Director Marion McClinton Helps Shepherd in New Wave of Black Voices in American Theater

by Shannon Gibney
from the Pillsbury House Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Volume VII. May-July 2013

Pillsbury House Theatre’s production of Marcus Gardley’s the road weeps, the well runs dry is officially up and running: veteran director Marion McClinton has been enlisted at the helm, for a late-fall opening, and casting has already begun.

McClinton, who is extremely well-regarded both locally and nationally, couldn’t be happier about his newest challenge. “I’m involved because I love working at Pillsbury House. I get to do the plays I want to do,” he says.

“I cut my teeth working with August Wilson and Kia Corthron,”says McClinton. The two playwrights are very intense people about their own work, and their language is quite particular and provocative, according to McClinton. These experiences taught him the value of honoring the playwright’s vision of their own work on the stage.

The director has been connected with Marcus Gardley and his work for some time now, having most recently worked with him on a production of his play The House That Will Not Stand at the New York Stage and Film Company in Poughkeepsie, New York. McClinton says, “I think Marcus is an important playwright because he has the same blend of poetry and prose in his plays that Toni Morrison has in her works.”

As for the content and style of the play, McClinton asserts that they are bound to dazzle audiences. The road weeps… is very exciting rhythmically. It’s like working inside bop and gospel at the same time. I first heard it at a reading at Penumbra Theatre [in St. Paul], and I was blown away by the poetry of the language and the ending. I had not felt that way since I first heard a reading of August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” he says.

“Then there is also the story of the play. It takes place in a time when Black survivors of the Civil War were trying to build a community for themselves. But then, you have the Native community there, too. This is a story that has not yet been attempted on stage,” says McClinton.

Pillsbury House Theatre is known in the Twin Cities for tackling works by contemporary authors that bring disparate communities together. Therefore, this play about “mixing” –and the way these two cultures mix—is ideally suited to the Pillsbury House Theatre mission. Along those lines, they’ll begin a dialogue between these two communities on August 23, in the very first week of rehearsal, with an invited Town Hall meeting with the artist where academics and community can hear some of the play and discuss the issues together. There will also be a pre-show discussion October 13th with the four artistic directors who have championed this play.  Pillsbury expects this to be of particular interest to the theater community in the Twin Cities.

As for what McClinton can contribute to these important up-and-coming voices, he says, “I’m 58. I want to be a part of this next wave as much as possible, but I’m a little old. It will be someone else who will be able to carry them home. This has been my life’s work, to work with Black playwrights. It’s why I’m here.”

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