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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Permanent Collection

Permanent Collection
Craig Wallace and Jeff Allin
If a play is going to take on a controversial subject, the playwright should not avoid turning up the heat. In Thomas Gibbons' Permanent Collection, the current production at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland, the playwright is so busy being even-handed that he minimizes the dramatic potential, especially when one thinks of what a provocateur like David Mamet could have done with similar material.

Gibbons sets up the big questions of prejudice in an insular space: the Morris Foundation, a jewel-like private art gallery in the suburbs of a large northeastern city. The founder, Alfred Morris (Lawrence Redmond), is dead, but he left operating instructions for the foundation in his will, to be followed in perpetuity.

The primary conflict arises between Sterling North (Craig Wallace), the new head of the foundation, and longtime curator Paul Barrow (Jeff Allin). The Morris collection is justly famous for its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist canvases, but when Sterling finds several important pieces of African art in storage, he announces his plans to add them to the works on display—in defiance of the collector's will, which calls for no changes to the exhibition.

It isn't just that Sterling is African-American and Paul is white, or that Sterling comes from the corporate sector while Paul is a lifelong art historian. The question becomes about the role of progress and changes in society: what purpose is served by keeping noteworthy artworks out of sight? Morris had somewhat progressive views of race relations for his era, but he made his last additions to the collection in 1958.

A secondary conflict is between men and women. Sterling's young assistant, Kanika Weaver (Jessica Frances Dukes), jokes about working among numerous “pictures of naked white women,” and newspaper reporter Gillian Crane (Susan Lynskey) seems primarily interested in stirring up trouble to help her own career.

Director Timothy Douglas maintains the calm of Gibbons' script, emphasizing the overall sense of politeness and keeping the characters' eruptions of temper self-contained. The actors do well on Tony Cisek's set, which sometimes becomes claustrophobic through the cleverness of Dan Covey's lighting design.

Round House Theatre
Permanent Collection
January 27th – February 21st
By Thomas Gibbons
Sterling North: Craig Wallace
Ella Franklin: Jewell Robinson
Paul Barrow: Jeff Allin
Alfred Morris: Lawrence Redmond
Kanika Weaver: Jessica Frances Dukes
Gillian Crane: Susan Lynskey
Directed by Timothy Douglas
4545 East-West Highway
Bethesda, MD
Ticket Information: 240-644-1100 or www.roundhousetheatre.org


Photo: Danisha Crosby


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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