Negative stereotypes engulf 'Hurt Village'
LINDA ARMSTRONG Special to the AmNews | 3/21/2012, 5:30 p.m.
"Hurt Village" is without a doubt one of the most offensive plays I've seen in a long while. It is written by African-American playwright Katori Hall, whose "The Mountaintop" recently had a hit on Broadway. In this play, Hall presents a story about a housing project in Memphis, Tenn., called Hurt Village, a drug-filled place that is dangerous to roam after sundown.
The characters in this play are some of the most foul-mouthed characters you will meet. They include a 13-year-old girl named Cookie who wants to be a rapper, her 26-year-old mother, Crank, and her grandmother, Big Mama. Cookie creates raps that are filled with adult language and subject matter and when she performs them in front of her family, she is encouraged. Cookie's father, Buggy, has returned from the Iraq war. He has been gone for 10 years.
Cookie has a rough life. She is very poor, lives in the projects and her mother is always yelling at her. Her mother cannot read and gets angry with Cookie when she speaks intelligently. Cookie has a very fresh mouth and talks back to both her mother and her newly returned father.
Crank's best friend Toyia wears tight clothing, curses and talks about withholding sex from her boyfriend Cornbread, a small-time drug dealer. She has given birth to numerous children, so much so that at her last delivery, the nurse told her that the doctor suggested they tie her tubes as a form of birth control. She explains to Crank that she cursed the nurse out.
The men in this play are also the lowest common denominators of society. They are drug dealers, runners and users and frequently discuss the most obscene topics. Now, people can use strong language, but I feel the language here was overkill.
By intermission, I was feeling offended and stunned. Why present our people using every stereotype that society believes?
Now, these characters spewing profanity and talking about drugs and sex isn't the only thing that happens in the play. The residents of Hurt Village are being relocated due to a Hope Grant from the government that will convert the apartment to condos for whites. It is a perfect example of developers thinking about making money and not being concerned with the lives of the people that they push out.
Cookie's family struggles with having to relocate. All the people of Hurt Village are struggling, feeling powerless over what will happen in their lives. Cookie's family is even more upset, because her grandmother gets a letter informing her that she makes too much money working at the Veteran's Hospital for them to continue getting Section 8 housing.
Buggy comes home with mental issues sustained from serving in Iraq. He finds himself unable to get a legitimate job or receive benefits from the military. He has to settle for doing the "norm" to make money in this neighborhood--the drug trade. Although the war messed Buggy up, he had a lot to deal with as a child, too. His mother was a crack addict. The local drug dealer brought in a group of men for her to "service" and Buggy was in the house when it happened.
These characters truly demonstrate some of the worse beliefs that society can have about Black people. While the script is way over the top and often offends, I must separate it from the work of the actors, who delivered powerful performances and include Joaquina Kalukango, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Tonya Pinkins, Corey Hawkins, Saycon Sengbloh, Nicholas Christopher, Charlie Hudson III, Lloyd Watts and Ron Cephas Jones.
"Hurt Village" is playing at the Pershing Square Signature Center on West 42nd Street.