Ansa Akyea and H. Adam Harris.
Photo by Michal Daniel
For the past month, the cast of Pillsbury House Theatre's the road weeps, the well runs dry have delved into the complex and compelling world built by playwright Marcus Gardley.
Gardley's play explores the history of Wekoka, Oklahoma, the first all-black community in the United States. The town existed at the intersection of African and Native American cultures.
"The way Marcus has made it combustible is that there are a lot of high stakes, and nothing is taken for granted. No one backs down in this play," says Ansa Akyea, who plays Number Two.
"Every character is heightened. They are not caricatures, but they are definitely heightened people. We need to take them where ever they need to go," says Regina Williams. "It's really huge and hot and intense. Saying all of that, it is funny. We are not playing it to be comical, but the characters can be funny sometimes."
"She is the church lady of the show," Williams says of her character, M. Gene Wind Song. "That made me nervous. It is so easy to go the caricature route. She truly believes in all of the verses she quotes, and she believes in God and she believes in her visions."
The Pillsbury House production is one of a handful of "rolling world premieres" for the play, where it will be presented at theaters around the country. Gardley visited the rehearsal process for a time, and talked about his own personal background with the material.
"There is the feel of magic realism in the world we are inhabiting, but we are grounding it in the reality that can be traced through history and through his own lineage," Akyea says.
"He clearly says it is fiction based on history," Williams says. "It's part of many of our histories. My family is right next to Wewoka and there is Cherokee lineage."
George Keller plays the community's spiritual leader, Mary South. "She is a Seminole married to Ansa's character, but she bonds with Christianity. She has her feet in both worlds," she says. "I love her journey in this piece; she is center of the storm of tragedy. Her arc is quite a challenge to play."
The playwright, who started his career as a poet, is also very precise with his dialogue.
"He is so specific. He has changed things, but not major things: ellipses and exclamation points. He has taken a world that was hyphened and put it together," Williams says.
That, along with the heavy dialect used in the play and the sheer weight of the material has made for a tough but rewarding rehearsal period.
"The play is so exhausting. I'm always beat after rehearsal. This play starts and then starts to spin and become like a storm," Keller says.
Marion McClinton directs a cast of 11 actors. Merge a big cast with the heady script in Pillsbury House's less-than-100-seat theater and you have, in the words of Akyea, a "good gumbo."
"One of my favorite things about the play is that here you have a work that is all people of color. There is not someone who self identifies as a white person. It is not about the struggles of whites and people of color. This play has nothing to do with that," Keller says.
"It's a beautiful, sad story," Williams says.
IF YOU GO
the road weeps, the well runs dry
Pillsbury House Theatre, 3501 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis
All tickets pay what you can
For tickets and more information, call 612.825.0459 or visit online.