IF I HAD MY WAY
The illogical logic of relationships and the threats of bigotry in wartime in a small citrus town in 1940s Florida.
Florida, 1945. A young woman, Margaret Perry, educated in the North, reluctantly returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing mother. Finding herself in the same ranch kitchen where her mother and grandmother toiled all their lives, she resents every aspect of her situation, rejecting friendship and suitors, until her abrasive and bitter attitude is broken by a person she considered invisible: the Italian POW, Piero Alloca, brought to the ranch as replacement help.
A combined cattle operation and citrus grove in an unnamed Central Florida town (based on Kissimmee), the ranch is owned by Nathaniel and Alicia Jamison. At the time, Central Florida is the country's great seat of citrus and cattle ranching, long before the Texas longhorn exodus and theme parks took over the local tourism industry. America is still in the grips of the War, not knowing Germany will surrender within months. Most able-bodied men have been called up for duty, and help is hard to find on the ranch. The Kissimmee airport was built by Italian prisoners of war as a camp, and the residents, captured in Africa and sent to Florida, are consigned to local ranches to do picking duties in the orchards.
Eventually breaking down her resistance, Piero uses lessons learned in his own mother's kitchen to remind Margaret of the beauty of food, and teaches her to value things within her grasp. Meanwhile, the owner's son, Ty, involves himself in the uglier side of Florida life, full of hatred and the raging and violent influence of the then rampant Klan.
And then the citrus groves bloom, and during one magical, perfume-filled night, every relationship in the house changes.
Based on local history and influenced by the Blues (including, in it’s ideal form, a blues singer/performer onstage), If I Had My Way looks at relationships formed by the rational and irrational tides of war, the deep-seated racial tension of the Old South, the loneliness of young souls isolated by culture and time, and hope following darkness like a dream amid the scent of orange blossoms.
MARGARET PERRY — a Black woman in her 30s. Originally from Florida, she headed north as soon as she could, getting an education and a new life in Atlanta and New York. Her mother has worked in the ranch kitchen all her life, and upon the news that she was gravely ill, Margaret returns to take care of her and finds herself working in the same kitchen from which she thought she’d escaped.
BERNICE “BENNIE” BELL — a young mixed race woman, 22-25, working in the kitchen. She has no plans for her future, except to enjoy life, take no crap, and somehow escape her abusive father.
PIERO ALLOCA — an Italian prisoner of war, being held at the POW camp that today is an airport in Kissimmee FL. A "model prisoner", he is trusted enough to be assigned to cleaning duties inside the house. He wears blue denim pants and jacket, the letters PW on his back.
NATHANIEL JAMISON — ranch owner. A surprisingly enlightened man, he treats his ranch hands with respect, often out in the fields himself. He loves his cattle, not-so secretly hates the groves. He is short and compact.
MRS. ALICIA JAMISON — nee MacCorrie. It is her family that has owned the ranch for generations. She is an impressive, flighty woman, never quite lighting in one place for long, but very self-assured.
TY JAMISON — Their son. Wild, uncontrollable, 25, spoiled. A victim of the 1925 polio epidemic, he is weak on one side and limps badly. Being seduced into a Klan-like group by his friends. He resents not being in control of the ranch and takes it out on everybody.
BOUDREAUX “BO” DOUCETTE — ranch foreman. A Black man in a position of power, originally from New Orleans, trusted by the Jamisons. He wears a glove on his left hand, covering an injury that has kept him out of the Army.
image ©Thomas Thorspecken