In the program, the Dramaturg, Jacqueline Lawtron, said "when you put a white person and a black person on stage, befroe they even open their mouths, it's a play about race." This is right when it comes to Permanent Collection. The play opens with Sterling North - played by Craig Wallace, - a business man, recounting the events of the morning to the audience. Sterling is a black man, driving a jag, wearing expensive clothes and pulled over for DWB (driving while black). He's on his way to his new job as the curator at the Morris Collection (an art gallery that has recently been bequeathed to a historically black college (said to have been Alfred Morris' last "screw you" to the art community).
So right from the beginning, we know that this play is going to be heavy, and full of racial tensions. And the moment Sterling meets Paul Barrow - played by Jeff Allin,- the museum's director of education, things seem to hit the fan. Sterling has already made some changes to the staffing at the collection, which don't sit well with Paul. From the beginning of their relationship, it's hard to tell if Paul dislikes Sterling because he is Black or because he is changing too much.
As the play goes on, Paul becomes very friendly with Sterling's assistant, Kanika Weaver - played by Jessica Frances Dukes (who in my opinion steals the show with her candid approach to racism and was so well acted). But what gets the ball rolling is when Sterling wants to add some more art to the collection (pulling it from the storage department). But Paul wants to uphold Alfred Morris' will, that no changes to the permanent collection will be allowed. Again, it's have to tell if Paul is upset about the changes or about the fact that the new art is African. (The current collection on display includes hundreds of paintings by European men, but only four small African statues and masks).
Things get blown out of proportion and Gillian Crane, local style reporter - played by Susan Lynskey - gets involved. Paul looses his job and is slandered as a racist. Sterling is quoted as calling Paul and his protest group the "Ku Klux Klan." Kanika is fired for not being able to keep quiet (or was it because she was trying to play for both teams? black and white?) In the final scene with Kanika she talks about how she never thinks about herself as black, but there is always someone there to remind her of it. How she hoped that it wouldn't ever matter; it just wasn't something that was important to her (in her mid-20s) as opposed to Sterling, 40's - 50's who had to claw his way up the corporate ladder.
A few years later, Paul revisits the Morris Collection and it is revealed that because of the lawsuit he brought upon Sterling, the Collection was moving "downtown" to a new arts district, with corporate sponsors. (All things that Mr. Morris despised). Paul becomes upset at this prospect but understands it, thus making it more confusing if he just hates change or is a racist.
The script of this play was amazing! I couldn't believe how emotional this play was. And how well acted it was too. As I said before, Dukes (Kanika Weaver), did steal the show. Her characterizations were very believable, he voice and body represented her generation well. I could easily see myself taking on her position of being unable to definitely take a side. While at the same time, both Wallace and Allin also performed wonderfully in their roles. They seemed to really work at creating the tension. Props to director Timothy Douglas, and his creative team. The sounds, lights, costumes and props truly enhanced the whole experience. I do have to draw attention to Tony Cisek's set. I was disappointed to find out that this set didn't take advantage to Round House's revolving stage. But as the play went on, I quickly forgot about it, because the set was so stunning, with it's blank picture frames (that could be lit from the rear to help create new scenes).
Now, one thing I didn't get was the random vignettes where Alfred Morris (played by Lawrence Redmond) would come out on stage and would appear to help explain about the Morris Collections' exclusivity or help deny the fact that he was a racist himself. But they never came across to me. Again, could this have been another example of not being able to take both sides. And since Morris didn't want to take either side, he was never able to express ideas for any side.
Hidden underneath all this was a criticism of the media. Reporter Gillian Crane, seems to be very unbiased, giving both sides equal chances to be represented in the press. But the thing is, she seems to have to push Paul into action. Is she just doing this to create more drama for her own writing? This critic also wonders what she was doing in the "epilogue;" did she ever transfer to the city desk to leave the politics of the suburban style section?
The play runs through February 21, 2010 at the Round House Theatre in Bethesda. I say check it out now. Purchase tickets here