When an audience cheers freely every time a play's protagonist scores a villain. It's fair to conclude that the author has successfully dramatized his thoughts. But when an audience applauds as frankly moral a play as "Deep Are the Roots", it's proper to inquire by what osmosis the seedling human consciousness draws food from this moral ground.
The homecoming of Lieutenant Brett Charles, a colored infantry officer and the most decorated member of his small community in the Deep South, calls forth the souls of each type introduced in the first act, but dynamic conflict of reason with intuition appears in only one person. Alice Langdon, the Senator's oldest daughter whose noblesse oblige gets Brett a college education, hysterically succumbs to her father's feeling of white aristocracy when Nevvy, her younger sister, reveals an honest love for Brett.
She performs against the backdrop, of a well-proportioned cast. Senator Langdon's genial culture is made to evolve into inbred race hate. Cousin Roy Maxwell, sensitive only to political breezes, declaims the rationale of the modern South to Howard Morrick, enlightened Yankee author, and defender of Nevvy's naturalness, which alone succeeds in surviving its environment. Brett's intelligence and experience with unprejudiced white folk in European towns leads to actions which arouse in his mother, Bella, the Langdon housekeeper, a fearful wrath at his flaunting the law that "White is White, and Black is Black".
The co-authors of "Deep Are the Roots" have developed the characters irresistibly from their original stereotypes, subjecting them to the pressure of real actions which avoid the sublimity of the preacher's vocabulary, to a conclusive point, neither too ruddy nor too sombre, where everyone squares himself within the world he is about to face. Whether the force within the play carries over the footlights into the audience is another matter.
It appears that the loudest applause was reserved for the various verbal lashings dealt the Senator, by everyone eventually, even Cousin Roy. Yet it would have been quite consistent with the earlier portrayal of the old Bourbon if he had been led to recant his bigotry. But one failing more irksome on reflection than apparent on sight, is perhaps a symptom of the in growth of prejudice, in this instance to the very actors, or the director. A strained match between Howard and Alice seems to be justification enough for several chilly kisses, while the warm and central love between Nevvy and Brett finds itself in words only, even in proposing marriage.
In a capably acted, road company production, Frances Waller as Nevvy tends to hurry her lines, but offsets this drag on the total effect with one of the few natural Dixie accents. The players, however, only adequately do credit to the authors. Arnaud d'Ousseau and James Gow, whose pictures of common southern attitudes and catchwords are thoroughly authentic, and whose dramatic sense throws a red-hot moral coal into the lap of ordinary northerners. rss