Boston Area Stages Give New Life to New Works
Cast in order of appearance:Sterling North, Clark JacksonElla Franklin, Sylvia Ann SoaresPaul Barrow, Benjamin EvettAlfred Morris, Paul D. FarwellKanika Weaver, Giselle JonesGillian Crane, Tracy Oliverio
Box Office: 617-332-1646 or www.newrep.org"The Violet Hour"Written by Richard GreenbergDirected by Weylin SymesScenic Design by Cristina TodescoCostume Design by Gail Astrid BuckleyLighting Design by Mark LanksSound Design by Jeff Jones
Cast:Gidger, Neil A. CaseyRosamund Plinth, Stacy FischerDenis McCleary, Nathaniel McIntyre Jessie Brewster, Carol Ann ParkerJohn Pace Seavering, Patrick Zeller
Box Office: 781-279-2200 or www.stonehamtheatre.org
Two of last year's strongest new plays – "Permanent Collection" by Thomas Gibbons and "The Violet Hour" by Richard Greenberg – made their New England premiers recently. Presented by the New Rep in Newton Highlands and the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass., these gutsy productions are just two of the many works of talented contemporary American playwrights being staged in and around Boston this season.
The New Rep and Stoneham Theatre – like many other regional companies across the country – are breathing second lives into deserving new plays. They are keeping artistically impressive but often commercially unsuccessful dramas from fading into obscurity. With their non-profit status and loyal subscriber bases, these groups are taking the kind of risks that produce raw, flesh-and-blood theatrical experiences instead of homogenized, cartoon-based extravaganzas.
Yes, with the Great White Way looking somewhat anemic in the non-musical category these days, it does take a little extra effort to find good new plays. But roadmaps are available. For directions, call any one of the nation's regional repertory theater companies. They'll be happy to help you navigate safely through the changing American theater landscape. Broadway may be the marvelous invalid, but regional theaters are in full recovery.
The New Rep's version of Thomas Gibbons' volatile play about racism in the world of art is an honest, gripping two hours of theater that poses but never fully answers the question, "Must race always be an issue whenever black and white men disagree?" Loosely based on real-life incidents that rocked the Barnes Foundation, one of the world's largest and most important private art collections located in a quiet suburb outside of Philadelphia, "Permanent Collection" painstakingly peels away layers of tradition, institutional politics, and self-deception to expose the damaging realities of cultural bigotry.
Right from the opening monologue, Gibbons establishes the emotional rift between Black and White. Alone at center stage at rise is Sterling North, a successful black businessman who has been appointed the new director of the Morris Foundation, a prestigious private art collection willed to the traditionally African American Hayward University by its former owner, the late (white) Dr. Alfred Morris. North introduces himself to the audience by relating how a white police officer pulled him over on his way to his new job that morning. The officer, it seems, was suspicious of a black man driving a Mercedes through a white neighborhood. Stung yet again by racial profiling – this is not his first experience with such discrimination – North struggles to stick to his oft used non-confrontational script. The problem is, today he can't quite contain his smoldering rage. He's just plain tired of explaining himself. So with icy control and a calculated precision, he calmly but forcefully lets the officer know that he will be driving through this upscale suburban enclave daily from now on. If he is stopped again, he'll sue the pants off the community.
Once at the Foundation, North finds that similar conflicts emerge almost immediately. When he replaces the venerable Ella with his own assistant Kanika and then decides to remove eight pieces of African art from storage to hang among the Cezannes, Matisses, Renoirs and Picassos, the Foundation's educational director, Paul Barrow, defies him. Citing a clause in the late Dr. Morris' will, Barrow insists that the collection remain unchanged. Not a piece may be added, relocated or removed. Displaying the inferior African folk art, he contends, would be an insult to Dr. Morris and to the impressionist masterpieces in the exhibit.