Things of Dry Hours
nytheatre.com review by Russell M. Kaplan
June 7, 2009
There's some really beautiful theatrical language in Things of Dry Hours...too much, really. If words and ideas are your thing, then there's much to get out of Naomi Wallace's cerebral historical drama, currently running at New York Theatre Workshop. If dramatic action and compelling characters are also important to you, you may leave feeling a bit empty.
The magnetic and imposing Delroy Lindo plays Tice, a poor Sunday School teacher in 1930s Alabama who is a devout member of the Communist party. He lives with his recently widowed daughter Cali, who earns most of their money and could care less about his politics or ideals. Their lives are shaken up anew when Tice agrees to give shelter to Corbin, a disheveled country bumpkin who shows up at their doorstep, claiming to be on the run for assaulting his factory foreman. Holed up together, Corbin convinces Tice to teach him Marxist philosophy, and soon Tice has taken Corbin on as an "ideological project." Corbin also develops a thing for Cali, leading to complications all across the board.
The premise is a compelling one, and Wallace has some legitimately deep and interesting things to say about race relations and politics. But with this play she's gone the road of tell-don't-show, and her characters are often merely devices for her philosophy, either in their ruminative dialogue or weighty monologues. Not that there aren't glimmers of real people in there, which the actors find with varying degrees of success. Lindo comes closest to giving Wallace's heady poetry the rawness it needs to resonate, and Garret Dillahunt as Corbin is somewhat dry but charming and natural. Roslyn Ruff, as Cali, seems too worried about making the words sound good to really live through them. The largest victim of the "language trap" may have been director Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who indulges the dreamlike tone of the text with a dirgelike pacing that does it no favors.
The play does pick up substantially in its second act, and there were enough moments of humor and theatricality to keep me reasonable engaged. These were anomalies, however, feeling as though they were squeezed in to keep people's attention. As a whole, the interesting onstage moments in Things of Dry Hours have little to do with the interesting ideas that it's really about. Here's hoping that someday the two shall meet.