Naomi Wallace was inspired after reading the introduction and first chapter of the book Hammer and Hoe: Black Communists in Alabama During the Great Depression, and the result is her play, Things of Dry Hours. This three person piece is a snapshot of history, a dramatic glimpse of what might have happened to a black father and daughter involved in this movement, and a white stranger who appears at the door of their stark home late one night. Wallace has said that she is interested in "American history in terms of resistance."
Wallace's previous plays have examined the Great Plague (One Flea Spare) and the Gulf War of 1991 (In the Heart of America), and her Trestle at Pope Lick Creek is another examination of challenges during the Depression. In Things of Dry Hours, the racial component of this era of Communist activities is personalized, and attempts to open a new window to view the early 20th century goals of the Party.
Tice Hogan (Roger Robinson) is a middle-aged out of work laborer in early-1930s Alabama. His spare home affords no luxuries, but he values his two books beyond any material indulgence he could dream of: his membership booklet for the Communist Party and the Bible. Tice is an introspective man. He reads and re-reads both of his books, and develops his own ideology, based in practicality and a desire to emerge from the racial and economic restrictions placed on him by the society in which he lives. His goals are not self-serving; he wishes to fight for equality of the working class, black and white. He truly believes their lot in life can be improved, but can he change human nature?
Tice's daughter Cali (Rosalyn Coleman) is a working member of the working class, a laundress for a local wealthy family. She also "collects" the un-matched shoes she finds in the home of the family she works for. Cali seems to be empowered when wearing the odd shoes, and slowly throughout the play, she is drawn closer to Tice's cause. When Corbin Teel (Robert Sedgwick) comes to the door, in need of a place to hide out, another fire is sparked in Cali. The mystery of the stranger, his motives, and how he is affected by (and how he affects) Tice and Cali comprise the personal dimension of this play.
Roger Robinson is perfectly cast as Tice Hogan. He convincingly inhabits this character, and makes the sometimes lengthy monologues and narratives engaging. Rosalyn Coleman shows the simmering desires of Cali equally well, and the two form an admirable and inspirational family. Robert Sedgwick's somewhat halting line delivery distracts from what is otherwise an unnerving and furtive character. Corbin Teel is the catalyst of the story, but he is so conflicted that his actions seem to be contradictory. While these solid actors and substantial backstory could make for a compelling evening of theatre, the story is just too drawn out, and too slow- paced (direction by Israel Hicks). Wallace is also a poet, and much of the dialogue is well written, but at 2-1/2 hours (with intermission), there's just too much.
The simple one room set by James Noone very well done and wonderfully augmented by Phil Monat's lighting design. Costumes by Gabriel Berry complete the authentic picture.
Things of Dry Hours continues at the Public Theatre through May 16. For performance and ticket information, 412-316-1600 or visit www.ppt.org or the box office at 621 Penn Avenue.