By Rick A. Elina
“White shall become black and black shall become white,” says Sterling North, the central character from Permanent Collection, a play by Philadelphia playwright Thomas Gibbons and produced by the University of Texas at Dallas, School of Arts and Humanities. The transformation told by Mr. North takes place soon after the lights dim. A monologue follows detailing the black experience during a traffic stop by a white cop. The device sets up the underlying theme and the overall plot of the play.
The late Dr. Alfred Morris, the rather autocratic founder of the Morris Foundation, an art repository of works that include Renoir, Picasso and Matisse among many others, left a mandate in his will that neither the foundation nor the works contained within it, are to ever be moved. Ever. His last testament also left control of his foundation to Haywood College, a historically black school. Dr. Morris was white, by the way.
The aforementioned Mr. North, a black character capably played by white actor, Jonathon Horne, has been named head of the Morris Foundation. From the first moment that Mr. North enters, he does so with strides so purposeful, there is little doubt that the new guard has now taken over the watch. Mr. North’s first official act is to replace longtime assistant, Ella Franklin (Chinweolu Greer). Change is definitely in the air. Now enter Paul Barrow, a white character played by black actor Bill Hass. Mr. Barrow is the longtime Director of Education for the Morris Foundation and has been passed over by Mr. North as executive director. Mr. Hass convincingly portrays his character as a loyal protector of the past. The stage is now set for a clash between the old guard and the new. The object of their ensuing battle will be the display of African art by the foundation, in violation of its founder’s vision and last will. The race card is now dealt, with new layers being added to the struggle.
The cast is nicely complemented with Meg Simons, playing reporter Gillian Crane and Jameshia Bankston as Mr. North’s assistant Kanika Weaver. Ms. Simons portrays her character with measured stoicism that contrasts nicely with today’s pervasive sensationalism. By comparison, Ms. Bankston carries some of the more emotional scenes in the play. Both actresses prove to be talented performers. In addition, Ms. Weaver provides several musical interludes, singing a cappella. Her voice and delivery alone are worth the price of admission.
The set and multimedia designs were near flawless and presented in such a way, that not only was the audience viewing art but also viewing the viewers of the art. The film presentations of the late Dr. Morris, played by Dr. Richard Brettell, were a clever way of having the deceased character further his own storyline. After all, some things need to come from the man, himself.
Permanent Collection runs through Feb. 26 at the University Theatre on the UTD Campus. Call 972-883-2552 or go online at www.ah.utdallas.edu for tickets and information.
Rick A. Elina is a playwright and the theatre critic for The North Dallas Gazette.