Ellen Wilson Dilks directs a strong cast in PCS’s PERMANENT COLLECTION, a thought provoking play inspired by controversial events that had taken place at the Barnes Foundation during the 1990s concerning conflicts over the terms of the legal will of founder Albert C. Barnes, wealthy chemist and art collector who felt a mission to educate the underprivileged in matters of art.
Playwright Thomas Gibbons, a Philadelphia area native, explores the complexities of racial and cultural perceptions via art and a dramatic tug of war between newly appointed Director of the Morris Foundation, a polished, Jaguar driving, designer suited, English shoed African American businessman, who wants to usher in changes, and the white Educational Director, who stands dogmatically faithful to the founder’s vision. When new Director, Sterling North (powerfully portrayed by E. Scott Jones), a former corporate Vice President, wants to add a new display consisting of eight pieces of African art that he has discovered the institution’s “basement”, Educational Director Paul Barrow (exquisitely played by John Harvey), who has devoted thirty years of his life to the collection pronounces that the items were in “storage” and that in accordance with the founder’s will, absolutely no changes can be made to the collection as it is displayed. It is a permanent collection.
Kanika Weaver, smartly played by Rachel Chanel Simpson, North’s appointed assistant who has befriended Barrow, observes that neither of the two men will listen to the other, and besides what’s a few less pictures of naked white women on the wall. She represents the younger generation and lends its voice, which is at times both wise and witty. The battle between North and Barrow is furthered by sly suburban reporter Gillian Crane, played with plenty of pluck by Natasha Kelly, as she fans the flames between the two men by reporting racially construed comments from both men. The interspersion of the impish spirit of founder Dr. Alfred Morris, delightfully embodied by Gregory Tigani, embues the audience with a sense of the foundation and a bit of backstory, as he dallies about and tells a few tales with a spritely twinkle in his eyes. Ella Franklin, a devoted long time employee of the foundation, who was replaced with young Kanika by North, and ironically relegated to the archives, was given depth by Marie Antoinette Simons, who demonstrates a sense of real growth in her character, as witnessed in both her demeanor and in
her dress as a result of the play’s events.
The strength of this production is the dramatic acting on the part of the cast which held the audience’s main interest. The frames on the walls of the set are empty, which enables focus to be on the erupting issues and not the art, which is for all purposes mainly catalytic in terms of the story. E. Scott Jones and John Harvey are both strong in their roles; the dichotomy they create on stage is powerful. A couple of pieces, notably Cézanne’s Valley of the Arc, are alluded to and discussed, mainly by Barrow, getting the strategic points across. The set’s multi-leveled structure and moving set pieces (Ellen Wilson Dilks), as well as the lighting (Gregory S. MIller) were well employed towards overall effect.
There are many levels to this play, and questions are raised but not answered, leaving ponderous ripples of thought in its wake.
Hope to see it again!
Written by Thomas Gibbons
Directed by Ellen Wilson Dilks
January 4-19, 2013
Players Club of Swarthmore’s Second Stage
614 Fairview Avenue
Swarthmore, PA 19081