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Hurt Village: Katori Hall’s Broken-Dreams America

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Hurt Village: Katori Hall’s Broken-Dreams America

My first impression of the set of Hurt Village, the new play by Katori Hall at the Signature Theatre, was its Kienholz look. As in the work of the American installation artist, the eclectically assembled furnishings—an oversized plastic-wrapped sofa, blood-red kitchen, chain-link fences, graffiti, a solitary lamppost—evoked realism in loose, expressive brushstrokes, with a touch of the sinister.

The set befitted the play, which grapples with recognizable themes in bold and vigorous, if not always new, ways. Cookie, a 13-year-old rapper, is a resident of the Hurt Village project in Memphis that’s about to be bulldozed to clear space for new condominiums. Cookie’s precocious linguistic gifts clash poignantly with her at times shaky grammar. From the start, she’s the play’s anchor—no small feat, considering how seamlessly a relative newcomer to the professional stage, Joaquina Kalukango, balances Cookie’s childish schoolgirl angst, her bedwetting and sexual curio, with learning to hold her own, in a brutally adult world.

Cookie’s mother, Crank, played by Marsha Stephanie Blake, is a spectacle of willful reticence. Her inability to express love for a child she conceived as an adolescent, and who’s quickly outgrown her rudimentary learning, slowly acquires softer, more tragic overtones. Cookie’s biological father, Buggy, returns home after 10 years of military service—his last post in Iraq. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and constantly popping pills, he’s more a phantom than a father figure, in spite of the boyish charm lent to the role by actor Corey Hawkins. Holding it together is Big Mama, Cookie’s paternal grandmother, who like Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage can be short on comforting words but tireless in providing for her children. Big Mama’s weariness, conveyed perfectly by previous OBIE winner Tonya Pinkins, sets the tone for the production (“God takes care of fools, but the rest of us have to take care of ourselves”). And if her prototype also seems to be found in Mama, in A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry, her tough-as-nails persona is a considerable embellishment on the original.

Hall borrows Shakespeare’s line from The Tempest, “what’s past is prologue,” as the play’s opening, and her message is clear: As Buggy puts it, “the more you run away from who you is, the more it follow you.” Crank fails to stay off crack and loses her parental rights. Big Mama, whose hospital job puts her barely over minimum earnings, must beg her way into the Hope relocation program for the poor. Buggy returns to drug dealing. He challenges Tony C., the local drug lord and sleek, white-clad villain, whose rage against corrupt officials and cutthroat developers is a thin veil for his own callousness. The new victims and crimes are but echoes of the earlier ones, including the drug dealers’ gang rape of Buggy’s mother and her overdose, or Buggy’s sexually assaulting Arab women on his military missions. In the overwhelming parade of failure and chronic, nearly Oedipal guilt, only Cookie rings a surprisingly ardent note, when she says that she will miss Hurt Village, for all the people it has brought her way.

The drug-dealing material may seem familiar, more scrupulously explored in The Wire, but Hall’s work is remarkable for her keen ear for wisecracks and irreverent, self-deprecating humor, as in a scene where Crank’s friend reenacts a showdown she staged at a clinic when a doctor suggested tying her tubes—“a mechanical approach” for “a woman with your history.” Hall sprinkles just enough tartness and lyricism not to slip into a melodrama, though she comes close at times. Broken into chapters, with sardonic Brechtian titles, such as “America Ain’t Shit” and “Tony C’s Emancipation Proclamation,” the play maintains a swift tempo, thanks to the spirited directing of Patricia McGregor, and to a capable ensemble, aided by a dialect coach and a jookin’ (also known as gangsta walking) dance consultant.

Hall’s previous play, The Mountaintop, was an imaginary enactment of Martin Luther King’s last night before his assassination. In Hurt Village, the civil rights icon’s photo proudly hangs on the wall, but his “I have a dream” has been turned into Big Mama’s cantankerous “I once had a dream too.” At her best, Hall makes all her characters’ plights resonate with such powerful, sly directness. At other times, as in Cookie’s science project, to test her hypothesis that fleas trapped in a jar give up on escape after a while, apathetic even when the cap is removed, Hall forces the metaphor, wringing out a symbolic truth about crushed wills and thwarted aspirations. More effective are Hall’s jaunty cross-overs from low to high registers, as when Crank startlingly explains her getting back on crack: “what gets niggas” are “boredom and chaos,” or when Big Mama remarks that her son’s “honorable discharge” is like saying “crazy nigga.” Ultimately, the play’s most bracing lines are hers. Shortly before leaving the stage, she says, “I wasn’t the best Mama, who the fuck is,” then adds, “but I’m still here.”

Hurt Village runs through March 25 at the Signature Theatre.

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Watch: Two Episode Trailers for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Reboot

Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes.

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The Twilight Zone
Photo: CBS All Access

Jordan Peele is sitting on top of the world—or, at least, at the top of the box office, with his sophomore film, Us, having delivered (and then some) on the promise of his Get Out. Next up for the filmmaker is the much-anticipated reboot of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, which the filmmaker executive produced and hosts. Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes, “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” In the former, Kumail Nanjiani stars as the eponymous comedian, who agonizingly wrestles with how far he will go for a laugh. And in the other, a spin on the classic “Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet” episode of the original series starring William Shatner, Adam Scott plays a man locked in a battle with his paranoid psyche. Watch both trailers below:

The Twilight Zone premieres on April 1.

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Scott Walker Dead at 76

Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde.

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Scott Walker
Photo: 4AD

American-born British singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Scott Walker, who began his career as a 1950s-style chanteur in an old-fashioned vocal trio, has died at 76. In a statement from his label 4AD, the musician, born Noel Scott Engel, is celebrated for having “enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of the Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality.”

Walker was born in Hamilton, Ohio on January 9, 1943 and earned his reputation very early on for his distinctive baritone. He changed his name after joining the Walker Brothers in the early 1960s, during which time the pop group enjoyed much success with such number one chart hits as “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).”

The reclusive Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde. Walker, who was making music until his death, received much critical acclaim with 2006’s Drift and 2012’s Bish Bosch, as well as with 2014’s Soused, his collaboration with Sunn O))). He also produced the soundtrack to Leos Carax’s 1999 romantic drama Pola X and composed the scores for Brady Corbet’s first two films as a director, 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader and last year’s Vox Lux.

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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