The isms come fast and thick in Thomas Gibbons’ “Permanent Collection, ” where no debate is left untouched: racism, traditionalism, egoism, art-world elitism and, less directly, sexism and ageism—all underscored by a nasty stench of office politics. The play is a fictionalized rendering of the financial and public-relations debacle at the Barnes Foundation, a privately run art museum that was, until recently, quietly tucked away in the relative obscurity of suburban Philadelphia. (In December, a successful effort was made to change the museum’s restrictive charter; the vast collection of Impressionist paintings will be moved downtown to a more tourist-friendly location.) The story boils down to a test of wills between Sterling North, the African-American administrator hired to run the foundation, and Paul Barrow, the white museum employee who resists any proposals for change. Sterling wants to display a handful of African artworks that have been buried in the basement for years, a seemingly innocuous issue that sends Paul off the deep end. Charges of racism are made, resignations are tendered and lawyers are brought in as the men amp up the voltage on their pissing match. Under the direction of Lisa Portes, the Northlight Theatre production is solid and well-acted, even if there is something not quite right with Linda Buchanan’s set design—its movable pieces don’t really glide so much as jerk into place. You can’t have everything. (Nina Metz)
This production is now closed.