Dishonorably discharged from his tour in Iraq, Buggy (Corey Hawkins) returns to inner city Memphis to face bleak dangers of the domestic kind. Gunshots ring out from drug deals, triggering his PTSD. Another invasion looms–from a developer who plans to raze the public housing where Buggy lives with his grandmother Big Mama (Tonya Pinkins) and his 13-year old daughter Cookie (Joanquina Kalukango). Crank (Marsha Stephanie Blake), Cookie’s mother, goes back on crack, succumbing to “boredom and chaos.” On every corner, injustice, neglect, and despair greet Buggy, who must struggle to survive amid this battery of strife. As the closing scene’s rappers sum up: “This be the war!”
As you might guess from the title, Hurt Village, a new drama by Katori Hall (author of The Mountaintop), is not a subtle play. Director Patricia McGregor, however, has given it a high-voltage production, and a uniformly excellent cast finds resonances that sometimes eclipse the predictable social realism. (Big Mama’s overwrought monologue pleading for salvation in the welfare office is a heavy-handed exception to this successful humanizing.)
Hall isn’t exclusively didactic: She’s careful to draw scenes demonstrating the covered-up tenderness and bountiful wit of Hurt Village’s denizens—such as the besting and bragging between the charming yokels Cornbread (Nicholas Christopher) and Skillet (Lloyd Watts). Ultimately, the play offers an extended sociology lesson, but it’s one that America never seems to learn.