Paul Minx’s “A Worm in the Heart” traffics in racial stereotypes rather than exposing them, and although the cast tries to make this dreary parade of American Family Drama cliches watchable, nothing can lift it out of its mediocrity.
The plot, set in the ’60s, is a conglomeration of formulas, featuring a white Midwestern family — bratty teenage daughter (Tara Carnes), alcoholic mother (Donna Snow), loutish father (Thomas Roy) and institutionalized son (evoked though unseen). The usual dysfunctional family chitchat ensues: the daughter flirts with Daddy, who calls her “Sweetmeats,” the mother gives ineffectual orders for “refills,” and the father flings around nastiness and money.
They have two black servants: Serge (Rozwill Young), a man filled with the spirit of religion, hired to mow the lawn and coach the daughter for a Bible Quotes contest — thus providing the opportunity to bandy biblical quotations about with remarkable lack of point — and Serge’s girlfriend, Isabel (Yvette Ganier), who’s been hired as a maid and who is smart, fed up and eager to return to Alabama to join the civil rights movement. All they need to depart is their summer’s wages. Not so fast.
Teen, predictably, has the hots for Serge, and that, predictably, spells danger. It’s August 1964, after all, these are Indiana bigots, and this is supposed to be a play about racism. But our worry is for naught: No real danger materializes, and it’s all tidied up in an improbably happy ending.
The casting is as stock as the characters: Young is a big man, with shaved head and a preacher’s voice; Ganier is a firm-striding, exasperated, light-skinned maid; Carnes is tiny and sexy, curling her lip in perfect 15 -year-old fashion. As her mother, Snow has the gauntness of a middle-aged anorexic with an unexplained Southern accent and bruised blue eyes; Roy’s father is as pasty-faced and pear-shaped as the most repulsive paterfamilias one could imagine.
Director William Roudebush never allows them to stray from type, just as the playwright never develops the characters beyond what the audience knows after the first five minutes. The dialogue suffers from such lines as “There’s a current of love strong as the Mississippi River between you.”
Minx had a good year in 1982; his “Home Remedies” was produced Off Broadway, and his one-act, “Prowlers,” won the Dramalogue Award for best play in Los Angeles. “A Worm in the Heart” is not an auspicious comeback.