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Robert Askins’ “Hand to God” set the bar very high for “Permission,” in which he returns for the second time in a row to the mysterious world of fundamentalist-flavored evangelical Christianity as practiced in suburban Texas. Mysterious, that is, to Manhattanites: Most residents of flyover country (as it’s known on the godless coasts) don’t find it strange at all. But here as in “Hand to God,” Mr. Askins has found a decidedly peculiar corner of the culture that spawned him and put it on stage for the rest of us to puzzle out.
“Permission” is about two Christian couples, one of which hews to a cultish practice called “Christian Domestic Discipline” in which the wife is “submissive” to the all-powerful authority of her husband and consents to be spanked by him if she fails to do his bidding. “Permission” proceeds from the premise that CDD (which really exists) is actually a stealthy way of legitimizing the sadomasochistic longings of its practitioners. This notion isn’t all that amusing in and of itself, but Mr. Askins uses it to fuel a knockabout farce (so to speak) in which things get out of hand with dizzying and delicious speed.
Mr. Askins doesn’t content himself with sniping lazily at easy targets. Yes, his benighted characters are engaging in absurd behavior, but they’re real people, not grotesques…
Katori Hall’s “The Mountaintop,” which made it to Broadway in 2011, did nothing for me, but colleagues familiar with her previous work assured me that it didn’t do her justice. Then I saw “Our Lady of Kibeho” and found it impressive—the best new play of 2014, in fact. So I decided to check out Arena Stage’s premiere production of “The Blood Quilt” to see which way the coin would fall, and the verdict is positive. By turns raucously funny and electrically intense, “The Blood Quilt” is a tale of black family life that places Ms. Hall alongside Amy Herzog as the most promising young American playwright of the past decade.
The plot of “The Blood Quilt” is old-fashioned in all the right ways. Four half-sisters (their mother got around) return to the home in rural Georgia where they grew up and where their mother has just died. When she was alive, they came home each year for a quilting bee, and their plan is to continue the ritual. One of them, though, is a big-city lawyer (Meeya Davis) who broke away from the family and didn’t make it back for the funeral, thus setting in motion a well-wrought kitchen-sink drama whose dramaturgy is reminiscent of “A Raisin in the Sun” but whose subject matter is wholly contemporary. In addition, Ms. Hall shares with August Wilson and Horton Foote the magical ability to sift poetry from everyday speech…
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To read my complete review of Permission, go here.
To read my complete review of The Blood Quilt, go here.
A video featurette about Permission:
Katori Hall talks about The Blood Quilt: