Prof. Kyle Bass Premieres Tender Rain at Syracuse Stage

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Tender Rain, written by Assistant Professor of Theater Kyle Bass, will be staged May 3–21 at Syracuse Stage, where Bass is resident playwright. Directed by Rodney Hudson, the play will have its world premiere on Friday, May 5, at 7:30 p.m.

Set in a small Southern city in the mid-1950s, Tender Rain introduces us to Milton Millard Milton, a white banker; Ruthie Mimms, an older Black woman; and their deeply familial and complex relationship, which profoundly influences Milton’s life.

Approaching late-middle-age and childless, Milton and his wistful wife, Dolores, are lost in a marital fog of secrets and emotional withholding. Is there a way forward for them? Can Milton seek aid from Ruthie without destroying their relationship? Will the momentary escape Milton finds in the arms of a younger woman spare him the reckoning he must ultimately face? Tender Rain richly observes a layered emotional landscape rooted in an oppressive society as it explores intimacy, race, and the assumptions we all make about one another.

Tender Rain is the fourth play written by Bass and produced by Syracuse Stage for their mainstage — including Cry for Peace: Voices of the Congo (co-authored with Ping Chong), salt/city/blues, and Possessing Harriet. Bass has also written two Backstory scripts as part of Syracuse Stage Education programming, Carver at Tuskegee and Citizen James, or the Young Man without a Country, which has been optioned for a feature-length film.

As part of a project focusing on the lives of student military veterans, Bass wrote Separated, which was presented on the Storch stage and at the Paley Center in New York City. Baldwin vs. Buckley: The Faith of Our Fathers, Bass’s theatrical reimagining of the famed 1965 Cambridge Union debate between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley, was performed at Colgate, Cornell, and Syracuse universities, and at the University of Delaware.

Bass refers to Tender Rain as a “symphonic drama.” It is also the first full-length play he wrote — as his MFA graduate creative thesis nearly 20 years ago, while he was a graduate student at Vermont’s Goddard College. According to Bass, “In revisiting it for its world premiere, I could revise the play, but I could not revise the playwright who first brought it to the page — an exercise in acceptance and possibility. My process mirrored the underlying metaphor of the play: how do we as a nation fully acknowledge and reckon with the difficult and unchangeable truths of our shared past and move forward together, in the light of those truths, toward a more compassionate future?” 

Besides his playwriting credits for Syracuse Stage, Bass has written Toliver & Wakeman, which was commissioned by Franklin Stage Company and premieres later this summer. He is a three-time recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship (fiction in 1998, playwriting in 2010, screenwriting in 2022) and a finalist for the Princess Grace Playwriting Award, among others. 

Prior to joining Colgate’s faculty as an assistant professor, Bass was the 2019 Burke Endowed Chair for regional studies. His plays and other writings have appeared in journals such as Callaloo, Folio, and Stone Canoe, as well as in the essay anthology Alchemy of the Word: Writers Talk about Writing. He is the founding curator of Syracuse Stage’s annual Cold Read Festival of New Plays.