Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road, written by and starring Keith Stevenson as the loveable redneck JD, has delighted audiences for years at LA’s Pacific Resident Theatre on Venice Boulevard, and now it is here in London. JD lives in a motel room on Fried Meat Ridge Road, an actual place not far from Stevenson’ hometown in West Virginia, and consumes cocktails of Mountain Dew and vodka and eats tuna fish sandwiches. He generously opens his home to the down and out, sweaty-palmed, recently dumped Mitchell (Robert Moloney). In fact, he helps just about anyone that breezes through his door, whether they deserve it or not, and sees only the best in them. What follows is an insight into the complex and kind mind of a man who might otherwise be written off as a simpleton, and the lives of those around him. Complete with a meth addict artist, an adulterous poet from New Jersey and a mildly perverted and racist old man, Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road is a small affair, but undoubtedly funny in a nuanced way.
As a writer, Stevenson has managed something remarkable in the creation of JD. He has somehow created an all-round do-gooder who is impossible to dislike. So wholesome and so simply nice is he, that we can’t berate him for being so diplomatic and so consistently driven by his morals that no-one else seems to adhere to. His habit of seeing the best in people, even his nasty cheating neighbour Tommy, would be frankly annoying in anyone else. However, JD’s optimism is so pure that you want him to be right about his peers. Maybe it’s largely down to the warm and friendly Southern accent, or maybe it’s Stevenson’s ability to give JD a child-like innocence through his writing and acting.
In a small theatre and perfectly crafted set by Simon Scullion, there isn’t much room for mistakes. There isn’t much room at all, and so being as close to the action as you are makes you acutely aware of any mishaps or slips in accents, but that’s okay. This play is a little rough around the edges and that is part of it’s charm.
While all the cast are strong in their roles, special mention must go to Melanie Gray who is simultaneously vulnerable and feisty as the crack-smoking yet tender-hearted Marlene, and Michael Wade is sturdy and outrageously funny as Flip, JD’s father figure and owner of the building. What’s evident in Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road is the fondness which Stevenson feels for these small towns, and the folks that come with them. JD once lived in Italy and ‘speaks a little latin’ and Marlene paints beautiful pictures. Tommy writes poetry, albeit explicit in places, and enjoys reading texts from the English Decadence movement. These characters are given depth and surprising attributes that cause us to reconsider our stereotypes of these small town people living simple lives. In the wake of Brexit and Trump, we could all take a leaf from JD’s book and show a little more humanity and compassion, even to those we might perceive as worlds away from us.
Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Road is playing at the White Bear Theatre until February 4.
Photo: Gavin Watson