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HURT VILLAGE tells the story of the end of a tight-knit Memphis community (photo by Joan Marcus)

The Pershing Square Signature Center
The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre
480 West 42nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Extended through March 25, $25 through March 18, $75 after

Inspired by the real-life demolition of a public housing project in Memphis, Tennessee, ten years ago, Katori Hall’s Hurt Village is a bittersweet tale of family, community, and changing economic times. With the imminent demise of their neighborhood, which will be turned into homes they will not be able to afford, the people of Hurt Village are being relocated via Hope Grants, bringing an end to the tight-knit neighborhood. An aspiring rapper, thirteen-year-old Cookie (Joaquina Kalukango) is a young girl with hopes and dreams despite her difficult surroundings. She lives in a ramshackle apartment with her mother, Crank (Marsha Stephanie Blake), a recovering crack addict, and great-grandmother, Big Mama (Tonya Pinkins), who trudges off to work every day to bring home what little money they have. The unexpected arrival of Cookie’s long-absent father, Buggy (Corey Hawkins), who has suddenly returned from the Iraq War, reenergizes the downtrodden, shrinking community, which also includes the smooth-talking Ebony (Charlie Hudson III) and the stuttering Skillet (Lloyd Watts), a pair of ne’er-do-wells who go after each other in a very funny “Yo Mama” battle, and the straight-shooting Cornbread (Nicholas Christopher) and his voracious, jealous wife, Toyia (Saycon Sengbloh). Meanwhile, well-dressed drug dealer Tony C. (Ron Cephas Jones) keeps pulling up in his fancy car, playing Elvis Presley’s “In the Ghetto,” trying to lure in more users as well as hire Buggy to work for him. Hurt Village is a fast-paced, gripping drama with an engaging cast of characters led by Cookie, who serves as the heart and soul of the show. Set designer David Gallo and director Patricia McGregor have placed the stage in the middle of the small theater, with the audience seated in rising rows on opposite sides, adding a feeling of warmth and involvement. Memphis native Hall (The Mountaintop), who won the 2011 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for Hurt Village, captures the rhythm and spirit of this dying community, balancing the ups and downs, the dedication and desperation, with candor and grace. The first of three shows Hall will write as part of the Signature Theatre’s Residency Five program, Hurt Village’s run as the inaugural production in the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre has been deservedly extended through March 25.

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