What is the sound of a garden blooming? This is no zen koan, but a practical challenge posed by Christina Ham’s stage directions. The old New Orleans house in which she has set her new play The Hollow is haunted by a symphony of peculiar rustles, creaks and drips that make it a character in its own right—and not necessarily a friendly one. Dan Dukich takes on the sound design and Mike Kittel and Amanda Wambach the lighting and set design of the eerie manse for The Hollow’s premiere by Workhaus Collective in Minneapolis, directed by Hayley Finn Sept. 26–Oct. 12.
Ham is one of eight playwrights in residence with Workhaus, which previously produced a workshop of her play Glyph. Both Glyph and The Hollow prod at class and race issues in the South through a miasma of gothic creepiness. In the newer play, the strung-out daughter of a once grand Louisiana clan returns home after her mother’s death and finds the Creole maid keeping vigil for the family’s vanished youngest son.
While Ham has no personal connection to the Big Easy or to the voodoo traditions that play a key role in The Hollow, she says there are women in her family tree who served as domestic servants in Alabama; stories about their experiences, passed down over generations, have shaped her interest in what she calls “the ugly history of the master-and-servant dynamic.”
Why use the genre of supernatural horror to excavate real-life topics that are already disturbing at face value? “The thing horror does really effectively is to pull the audience into the story and not let them go,” Ham asserts. “It forces you to sit there and watch this train wreck.”