Through its raw portrayal of a black family enduring racial strife, economic hardships, and gentrification in the 21st century, Memphis playwright Katori Hall latest production, Hurt Village begs the question, what happens to a dream deferred?
Accustomed to being denied the right, the sting is no less severe when Big Mama and her family are removed from the coveted “Hope List” because they gross a mere $387 too much to qualify for low income housing in a nearby Tennessee suburb. Other Hurt Village residents have already been moved in light of the impending demolition of their housing complex. And though Big Mama and her family are just as impoverished as their neighbors, officials have decided that they have not yet suffered enough to qualify for help.
And though they are struggling, Hall has carefully created characters that are multi-layered, tangible people who are not parodies of their situation.
“I decided that I was going to write a play that really looked at the history and looked at the constraints that concentrated poverty has on a community”, Hall said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
The play unfolds in a series of “what ifs.” What if they were born into different circumstances? What if Big Mama did not have to work tirelessly at a job that affords her little dignity and a barely livable wage; would she have mothered differently and then, in turn, would her daughter, a now deceased crack addict, have mothered differently? And so on; would Big Mama’s grandson, a disgraced solider turned drug dealer, have fathered differently? And now, as the hope of moving beyond the confines of Hurt Village and on to something new looms in the horizon— will the world that Cookie, Big Mama’s 13-year-old granddaughter, braves in her future be any different? Maybe.
“I grew up playing with kids from Hurt Village (also known as “The Hurt”), playing with kids from other housing projects, Lamar Terrace, because my grandmother lived in that particular area,” Hall recalls to the WSJDN. “So, I always wondered how I would have turned out if I would have lived in that particular given circumstance.”
Hall rounds out her take on “The Hurt” with supporting characters: Toyia, Cornbread, Skillet, Ebony and Tony C. who are undeniably, flaws and all, the role models in the proverbial village that indirectly raises the children, such as Cookie. Their presence comments on who’s left to raise whom in an environment that’s historically stifling for the adults and youth alike.
Notably, the world of Hall’s Hurt Village takes place about 50 years after the fictional story of Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun, yet the similarities are clear. Though progress in black life in general has been made in many regards, Hall pertinently reminds us that the same themes of displacement, strained family dynamics and broken dreams are still a very grim reality for oft-forgotten lower class minorities.
By picking up where Hansberry left off, Hall encourages us to look beyond the quick fix solutions to end poverty by simply turning a blind eye or by moving away from it. Instead, we are incited to ask something greater of the system and of ourselves. If a strong foundation isn’t laid from the start, what exactly, if anything, will grow in its place when we tear down “The Hurt”?
See Hurt Village at the Signature Theatre Company through March 25th. Click here for ticket information.