By Patrick Christiano
Katori Hall’s dynamic new play is drawn from a true life situation in Memphis, Tennessee; where a black poverty stricken village named after a clergyman is being torn down to make room for an upscale housing project. Hall’s drama about an African American family living in the slums of South Memphis opened the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theater, one of the three theaters at The Pershing Square Signature Center, a brand new theater complex on 42nd Street and the new home for the Signature Theater Company.
Hall gives the complications of the dramatic evening a gritty realism that leads up to the final inevitable fade-out. Along the way we get several characterizations from the colorful to the pathetic, portrayed with committed zest by a cast of outstanding actors, in her tale about a low class black family attempting to move up to lower middle class,.
In the first act we are introduced to the characters and the areas reputation for drug dealing, addiction and crime. We meet Big Mama played by the magnificent Tonya Pinkins, who in her 50s is the head of the household and already a grandmother to a teenager. She is a proud woman who has endured cruel hardships over the years and is desperately fighting from being evicted. Heavily padded and emotionally raw Pinkins is a revelation carving out two profoundly moving moments that brought tears to my eyes.
Other characters have names like Buggy and Cornbread and say things like “God don’t live here in the projects,” that ought to sound corny, but doesn’t. What Patricia McGregor’s exceptional premiere production does is to take a harsh look at the irony of the situation with unflinching honesty. The result is a powerful and insightful evening of theater brought to life by a superb ensemble that brings the utmost strength to the playwright’s articulate pulsating investigation of heartbreak and hope.
Rap from the mouth of a 13-year-old named Cookie (Joaquina Kalukango), an aspiring rapper, is the artistic language of the story. Kalukango sparkles as the precocious young teenager. The young girl’s rebelliousness hides a sweetness that has not been developed. Her mother, Crank (Marsha Stephanie Blake), a beautician, has been addicted to drugs, but is attempting to break the habit and be a good mother.
The action picks up when Buggy, her father and Big Mama’s son, played by Corey Hawkins with convincing honesty, unexpectedly returns from combat in Iraq wracked with post-traumatic stress syndrome. He struggles to find a place in his disintegrating community, along with a place in his daughter’s wounded heart, but gets into drug dealing, and runs into a conflict with the local drug lord Tony (Ron Cephas Jones) who claims the turf. The threat of violence lingers in the background, an ever ominous presence, but the evening is full of the raucous humor of the oppressed and the young fighting to find a way out of the stifling chaos. Here is theater that makes the heart and mind race bringing Katori Hall’s view of poverty into sharper focus.
Hurt Village is now playing at the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theater, The Pershing Squard Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues through March 18, 2012. Performances are Tue-Fri at 7:30pm; Wed at 2pm and 8pm; Sat at 2pm and 8pm; Sun at 2 and 7:30pm. For tickets ALL SEATS $25 call 212-244-7529 or online at www.signaturetheatre.org
At the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theater, The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-244-7529.
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