Monday, June 08, 2009

Things Of Dry Hours

photo: Joan Marcus

If poetic dialogue alone made a play, this one (at NYTW) would be one of the best shows in town. The language is so rich and evocative that it's transporting, and the cast (under Ruben Santiago-Hudson's direction) deliver it with the precision and sensitivity of finely composed music. The play (by Naomi Wallace) opens up the soul through the ears. It's a pity then that it is weakened by its narrative construction - it's hard to track the logic in the shifting dynamics between an African-American father and adult daughter and the mysterious white fugitive who forces them to give him shelter, circa the early 30's in the Deep South. Example: the stranger is almost instantly attracted to the daughter - he advances clumsily, rudely, and she keeps him at bay with hostility and poisonous world-weary one-liners - but right after a scene that would seem to indicate that she's shut him out entirely, the next begins as if they've softened toward each other. There are similar missteps in the depiction of the relationship between the father, a member of the Communist Party, and the stranger, who he (with a bit too much dramatically static speechifying) sets out to recruit. The playwright seems to aim to keep us guessing about the stranger - are his motives essentially good or bad? - but she hasn't effectively dramatized him for that purpose, which puts limits on Garret Dillahunt's effectiveness in the role. Delroy Lindo conveys both commanding strength and thoughtful sensitivity as the father; as the daughter, Roslyn Ruff is deservedly embraced by the audience partly for her sharp, seen-it-all line readings.

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