Tackling a Naomi Wallace play is a tough proposition at the start. The playwright writes dense and poetic work loaded with thorny issues and complex, ever-shifting relationships. Losing one-third of your cast days before opening would seem like a killer.
Frank Theatre’s Wendy Knox takes it in stride.
“Warren Bowles came in yesterday,” Knox says. (This is Wednesday afternoon. The show opens tonight.) “James Craven had to drop out. Warren is going in, and Warren is great.”
Things of Dry Hours looks at an intriguing — and somewhat lost — slice of American history. Set in the 1930s, the play centers on Tice, an African-American who loves the Bible and loves the writing of Karl Marx. He and his daughter, Cali, share an isolated cabin in the woods in Alabama. One night, there’s a knock at the door. It’s a white man, looking for shelter after he says he killed the foreman at the nearby steel mill.
Wallace’s work is rarely done in the Twin Cities. Frank produced The Trestle at Pope Lake Creek about 15 years ago. Theatre Coup d’Etat tackled One Flea Spare last year. “We read this play several times in the last decade. When we read it again a few months ago, it took on a whole new meaning. It’s incredible how the meaning of the play has shifted in the last couple of years,” Knox says.
The era and political underpinnings of the play also gave Knox and the company a chance to really dig into this time frame and its politics, such as how the Communist Party was a welcoming home for black dissidents at a time when there were sharp divisions in American culture. This includes using the book Hammer and Hoe — which looks at the Communist Party in Alabama during the 1930s — which Knox found fascinating and helpful.
There’s also the matter of Wallace’s distinct style. “Whenever I read a Brecht play or a Naomi Wallace play, after the first reading, I feel like such a blockhead. Once you get them up onstage, they make a lot more sense. They are meant to be performed. They are meant to be one take,” Knox says.
The company features Hope Cervantes and Sam Bardwell, along with the newly hired Bowles.
And then there is the matter of bringing Bowles into the fold.
“The rest of the stuff is in place, with the production team and the other actors. [Wallace’s] work is tricky, but we already have done a lot of the work of what is happening in the play. We’ve been working with him on the blocking. As he settles in, he’ll bring his own. He is such a pro. He is a good friend, and I was grateful he was available,” Knox says.
IF YOU GO:
Things of Dry Hours
Today through Oct. 4
2301 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612-724-3760 or visit online.