Mason Mahoney as The Catalyst and Emily Dussault as Clara.
Photo by Carl Atiya Swanson
Playwright Rachel Nelson has turned a personal connection and political interest into the latest piece from Savage Umbrella
"I've always loved the dust bowl," says Nelson, who has family connections to Oklahoma. "I was reading history of the dust bowl, about climatology in Australia, and had vague ideas about looking at science with manifest destiny."
The result of that thinking, Rain Follows the Plow, opens this weekend at the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis.
Prior to the Dust Bowl years, the U.S. government had "sent as many people as possible to the Great Plains to plow everything. That combined with economic factors and with these general migration patterns. The Dust Bowl was pretty much man made," Nelson says.
Examining political and social issues is fine, but Nelson knew those subjects alone wouldn't make for great theater. "I looked at ways Manifest Destiny plays out in interpersonal relationships," she says.
To do that, the play works in two time frames with different couples. One is set during the '30s, the other is contemporary. "Both of these have an emotional crisis. We have some interplay between the eras," she says.
The show has been in development for some time at Savage Umbrella, which has given the creators a chance to dive into the play. "There were a lot of iterations of the characters. We tailored one of them to an actor's vocal patterns and skill set, but she is out of the country. It is now played by a man. It is interesting to see it played out with a differently gendered actor," says director Laura Leffler-McCabe.
For Nelson, the year between a workshop production and the opening gave her an interesting amount of distance. "I was heavily involved in the workshop last year and then I went to grad school this last year. I have been doing all of this long distance until three weeks of ago. We have none of the same actors this time around. It's been a really fascinating for me. I'm seeing these characters through new eyes."
"It's been very cool to step away for a bit and to come in and see the actors' work. I feel really good about it. One of the strengths of the script is that it is not really emotionally conclusive. It really gets inside the struggle of these people. A beautiful thing is that not everyone in the audience needs to be in the same place. It is not just all one emotionally trajectory," Nelson says.
Along with the actors, the design team has been vital to the process of bringing the show to life. "The designers have been with us since day one. There are a lot of lovely moments -- a rainstorm in Oregon or a dust storm in Oklahoma -- and they have made it feel like they belong to the same world," Leffler-McCabe says.
Rain Follows the Plow
2301 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, visit online.