Permanent Collecton is “Proud”, “Provocative”, “Passionate” and “Perturbing” !

“Nothing on earth consumes a man more quickly than the passion of resentment!”

Fredrick Nietzsche

“Proud”, “Provocative”, “Passionate” and “Perturbing” and are just a few of the adjective used to describe Thomas Gibbon/s brilliantly written play entitled, “Permanent Collection”, which is currently being produced in the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley.

How often are we led astray by our emotions? What a thought-provoking question! Emotions can be triggered by just about anything, and that could run the gambit from sexual insinuations to personal pride to religious beliefs to political & financial relations. Nietzsche probably got it right when he decried the earlier statement attributed to him. Resentment carries with it a big stick and a big chip - - on somebody’s shoulder!

“Permanent Collection” begins its roller coaster ride when somebody buys a ticket on that amusement ride called the “Dark Tunnel of Resentment”. It doesn’t take long before we realize that resentment is just below the surface of just about all interpersonal relationships, somewhere nearby, always ready to rear its very ugly, nasty and destructive head at the slightest provocation, or so it seems!

Inspired by the true controversies surrounding the Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundaion, Gibbons takes an occurrence from real life and transposes it with the artistic skill of his pen and spins it into a tale of similar unbelievable convolution, a story about a man’s great love of art that somehow migrates across the great abyss of intellectual unfathomability to a tale that focuses on racial relations.

The Morris Foundation is a private art foundation created by the very unique, often unpredictable, acrid and habitually arbitrary, Caucasian art collector, Alfred Morris. The art collection is one of the most exciting private collections in the world of Cezanne, Renoir, and Matisse; certainly one of the most complete collections of its kind. It is more than just a haphazard collection of artifacts. It is a very carefully ordered collection that dares to compare and demonstrate to the world how each artist “borrowed” from each other, even if most subtlety. It was designed by Morris to quietly show how each artist nurtured the other, and perhaps sometimes disagreed with each other.

When Morris died, he bequeathed his collection to a small, predominantly black college, some say, very specifically to raise a single index finger salute to the ego-centered well-to-do art establishment.

While Morris was certainly a rebel and a renegade in his time, little did he know or realize that so was his successor-to-be, Sterling North (an African-American), a corporate/business executive engaged by the Foundation shortly after the private school took control of the Foundation. Sterling North (played by L. Peter Callender) discovers shortly after his arrival, that hidden away in the basement storage rooms of the institute is an almost unparalleled collection of African Art, unseen, hidden from the world. North tells the former chief assistant to Mr. Morris, Paul Barrow, that he will bring this fact to the attention of the foundation’s Board of Directors and recommend that they make some space in the institute to display a small bit of this exceptional collection, eight pieces in all. Barrow (played by Tim Kniffin), a Caucasian and the museum’s director of education, objects strenuously on the grounds that the Morris’ will forbade any changes in the collection’s display structure and continuity. Within days, the two men who believe heart and soul in the promulgation of fine art, find themselves engaged in a dynamic battle for control, a power struggle that very quickly degenerates into an acrimonious and racially charged war that threatens to destroy both the institution and the men themselves.

As the battle lines are drawn, you cannot help but ask yourself how such an insignificant issue as the display of 8 pieces of African art in a museum that displays hundreds of pieces of art by Caucasian painters, could become so significant and divisive. Is it just possible that Paul Barrow (who is fairly obviously the best qualified person for the curator’s job) is secretly reacting to the fact that he has been passed over in favor of a black administrator, whom a predominantly black college wishes to have as their “front man”? Is it just possible that Sterling North is subliminally reacting to being challenged because of his years of suppressed resentment for simply LWB (living while black), and is once again finding himself confronted by another white man in the decision making process? Somehow, when racism emerges in any argument, it tends to become the predominant issue, when it may not have ever really been part of the issue to begin with. One of the actors makes the statement “There’s the reason given, and then there is the reason - - !”

Other actors contribute significantly to the production, including Karen Aldridge, who portrays in superb fashion, the bright, young, administrative assistant, Kanika Weaver, loyal to North, whom he has brought along with him from his previous corporate job. She is far enough removed from the two gladiators to try to maintain some objectivity, but not far enough to come out of the fracas unscathed. Robert Hamm who plays the ghostly personification of Alfred Morris, the art collection’s arrogant and arbitrary owner and creator, is quite excellent in his portrayal. Margarette Robinson plays Morris’ former administrative assistant, Ella Franklin, who is immediately relegated to a clerical job when the new curator comes on board. Finally, Gillian Crane, the small town reporter who exposes the controversy and starts the “racism” fireball on its downward path of destruction, provides the public venue from which each side paints its opposition to the other side’s viewpoint. Director Robin Stanton has pulled out all stops in securing a pluperfect cast to drill this play’s message through all of us.

This is a scalding and thought-provoking story that grabs you and your racial fears and forbearances by the short hairs, making you sit up and cringe and take notice.

Permanent Collection plays Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., and on Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., in the Aurora Theater located at 2081 Addison Street in Berkeley. This theatre is practically next door to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre at 2051 Addison Street. There is plenty of parking nearby across the street in a city public parking garage, at $5 for the evening’s parking. Call (510) 843-4822 or visit their web-site at to purchase tickets and or to find out more about the production.