Hurt Village, the aptly named housing project that stood at the blighted corner of Auction and Danny Thomas until 2002, was an experiment in city planning built to lure working-class whites back to the urban core. In its last decades, Hurt Village had become an almost exclusively African-American community — an overpopulated monument to generational poverty, suffering, and segregation. These ironies aren't lost on Memphis-born playwright Katori Hall, who came to imagine the housing project as a slave ship grounded a stone's throw from the city's slave auction block and as an extraordinary repository of stories seldom told.
Ekundayo Bandele, Hattiloo Theatre's executive director, is excited that his theater will stage Hurt Village, Hall's hard-edged hometown debut. Bandele says the play couldn't be more timely, comparing Hall's jazz-like meditation on grants and gentrification to current happenings at Foote Homes, the city's last large housing project, currently and controversially slated for redevelopment. Hurt Village is likewise set in the namesake project's last days, before it was transformed into the mixed-income Uptown neighborhood. It's a story about life in a war zone populated by dealers, soldiers, wage slaves, plain folks getting by, and a special teenage girl with some unusual pets.
Hurt Village is a far cry from Broadway's Memphis, a musical penned by a pair of Jersey boys. Hall knows her characters. The Craigmont graduate has seen her plays produced on Broadway and in London's West End, but she's intimately acquainted with Shelby County politics and the language of the North Memphis streets. Hurt Village is a profanity-laden study in texture, filled with jookin', rapping, and number-running jokes about other people's mamas. Unlike most New York imports, this one really does feel like home. "Hurt Village" at the Hattiloo Theatre, October 4th-21st. $18-$25. Hattiloo.org