It’s the deep South, 1932, during the Great Depression and we’re in the home of Tice Hogan, a Black man who’s lost his job at the local factory, and his daughter Cali, a young woman with a sour marriage behind her. They’re making do — Tice picks up some odd jobs and Cali does laundry for White folks — when a White guy, Corbin Teel, tumbles into their house, he’s probably killed a foreman in a fight at the factory, needs a hideout, and forces the Hogan’s to let him stay by using as a lever his knowledge, from some guys at the factory, that Tice is a member of the Communist Party.
How unusual for current theater — a sympathetic communist character. Things of Dry Hours has an important point to make: capitalism, not racism, is the fundamental enemy of men and women at the bottom of the barrel, a view Marx would endorse. Racism is a capitalist device and diversion.
Naturally, and metaphorically, bonding takes place among the three. Corbin has probably been sent by the higher-ups as a snitch. Nevertheless Tice’s humanity and belief that people can change lead him to try teaching the illiterate Corbin the truth about capitalism as he sees it, as well as how to read, using the Communist Manifesto as the text for both. Corbin falls for the bitter and eccentric Cali. She’s the toughest nut to crack of the bunch but love, of a kind, does filter through her hard veneer.
This is promising dramatic material. Unfortunately, the play is not well written and makes several missteps. To mention just a few. In Scene 1 Tice Hogan has just arrived at a dark entry to heaven after an uncomfortable journey a number of years after the incidents of the play; this scene has nothing to do with the play as it unfolds. The grotesque sexual humiliations Cali forces on Corbin, and Corbin’s acquiescence, don’t ring true: explanations are provided that she’s turning the tables in response to humiliations she’s suffered, and he’s hot, but nevertheless these sadistic scenes seem dragged in and motivated by something outside the play itself. The nude male forced strip scene, not of Cali’s doing, did not emerge from the play but also seemed dragged in. And all these characters are much too well spoken and knowledgeable about the world at large than is plausible. If we weren’t told we were in a small town in Alabama in 1932 we’d never guess it.
What makes Things of Dry Hours at least interesting to watch is Delroy Lindo as the Biblically magisterial yet vulnerable Tice, Roslyn Ruff as the ornery but tender Cali, and Garret Dillahunt as the frantic, doomed Corbin. In spite of the fine cast, though, in its present state, it seems like a play with potential seen in an early workshop production.
Things of Dry Hours plays at New York Theatre Workshop in NYC’s East Village through June 28.