In From a Long Way Off, Jim Fitzmorris gave the Irish Channel its Willy Stark in Seamus Quincannon, a talented lawyer and politician propelled by a larger-than-life sense of self and mission — a man who is not afraid to get his hands dirty and also carries some heavy baggage. Fitzmorris also directed the premiere for Jefferson Performing Arts Society, and he selected a talented cast top to bottom. As Quincannon, Dane Rhodes was given the greatest burden by far in a story revolving around personal redemption. He was excellent as the ambitious politician, evangelizing community organizer and recovering alcoholic.
The drama takes place on the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The Catholic archdiocese is trying to close a church in the Irish Channel in order to consolidate and raise funds by selling the property to developers. The machinations of the archdiocese are as messy as any city hall backroom dealing, and the conflict involves all sorts of constituencies — for example, if developers build upscale condos in the Irish Channel they will upset a multicultural congregation and displace lower income renters. The situation is explosive, and Quincannon, who owns several homes in the neighborhood, is leading the fight to preserve the church — or the soul of the church as represented by parishioners.
Quincannon also has emerged from nearly three decades in an alcoholic haze, but the story of redemption is more conspicuously framed as a grand second chance after he lost the 1977 New Orleans mayoral race. Though he was positioned to make the runoff and likely win, he came up a handful of votes short in the primary after a drinking binge torpedoed a debate performance. Everyone involved in the church struggle remembers and/or has a relative who participated in the mayoral race. Many are counting on Quincannon to surrender to his demons again.
Fitzmorris crafted a richly complex story that entwines family and political rivalries, the temptations of money and power, and perils of spite and prejudice. Line by line, the work is sharp and perfectly tuned to New Orleans' vernacular, especially as another Quincannon (John Neisler) laments the wretchedness of waiting out post-flood New Orleans' rebuilding in Baton Rouge. The piece is also long, and on a couple of occassions, Rhodes seemed to be caught up less in feisty emotion than pacing the work, but that wasn't out of character with Quincannon's hard-charging, soul-bearing odyssey. — Will Coviello