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Theater Review: “Permanent Collection” at the Herberger

Written by Chad Cocquyt Category: Performing Arts Issue: February 2017
Group Free

Courtesy Chad Cocquyt“Permanent Collection,” a play directed by Arizona State University professor Charles St. Clair, is now performing at the Herberger Theater after opening at ASU West Campus in celebration of Black History Month, and it’s worth checking out.

Co-produced by ASU West and the Herberger's iTheatre Collaborative, and written by Philadelphia playwright Thomas Gibbons, “Permanent Collection” is based on true events at the Barnes Foundation, a Philadelphia institution. The story follows Sterling North, the new director of the fictional, world-famous Morris Foundation art collection. When North, a black man, stumbles upon some African pieces hidden in storage, he proposes to move eight significant works into the public gallery, which has not been updated for more than 50 years and is comprised of mostly white artists.

Not everyone agrees with this change, however, and North suspects race plays a role. He is soon faced with a lawsuit from a former employee trying to preserve the permanent collection, all while trying to juggle mounting press coverage over racial tensions at the galleries.

“Permanent Collection” is filled with drama, stirring dialogue and a touch of humor that leaves you engaged through the very end. The simple stage design is completely white, symbolizing white society, with two black benches to symbolize the African minority. The lighting is dynamic and stimulating, adding pops of color and projections of the paintings as the actors discuss them in real time. The actors cleverly break the fourth wall on occasion, adding a certain heightened experimental aspect to the play that allows the audience to feel participatory – we are all involved in the struggle of race relations.

“Permanent Collection” runs through March 4. Visit herbergtheater.com for times and ticket prices.

*Editor's Note: This post has been updated to reflect that the play is based on true events.