Apparently Mr. Blocker can act in any physical position. At one point during “Southern Gothic Novel” he delivers his lines lying on his side on the floor without even raising his head. And he does it without props or costumes; all he needs is his voice. In the minuscule Stage Left Studio Theater his performance feels like that of a party guest who suddenly had a manic Robin Williams attack and knocked everybody’s socks off.
- The New York Times


January 21, 2009
Reviewed by Mark Peikert

In the grand tradition of Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard's Tuna trilogy comes Frank Blocker's Southern Gothic Novel: The Aberdeen, Mississippi Sex-Slave Incident. Featuring 17 characters -- all portrayed by Blocker with nothing more than a tilt in body language and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of Southern voices -- Southern Gothic Novel's conceit is that a narrator is reading aloud a novel about how hopeless romantic Viola Haygood survived a ring of white slavers to find true love in Aberdeen, Miss.

At just 60 minutes, Blocker manages not to overtax his audience's patience and keeps the proceedings going at a lively clip. Blocker's obvious love for the world he's created ensures that we'll like the citizens of Aberdeen as much as he obviously does. Standouts include the needy Viola, always in the throes of a new crush; the proprietress of the local dive bar, Big Otis; and Viola's mother, Donna Hazzler. Donna in particular is the kind of steel magnolia so adored by Southern writers, a woman who faces the grimmest realities of life with a smile and an iron will to survive them.

But always it's Blocker's delight in performing that keeps the audience enthralled, whether he's Donna navigating the warped world she finds herself bemused and frustrated by or chain-smoking local gossip Fran Bedwell. What a delight to watch even villainous characters imbued with so much life and charm.
- Backstage Magazine


Southern Gothic Novel is quirky and fun; the two things that make it so are the script and the performance, both aptly done by Frank Blocker. The narrative is written in the southern gothic style, basically Americana below the Mason-Dixon line (think Tennessee Williams and Harper Lee). Blocker's story includes vivid description and background, which is great because one of the characters he plays is the narrator, who, in Blocker's own voice, sets the scene in between dialogue. In terms of the writing, it's a novella he is performing, not typical theatre scenes. He could just as easily sit in a chair and read straight from the book. Except in Southern Gothic Novel Blocker is not sitting and he's certainly not reading, rather he is becoming these characters and performing the tale.

The mere nature of going in and out of 17 characters could be daunting, but luckily Blocker has fine-tune the voices and movement; he glides through the performance with ease, making use of every bit of playing space in the tiny Stage Left Studio Theatre. He has done the show a number of times: at the NY Fringe Festival and Midtown Theatre Festival as well in Columbus, Baltimore and Atlanta. Although I'm not sure how much material has changed since the last incarnation, Blocker appears incredibly comfortable with it all, which is great because the audience then feels totally at ease. I was able to sit back, relax and take in the story, which by the way is written beautifully. It's almost poetic at times. I was impressed with Blocker's descriptions and details that filled out the scenes in my mind.

Without giving too much away, plot-wise, I will tell you that Southern Gothic Novel is a campy mystery that takes place in a small southern town in the present time. The press notes give the following description: "The whole thing started when Viola Haygood, the Assistant Librarian of the Charles B. Evans Memorial Library, fell in love for the umpteenth time. This one was new in town. He was tall. He was dark. He was handsome. And he smelled really good."

This show is most definitely a good time, and I can recommend it for those who enjoy the one-person performance genre. If you're not comfortable with the theatrically artsy (read: you like Broadway musicals but don't usually venture outside Times Square), this will be a huge step in the downtown direction. But if you're curious, don't let me dissuade you. Southern Gothic Novel has been performed multiple times and received a lot of great press. It's an amusing hour of escapism.
- TheatreIsEasy.com


Review By: Carey Purcell
CareyPurcell@TheCinemaSource.com

I am in awe of Frank Blocker.

Performing the one-man show Southern Gothic Novel at the Stage Left Studio Theater, and playing seventeen different characters, Blocker is giving one of the most entertaining performances in city right now.

Written and performed by Blocker, the hour-long show tells the tale of the town of Aberdeen, Mississippi, where the recent disappearances of young women have the community concerned for their safety. One of these young women, is Viola, a dim-witted hopeless romantic currently smitten with a tall, dark and handsome stranger who is kind enough to give her his handkerchief when she injures her elbow while following him one night. There is also Viola’s mother, Donna, the local idiot Jimmy, who is in love with Viola, Mrs. Wong, who runs the only Chinese restaurant in town, and Odessa “Big Otis” Cole, the owner of the local saloon.

Blocker plays every one of these characters, and what’s more, he plays them well. Each one possesses a distinct voice and accent as well as mannerisms. Even when only speaking a line or two, each character feels like a full-fledged character, complete with a past.

This background is enhanced in part because program is accompanied by a cast list in the order of appearance, but this list is hardly necessary after the show begins. Blocker is such an entertaining performer that it is difficult to stop watching him to read the description of the character he is playing at that moment.

Physical boundaries do not seem to exist for, or inhibit, Blocker in any way. He can act from any position he is in, including lying face-down on the stage without lifting his head from the floor. Even when playing a junebug (an actual insect, not a metaphor), he is believable, buzzing and hissing across the stage. You almost expect him to become airborne.

The story itself is entertaining, complete with a twist or two at the end, as well as a sweet love story. But the real star here is Blocker, of whom New York would be lucky to see more of. In the age of overblown productions, where sets and costumes and extended musical numbers struggle to provide the entertainment that weak scripts and jukebox musicals cannot, this single hour of actual entertainment is refreshing and – dare I say it? – inspiring as well. - TheCinemaSource.com


By Sam Oglesby, For The Bulletin
Friday, January 30, 2009
Imagine all the Southern heroines and villains you have ever seen on screen or experienced leaping out from the pages of Gone with the Wind, the novels of Faulkner and Tennessee Williams and throw in, for good measure, Mrs. Wong, the owner of Wong’s Chinese Restaurant.

Frank Blocker brings these figures to life before your very eyes as he plays 17 different characters in 60 minutes in a delightfully convoluted one-person play titled Southern Gothic Novel.

Divided into 13 different “chapters” the play keeps the audience in a tiny, 30-seat pocket of a theater straining in their seats as our tragedienne-villain-hero-heroine-redneck rascal star of many faces and bodies takes us through a sizzling tale of intrigue and longing that rocks the southern town of Aberdeen, Miss. to its very roots — or should we say, to its mobile home foundations.

Viola Haygood is the classic Southern maiden — a librarian, of course — the type immortalized by Geraldine Page in Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke and other Dixieland dramas where lives are lived on wisps of memory and fantasy. Her steel magnolia persona heaves and sighs through whispered confidences to the audience as she rolls her eyes and flaps her hands while describing being in love for the umpteenth time. Her dramatic foils are many, from the fleshy carnosity of saloon owner Odessa “Big Otis” Cole, a commanding African-American lady in the Hattie McDaniel mold (“Well, I’m big and I’m black, but I don’t bite!”) to the Bubba-esque dimwit Jimmy Townsend.

And then there is the quintessential Southern mother Donna Hazzler, driven half mad by a daughter she loves but can’t quite understand.

“If Jimmy Townsend comes sniffin’ by here again today, you tell him the wash isn’t done because he still owes me detergent — and while you’re at it, why don’t you see if he’ll marry you?,” she asks her daughter.

Pushing the boundaries of the believable, Mr. Blocker’s most ambitious impersonation is that of Mrs. Wong, the outspoken doyenne of Aberdeen’s best — and only — Chinese restaurant. A high point of dramatic intensity is reached when Mrs. Wong’s delivery van hits Viola, leaving her flat on the street, but uninjured.

The role transfers and dialogue exchanges are fast and furious as Mr. Blocker switches instantaneously and convincingly from Mrs. Wong — “I sorry. I not know I hit her” — to Viola — Oh God! My books! My skirt!” — to Mark Julius — “If you don’t mind my being too forward…”

Mark is the knight on the white horse who “rescues” Viola and steals her heart in the process. Her fit over his pro-offered hankerchief is in itself reason enough to take in this play.

The plot careens to a climax when a white slavery ring is exposed. By midpoint, on the tiny stage behind which a backdrop of real Manhattan skyscrapers incongruously looms, we are less concerned with the plot than with the mesmerizing changes of character and display of southern accents that Mr. Blocker provides. Throughout the performance, he is attired in a loose-fitting Hawaiian shirt and khaki trousers. There are no role-changing embellishments such as wigs, costumes or make-up; nor could there be with the lickety-split character transitions required by the story. And he doesn’t need any help. Mr. Blocker believes so utterly in the roles he plays that he becomes these personages.

Southern Gothic Novel is an off-off Broadway production; the nature of the play and type of theater are about as far from mainstream Broadway as you can get. Let tourists and daytrippers from New Jersey go to The Lion King and Mamma Mia. In-the-know New Yorkers seek out hidden gems like Gothic in the miniscule spaces that cluster around the far reaches of Hell’s Kitchen near the Hudson River, where icy winter winds make an evening’s outing seem like a trip to the North Pole. Bone-chilling cold not withstanding, it is well worth the journey. An added bonus is eating out in this neighborhood, where inexpensive, authentic foods of every imaginable type are to be found on Eighth, Ninth and 10th avenues, tucked between old Italian butcher shops and bakeries that, in most New York City neighborhoods, disappeared long ago.

That Mr. Blocker, a white man who appears to be in his 40s, can slip into and out of these 17 roles in a effortless and totally convincing series of transformations is testimony not only to the skills of Mr. Blocker as an actor, but also to the professionalism of Cheryl King, artistic and managing director of Stage Left Studio, the only solo-show repertory theatre in New York City. She is also the creator of the Left Out Festival, a festival of performance art that first showcased Southern Gothic in 2008 in a single soldout performance at Stage Left Studio, bringing it from an online Web serial to the stage. Ms. King has nurtured the show ever since with the idea of an extended run. With spirited audience response, this goal has now been realized; the show is now scheduled to run through March 2009.

Unique and utterly brilliant, Southern Gothic Novel is a must-see for anyone interested in innovative, beyond-the-fringe theater.
- The Philadelphia Bulletin


Theater Review
by William Gooch
published June 19, 2009

Southern Gothic Novel: The Aberdeen Mississippi Sex-Slave Incident

The South, with its fertile ground of eccentric characters, has long been an ideal location for playwrights to spin their webs of family dysfunction, racial inequality and dialogue packed with witty diatribes about love, life, death and dreams deferred. Broadway and Off-Broadway have never been stingy about producing these weeping willow melodramas—Steel Magnolias, Driving Miss Daisy, and the most recent Horton Foote drama, Dividing the Estate, come immediately to mind—but never have the Great White Way or downtown theatres experienced such a zany coterie of characters as those conjured up in Frank Blocker’s Southern Gothic Novel: The Aberdeen Mississippi Sex-Slave Incident.

Set in Aberdeen, Mississippi, a town not known for anything more than sweltering heat, mobile homes and men named Bubba and Earl, Southern Gothic Novel spins a humorous tale of sexual repression, good ole southern boys’ culture and white slavery. That’s right, white slavery! Go figure. As implausible as this seems, Blocker brilliantly crafts a story that weaves all these elements into a seamless, hilarious comment on changing lifestyles in the South.

That said, Frank Blocker’s South is not the old South of old Hollywood movies and novels where old men spit tobacco juice and delicate, perspiring females in gauzy sundresses talk of cotillions and beauty secrets. This is the new South that is made up of more than an aging white gentry and sullen black folks. There are Chinese restaurants, Mexican hunks, Bubbas on the down low, and the occasional handsome Denzel Washington–type mystery man. Blocker’s eccentric mixed salad of zanies preen, pontificate, and plot their way to love and self-validation. And one man, Frank Blocker, portrays all 17 misfits, with nuance and off-kilter brilliance.

The storyline centers on Viola Haygood, a starry-eyed hopeless romantic who dreams of fairy-tale domesticity. Being that she lives in Aberdeen, where there are few choices for suitable male companionship, Viola vigorously pursues any available Lancelot. Because of a series of unresolved missing persons, Aberdeen residents are leery about being out at night unaccompanied. On one such night, Viola encounters a handsome, dark mystery man at Big Otis’ Saloon, and hence begins a rapid succession of twists and turns that would leave audiences dizzy if it were not for Blocker’s masterful script that illuminates each scene and character without overwhelming.

Told in a narrative style, with nothing but a bare stage and a few props, Southern Gothic Novel demonstrates that Blocker is an expert at creating detail through mime and suggestion. We can almost see the junebugs lazily crawling up the water tower in the late evening sun, good ole boys with their twangy vernacular who seem larger than life, and the sassy black patroness of Big Otis’ Saloon is as comfortable and familiar as a warm winter sweater.

In Southern Gothic Novel, Dixie has changed its tune. Though old times are not forgotten and southern humor is still intact, the characters and situations are more diverse and culturally relevant. Southern Gothic Novel bears witness that the lives led in small towns are sometimes more interesting than we big city folks could possibly imagine.

williamgooch@stageandcinema.com - StageAndCinema.com


By Paul Cozby, About.com
If the writers of The Dukes of Hazzard adapted one of William Faulkner’s works, it would have to look a lot like Southern Gothic Novel: The Aberdeen Mississippi Sex-Slave Incident. This off-off-Broadway production is a funny, knowing, affectionate send up of all things South.
What ‘Southern Gothic Novel’ is About
Recounting the plot of Southern Gothic Novel only tells half of what this comedy is about because the show is inseparable from Frank Blocker, who wrote it and plays all 17 characters. It’s as much “about” Blocker’s spot-on take on the mores, manners, and peculiar madness of Southerners. (I should know, being one myself.)
Southern Gothic Novel is a Greater Tuna-like week in the life of a small southern town. Young Viola Haygood, illegitimate daughter of Donna Hazzler, yearns for a man right out of a romance novel to sweep her off her feet and take her away from the Natchez Trace Mobile Home Park. Is the new stranger in town that man? Or is he the one responsible for the recent spate of missing young women?
What You’ll Like About ‘Southern Gothic Novel’
Frank Blocker has the ability, with the tilt of his head or the protruding of his belly or the narrowing of his eyes, to morph from a Southern-wanna-belle to a dumber-than-dirt red neck to a seen-most-of-it country judge. And those are just three of the 17 citizens of Aberdeen, Mississippi, he introduces us to.
Southern Gothic Novel, as the name implies, is the retelling, chapter by chapter, of a book called The Reign of Aberdeen, complete with pot-boiling plot twists, wind-blown june bug metaphors, cliff-hangers, bad men, good ladies, local gossips, and more.
Well-Paced, Well Worth Seeing
Blocker brings all of these characters to life and puts all of these plot twists in motion under the direction of Cheryl King, who also produced this show. It’s well-paced, well-staged, well-acted, and well-worth the price of admission.
Stage Left Studios is a small house and a great setting for Southern Gothic. You get a black backdrop, a black wooden box, a few lights, a little sound, and Frank Blocker. You don’t need much else.
Blocker moves on and off the stage taking us down Commerce Street in Aberdeen, to the Natchez Trace just outside, and into the wilds of the Tombigbee River bottom where not much good ever goes on.
This is a funny show with a surprising amount of heart. There’s enough there for an expanded, full-cast production that would have audiences guffawing, if Blocker ever had a mind to take it in that direction.
- About.com


Discography

Producer
Director
Playwright
Actor
Teacher
Born and raised in the Southwest, undergraduate years in Oklahoma, professional life in Atlanta and New York City.

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Bio

A playwright and actor, Frank Blocker’s plays include Eula Mae's Beauty, Bait & Tackle (off-Broadway), award-winning solo play Southern Gothic Novel (2009 Drama Desk Award nomination for Solo Performance, NY Fringe Festival, Midtown International Theatre Festival, Baltimore’s Sky Room, Columbus, Atlanta), Patient Number (Inner Voices Social Issues One-Act Play Winner/University of Illinois, also finalist in the Tennessee Williams One-Act Play Festival), Suite Atlanta (Fn Productions/78th Street Studio Theatre) Kiss and Fade (Short Attention Span Play Festival, Boston), The Wisconsinners (Dubuque Fine Arts Center), Air Marshals, Chameleüns (co-authored with Rochelle Burdine) and Alice w/ composer William Wade (The York Theatre Development Series, Emerging Artists Theatre’s Notes From a Page, MITF). His one-minute play 2≅1 was recently presented by Brooklyn College for their GI60 project. Frank also edited sci-fi novel The Slaves of Votarus by Murray Scott Changar, Stage THIS! Ten-Minute Plays (co-edited w/ Jan Herndon), Stage This, TOO! More Ten-Minute Plays (co-edited w/ Sydney Stone and M. S. Changar), and Stage THIS! Volume 3. He manages the website PlaywritingOpportunities.com (more than 5,000 visitors each month), is a member of The Dramatists Guild of America and a member of Actors’ Equity Association. Directing and choreography credits include So Long On Lonely Street, Graceland, Joseph/Dreamcoat and Lunacy. www.frankblocker.com