North Carolina Central University’s production of “Hurt Village,” by playwright Katori Hall, is a brash, honest and contemporary play about the gentrification of a black neighborhood.
“Hurt Village” tells the story of a soldier who comes home to Memphis from military service in Iraq as the complex he grew up in is about be demolished.
The play explores the struggles of African American communities with family turmoil, drugs and gang violence. Hall based her characters and conflicts on real-life experiences of the Memphis community of Hurt Village.
It details what one character in the play calls “the war,” referring to the war within the community and the war that is being imposed on the community by outside forces.
“What drew me to the project was the author, Katori Hall,” said Stephanie “Asabi” Howard, the plays director and theater department chair. “I loved her play ‘On the Mountain Top’ and her use of language in it.”
Asabi said she is impressed with how Hall conveyed the political significance hidden underneath the events of her plays. “I knew ‘Hurt Village’ would be my next play after I met Hall at National Black Theatre Festival.”
Jonathan Able plays the role of the psychologically damaged returning war veteran, Buggy.
“Buggy comes home after being gone for 10 years as the play starts,” said Able. “You can tell he is disturbed at what he sees and how sad it is that Hurt Village ends up like it is.”
Buggy must come home to face the new problems of his neighborhood, as well as the ones that haunt him from the war.
“I think the audience is in for an eye opening experience, so many things are addressed in this play,” he said. “The audience will leave with their thoughts wrapping round the thought that this is actually happening.”
Renee Doggett portrays the character Big Mamma, the grandmother of the lead characters. Though flawed, she is the strength and the backbone of the black family at the center of the story.
Big Mamma’s character continues the cycle of negative behaviors and mentalities that plague many low-income inner-city blacks. Hall’s play explores the perpetuation of this cycle and the realization of its effects.
Technical supervisor Christopher Sanders, a lifelong Durham resident, said the play reminds him of how some of Durham’s neighborhoods have regressed over recent years.
Sanders said he has witnessed the growth of gang culture, drugs and violence in the neighborhoods he used to play in. He also said he has seen the gentrification of black Durham neighborhoods.
This process moved minorities into other smaller, low-income neighborhoods, which only clustered the issues instead of solving them.
In that respect, “Hurt Village” doesn’t just tell the story of inner-city life and gentrification in Memphis, but it tells an honest portrayal of the struggle of African American communities across America.
Asabi said her goal for the play is to get the audience to walk out of the theatre with a newfound sensitivity for life in communities like Hurt Village. She wants the audience to leave with a sense of hope for the future of the black community.
The final show dates for “Hurt Village” are Feb. 26, 27 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 28 at 3 p.m. in the Farrison-Newton University Theater.