From the moment the lights come up on Cookie (Joaquina Kalukango) rapping about the destruction of the projects she grew up in, it’s clear that Hurt Village (at Signature Theatre) is not going to waste time acclimatizing people to the language or culture represented. This show is here to tell a story, and it’s the audience’s job to understand. This is not to say that the show is dense or difficult to follow – rather, the decision by director Patricia McGregor to present Hurt Village as realistically as possible allows the actor’s talents to shine through, making the language completely clear through acting choices.
Hurt Village is not an easy show to watch, as it confronts poverty, abuse, rape, and drugs without flinching. Magnificently lead by Kalukango, with wonderful support by Marsha Stephanie Blake, as Crank, Cookie’s mother, and Ron Cephas Jones, as the neighborhood drug lord Tony C, among others, the cast deals with a Shakespearian level of tragedy with dignity and grace. The wordplay of the script, written by Katori Hall, lends itself the animation of the cast. While some lines are sentimental enough to easily cross the line into the cliché, the restrained direction keeps them in check.
While the set, designed by David Gallo, is fascinating and evocative, the setting of the play in the round makes you feel like there’s always something you’re not seeing, and can occasionally be distracting. The projection of titles before each scene seemed to highlight symbolism that was perfectly fine without it – instead of adding to the experience, it felt like a lesson guide in how to watch the play.
Overall, Hurt Village is a fascinating and important play to experience. The care and work put into it alone make it worthwhile, and the emotional satisfaction is incredible. This is not a simple or comforting show, but it is a very great one.