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Permanent Collection - A masterpiece of a play.

By Michelle Martino

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A masterpiece of a play from the powerful words and the amazing actors to the stunning artwork and, of course, the author, Thomas Gibbons, who dramatically proposes that we look at the possible meaning of what is exhibited in art galleries and museums around the world...and what's not.

The moment you take your seat in this exquisitely decorated, technically mastered and lushly seated theatre, you might ask yourself if this time it's going to be good. By 'it's' I mean the play, of course.

Gillian and Sterling test each other's truth...and patience

Within the first five minutes of the lights going dim and the captivating presence of Ben Guillory delivering his moving, funny and ultimately pivotal dialogue, you'll know that you're in the right seat. Because this is the kind of play that makes you love going to see plays.

In this first scene, we meet Sterling North, masterfully played by Ben Guillory, describing what it's like for a black man in a burgundy Jag, wearing a Saville Row suit and European leather laced shoes to have to explain to a traffic cop what he's doing in a richly populated, suburban white neighborhood outside Philadelphia.

(L to R) Sterling, LaFern Watkins playing the alluring assistant, Kanika Weaver and Paul


What we soon discover is that he is on his way to his new position as the first African-American Director of the world-renown Morris Foundation. This is the fictional name for, in real life, The Barnes Foundation where an unparalleled collection of European art masterpieces are displayed amongst priceless African art.

Ella Franklin (played by Elayn J. Taylor) and Paul try to find common ground and new answers to the true value to being visible or invisible when it comes to exhibiting priceless art.

It doesn't take but a few scenes before we see this new Director replacing Ella (Elayn J. Taylor) the strikingly sophisticated, loyal, 27-year veteran and only African-American employee at the Foundation, with his own very sweet, very beautiful African-American assistant, Kanika, alluringly played by LaFern Watkins.

(L to R) Ben Guillory as Sterling North the new Foundation Director and Doug Cox as Paul Barrow the Interim Director

If that's not enough to set the stage (literally) for conflict, he then meets with the interim acting Director, his very esteemed and very white predecessor, Paul Barrow, (wonderfully and passionately played by Doug Cox). Their meeting is symbolically territorial for both men. One (Sterling) who is claiming his title as Director and using his power to initiate the one thing the Foundation has not had in 53 years' change. And, the other side, (Paul), an impassioned lover of art, purist to the vision of the Foundation's founder, Dr. Morris, and determined ally against any changes. For Paul, relinquishing his role is especially painful when it comes to hearing of Sterling's plans to bring up from the Foundations' storage room 8 invaluable pieces of African art to add to the collection of Renoirs, Picassos, Degas, Modiglianis, Monets, and the like.

Paul finds support from the scheming journalist Gillian Krane played by Kiersten Morgan


Out to spark their conflicting theories of what is valuable art - and ultimately turn the discussion of art into a platform of racism - is the presence of a precocious and utterly scheming journalist, Gillian Krane, played with spunk and fire by the aptly red-headed Kiersten Morgan.

The spirited presence of Foundation creator, Dr. Alfred Morris who's played to the hilt by Kent Minault

Just as you're trying to weigh the merits of, and judge for your own self, whose arguments really are the most justifiable, you have the spirited presence of Dr. Alfred Morris himself to contend with. The founding father is played by Kent Minault with all the self-assured confidence and quirky eccentricity of the real life multi-millionaire and founder, Dr. Barnes.

Will Kanika and Paul's friendship survive in chaos...or merely enhance it?

What ensues are dramatically conflicting scenes where words, once spoken as personal remarks, are quickly turned into cutting, emblazoned and libelous thoughts' all potentially racist to their very core.

The new regime....and the old. Which one will ultimately survive?

Ultimately, the question we are all forced to ask ourselves is which of these two men and their two very personal and compelling worlds do we belong? If either at all?

On opening night at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, Thomas Gibbons, the brilliant and engaging playwright told me, 'I took two years to write this play. And to work out a balance and understanding of where both sides are coming from. In the end, I want the audience to decide who to agree with' or not.'

As he spoke, an elegantly dressed woman came up to us and said in tears, 'I just want to thank you for this incredible play. It's so moving and so important for all of us to see.'

After he thanked her, he turned back to me and finished his thought. 'I'm not here to impose my views, just put them out for the audience, like her, to see what it means to them' and hopefully appreciate.'

I turned to him and said, 'You mean, like art' '

He smiled and said, 'Exactly.'

BEHIND THE SCENES

The Morris Foundation is fictional, but based on The Barnes Foundation of Philadelphia, which currently houses and displays an eclectic collection of more of the finest masterpieces of Impressionist and Early Modern art than in all of the museums in Europe' combined. It also is one of the very first known Foundations to introduce not just primitive art, but truly invaluable African art.

Look at the walls on the stage and you'll see masterfully reproduced works of art done by the incredibly talented artist, Anton Sipos.

Talent in this play, comes in every discipline with abundance, most especially starting with the gifted Director, Dwain Perry. Both Dwain and Harry J. Lennix (who can now be seen in the new, dramatic TV series, Commander-in-Chief) met at Northwestern University, were roommates and co-directed PERMANENT COLLECTION when it was first produced by the Robey Theatre Company and the Greenway Arts Alliance at the Greenway Court Theatre in April, 2005.

Dwaine, who said, 'From start to finish this project and play was a dream,' also noted that when Harry Lennix, who served as consulting director for this production, bestowed the honor of directing PERMANENT COLLECTION to Dwaine, he was thrilled.

'To be able to take this wonderful play from having 52 technical lighting instruments to 300 for this production, to creating a set 3 times the size of the original set and to having a state-of-the-art facility like the Kirk Douglas Theatre just creates an environment where it enriches the experience of all who come see it.'

Dwaine credits his own experience at the Kirk Douglas Theatre to the remarkable insight and support of Michael Ritchie, Artistic Director of the Kirk Douglas Theatre and Charles Dillingham, Managing Director.

The audience's enthusiastic reception was immediately evident. At the one 15 minute intermission I spoke with two graduates of the primarily African-American Howard University, referred to as the Hewyood University in the play.

Brian W. especially liked '' using art to display the subtleties of the issue of racism.'

Cedric agreed and added, 'Showing how a privileged, white society perceives things and hearing the subconscious thought of African-Americans about that issue is something you don't often get to see so realistically portrayed. To see it so well done here is refreshing.'

In speaking with Dwaine after the opening performance, Michael Ritchie, playwright Thomas Gibbons and all of the cast members were elated by the standing ovation from the audience and the overwhelming reception of this remarkable play.

TICKET INFORMATION

Performances are nightly Tuesday Saturday 8 p.m. Matinee performances are Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.. Sunday performances are at 7 p.m.

Ticket Prices: $20-$40
Tickets are available in person at the Center Theatre Group box office at the Music Center, by calling CTG Audience Services at (213) 628-2772, online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org and at the Kirk Douglas Theatre box office two hours prior to performance.

Hot Tix: Center Theatre Group's new discount ticket program offers $20 tickets tin two convenient ways: first in advance through CTG's central box office at the Ahmanson Theatre (by phone or in person, credit cards accepted); and second, subject to availability, Hot Tix may be purchased on the day of performance at the box office (cash only). In both cases, tickets are limited to two per household. For group sales, (213) 972-7231. Deaf community: Information and charge TDD (213) 680-4017.

Published on Dec 31, 1969

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