Katori Hall, the playwright behind “The Mountaintop,” stopped by the WSJ studio to discuss the world premiere of her new play, “Hurt Village,” at the brand new Pershing Square Signature Center in New York City.
Hall, who now lives in Washington Heights, New York, is a native of Memphis, and said the inspiration for the play came from growing up as a young girl near the real-life Hurt Village housing project.
“I grew up playing with kids from Hurt Village, playing with kids from other housing projects, Lamar Terrace, because my grandmother lived in that particular area,” Hall said in the interview. “So, I always wondered how I would have turned out if I would have lived in that particular given circumstance.”
“Hurt Village,” which opened on Monday, tells the story of an African-American family during its last days in a Memphis housing project—too poor to afford better housing, but considered too well-off to qualify for public housing. At its heart is Cookie (Joaquina Kalukango), a gifted 13-year-old girl who wants to continue her education and improve her life.
Hall is one of three playwrights being celebrated in the inaugural season of the Pershing Square Signature Center — a 70,000-square-foot, Frank Gehry-designed space that opened earlier this month. Along with Hall’s “Hurt Village,” Signature is staging Edward Albee’s “The Lady From Dubuque” and Athol Fugard’s “Blood Knot.”
“It’s freaking mind-blowing to be rehearsing and you come out of the door and there’s Mr. Fugard eating cookies on his break,” Hall said. “I feel so honored to be in such amazing, amazing company. I feel like when they embrace me, it’s showing me that they feel like there’s room for all of us. All of these stories deserve to be told.”
Hall’s play, “The Mountaintop,” was a recent production on Broadway starring Samuel Jackson and Angela Bassett. When asked how that experience differed from playing at the off-Broadway Signature Center, Hall said, “It’s so different because obviously it’s Broadway, there’s more at stake. You gotta get your $3.1 million back. You’re working with stars—not just stars but STARS… You do have to deal with producers coming to you and like, how many minutes you gonna cut off? You have to deal with that I think more so on the Broadway level. But I think the major difference is, you’re under the radar at Signature and they say Broadway is playwright-centered and it’s not, no more [laughs]. It’s actor-centered at this point in time because of the economy. But off-Broadway, particularly at Signature, it’s playwright-centered, absolutely”