Saturday, September 13, 2008

Permanent Collection

Last Saturday night I saw Permanent Collection at BoarsHead. My biggest disappointment with the show was how small the audience was. It was a show that was perfectly put together with fine acting and a great script. It's the kind of work that theater needs to be doing--the kind of work that fulfills the mission of theater at a very deep level.

Permanent Collection doesn't preach. It doesn't make trite statements about racism or spout conventional wisdom. Instead, it provides one of the more honest discussions about the topic that have been offered for a couple decades.

In his book Boom! Tom Brokaw says that since the upheaval of the 60s, our society has been unable to have an honest conversation about race. We have too many hot buttons that keep us from tackling the problem head-on in a meaningful way. We talk about race a lot, but we're stuck in unproductive conversations that are simply a teeter-totter of accusations and denials.

Avenue Q came through Wharton last year and had an absolutely brilliant book. One of the songs in it is "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist." I couldn't help but think of the lyrics to that song while watching Permanent Collection. They sing the song in true muppet-style--upbeat, happy, and silly--while offering some extremely wise observations.

It left me wondering how different the outcome of the situation in Permanent Collection could have been if the character of Paul had been able to say to Sterling, "OK, I guess I am being racist. Help me to understand." and if Sterling had been able to respond without anger, arrogance, and smugness. What if both of them had been able to treat each other with compassion and respect and tackled the issue head-on rather than using the issue of racism as a further divider.

How would it change our conversations if we stopped arguing about whether we were or were not racist and instead said, "OK, what I'm doing is offensive. Let's work on it." and that people did not assume that because they were offended by something that the other person is automatically a bad, evil, or ignorant person?

I reviewed Permanent Collection for the Lansing State Journal here. This is one of those shows, though, where the discussion and interaction of it stretches far beyond a simple evaluation of performances and presentation. It's a show that asks a lot of questions and leaves it to the audience to work through them. It isn't educating or preaching, it's the start of a dialog that is important to all of us. In other words, it is theater at its finest.

5 comments:

critic-don said...

Sadly, small houses seem to be the norm these days. Two out of three shows my team and I attended this week were disappointing: one was half full, another had an audience that equaled the number of actors on stage, while the third was quite full (primarily because of large group sales, I believe).

I suspect gas prices and the economy are the culprit, but I could be somewhat wrong.

No matter the cause, it's a shame, because there are some mighty fine shows happening right now...

Bridgette Redman said...

It will be something to watch. I went to a show last night that was packed. But it was a popular musical that was well-publicized.

It will be interesting to keep an eye on audience sizes over the next several weeks. I hope it is a temporary drop.

CJ said...

Let me just say, I'm a BHT and Kristine Thatcher fan.... We went to Permanent Collection on opening night. It is truly a wonderful piece -it struck me as a bit sad, I admit to having a tear or two.the dialogue is amazing. And the acting was top-notch We talked about it for days.
The house was small but I think theater in Lansing is that way particulary with work that is "unknown" to the general public. Word of mouth is the best publicity in this area. Hopefully each and every theater will have some luck this season.

Patty "Wilson" P said...

Bridgette I follow you on twitter. You and I twittered about my going to see the show Permanent Collection, you asking me to let you know what I thought.

i went to the opening show like the others have and found it like they did an interesting piece, but you said something in your post that struck me.

You say: It left me wondering how different the outcome of the situation in Permanent Collection could have been if the character of Paul had been able to say to Sterling, "OK, I guess I am being racist. Help me to understand." and if Sterling had been able to respond without anger, arrogance, and smugness. What if both of them had been able to treat each other with compassion and respect and tackled the issue head-on rather than using the issue of racism as a further divider." Paul should have admitted his racism, but what of Sterlings? Wasn't he just as bigoted, biased as Paul? Its a question I would like to see you address.

Bridgette Redman said...

Actually, I would probably go a step further and say that Sterling was even more racist and bigoted than Paul was (and I'm again humming the line from Avenue Q that says "Bigotry has never been exclusively white.").

Paul's racism came from a place of cultural obliviousness. He was ignorant to his own racism because race wasn't something that was on his radar.

Sterling's racism was an active, angry defensive that came out of rage at the historic victimization and his determination not to be a victim. He saw everything through the lens of race whereas Paul saw nothing through the eyes of race.

Both are problematic. And I think that's one of the beauties of this play: that it takes such an honest look at both sides and doesn't let either person off the hook.