The Liquid Plain
by Naomi Wallace
directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah
originally produced at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, OR.
July 2, 2013 through November 3, 2013
(Photo by Jenny Graham. Featured: June Carryl, Kimberly Scott.)
On the docks of late-18th-century Rhode Island, two runaway slaves find love and a near-drowned man. With a motley band of sailors, they plan a desperate and daring run to freedom. As the mysteries of their identities come to light, painful truths about the past and present collide and flow into the next generation. Acclaimed playwright Naomi Wallace’s newest work brings to life a group of people whose stories have been lost in history.
In 1791, slave ship captain James DeWolf was indicted for murder, accused of dropping an unnamed female captive over the side of a ship after his crew had refused to participate in the killing. Inspired by Marcus Rediker’s book The Slave Ship, The Liquid Plain imagines the effects of the murder on the lives of dock dwellers in Bristol, Rhode Island and reflects on the damage done to a nation built on slavery.
The Liquid Plain is also the winner of the 2012 Horton Foote Prize for Promising New American Play.
Bill Rauch, Artistic Director: The Liquid Plain is among the compelling first projects in American Revolutions, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s decade-long initiative to commission plays inspired by moments of conflict and change in American history. Naomi was one of the first seven American Revolutions playwrights commissioned in 2008, and is the first to take American participation in the slave trade as her starting point. Naomi writes great plays, and she has chosen to tell an important story.
Popular portrayals of slavery frequently focus on the North/South division that reached its pinnacle in the Civil War, and for understandable reasons. But the story is more complicated. In the mid-1700s, Bristol and Newport were major U.S. slave markets, and because Rhode Island (like several northern states) never emancipated outright, there were still slaves in Rhode Island as late as 1850. The sheer length of time slavery was a centerpiece of American culture still shocks—244 years passed between 1619 (when the first Dutch ship brought slaves to Jamestown) and the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Slavery’s reverberations touch us deeply and profoundly in The Liquid Plain, 222 years after Captain DeWolf’s crime.
Set just three years after the ratification of the United States Constitution, The Liquid Plain reminds us that slavery’s thick poison flowed up and down the length of this country – North and South – for hundreds of years, resulting in the death and enslavement of thousands. In this loving, jarring tale, The Liquid Plain claims theatrical justice for the murdered slave over her murderer. It is a beautiful, disturbing and unforgettable American story.
Bill Rauch, Artistic Director: The Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award is funding two weeks of additional rehearsal to ensure the readiness of this highly poetic play for a July 2013 premiere. Given the intense ensemble work, the complex interweaving of both naturalistic and heavily imagistic writing, and the unusual physical images of the play’s setting, The Liquid Plain benefits tremendously from two extra rehearsal weeks over and above the six weeks usually assigned a production in OSF’s Thomas Theatre. The cast and creative team will also use the additional rehearsal time to integrate the in-depth research that is the play’s foundation.
Director: Kwame Kwei-Armah
Set Design: Brenda Davis
Lighting Design: Christopher Akerlind
Sound Design: Victoria DeIorio
Costume Design: Constanza Romero
Dramaturg: Julie Felise Dubiner
Fight Director: U. Jonathan Toppo
Voice & Text Director: David Carey
Cast: June Carryl, Danforth Comins, Armando Duran, Richard Elmore, Kevin Kenerly, Bakesta King, Josiah Phillips, Kimberly Scott, Michael Winters