There is an extraordinary premise for this play: 1932, Birmingham Alabama, a black, card carrying, member of the Communist Party and his daughter take in a young white man who is on the run.
Yipes! Who knew? Black Communists in Alabama? White people on the run? Sign me up because this sounds like a story I not only want to see but need to see.
If only things were that simple.
In the best sense of the word, Ms. Wallaceï¿½s writing is poetry. Images crystallize and fade, one after the other. This is a woman who loves words and creates characters who feel the same way. Tice Hogan (Deroy Lindo) is a man of metaphors and grand ideas. He owns two books. Count ï¿½em. Two. Most people donï¿½t own any, and he measures his worth by these two books: The Bible and The Communist Manifesto. They are linked, and he can tell you why because he studies them every day. His daughter Cali is a widow who doesnï¿½t venture into town to dance with the local men, because there is no one there who seems worth her time. She is a woman who thinks, and there are few men to match her, outside of her father. Enter Corbin Teel (Garret Dillahunt), a poor white man in need of help. Tice takes him in with the proviso that it will be for a week only. In that week, Teel shows himself to be a man with a mind as well who, although illiterate, has a thirst for knowledge and even for debate. He also has a thirst for love, and Cali, smart, stubborn and suspicious, fits the bill.
Each of the actors does their duty and then some. The often over-bearing Delroy Lindo (I still remember him in Joe Turner 20 years ago where he chewed up the scenery) is at his best when he lets the text flow through him until he nearly glows. As Cali, Roslyn Ruff does that most difficult of balancing acts. She places a tender beating heart beneath the practical and unmoving faï¿½ade of a woman who has taken disappointment as her constant companion. We see both whenever she is onstage. Garret Dillahunt brings an edgy innocence to his character that is persuasive and alarming at the same time.
As fine as these performances are, they can do little to cover the gaping holes in the script. Ms. Wallaceï¿½s ideas are ambitious, but she is not able to connect the dots in a way that makes this production hang together. The scenes between characters are often intimate ï¿½ much like ballet. The logic and plot points, however, are not strong enough to justify them. Tice lets Teel into his house because Teel threatens to turn him on fabricated charges if he does not. Fair enough. But within 30 nanno seconds the two of them are carrying on like long lost cousins. Tice is eager to teach Teel about the Communists, but we never quite understand why. This white man matters way more than he should, which would have been a fascinating development to watch, had we been allowed. The same holds true with the relationship that develops between Cali and Teel. Never mind that it is interracial when such things were illegal. Never mind that it is Alabama, which was just a stonesï¿½ throw from Hell in the racial scheme of things. All we see is a man who wants a woman who wants him back. Oops.
Ms. Wallace sets up a truly fascinating set of circumstances, then glides through them like a tourist on a bus. Things of Dry Hours may be a play that inspires other writers to investigate the little known pockets of our history. That would be a grand legacy and would give Ms. Wallaceï¿½s very hard work the credit it deserves.
As it stands now, after seeing this production, you will end up knowing things you never knew, but your heart wonï¿½t have been affected. And if your heart is not in the game, the head isnï¿½t either.
"static, lifeless and achingly literary"
New York Times
"makes for an arid trek during its two-plus hours."
New York Daily News
"you may want to slap yourself to stay awake."
New York Post
"burdens her provocative characters with wide swatches of self-conscious poetry"
"studied, manipulated, opaque, and, well, dry."
"a flawed drama, but it maintains a certain hold to the very end."
"a stark, complex drama filled with rich imagery and laced with dark humor."
"long-winded speeches signifying little but an authorial taste for overripe imagery."