Protests at the Barnes inspired ‘Permanent Collection’

The Barnes is a source of controversy in The Barnes Foundation is a source of controversy in “Permanent Collection.”
Credit: Julie M. Toth

At the end of Thomas Gibbons’ 2003 play “Permanent Collection,” inspired by racially charged conflicts at the Barnes Foundation, the prospect of relocating the Main Line museum to the city is raised. Ten years later, audiences in Philadelphia are very aware of how that particular controversy played out in real life.

“Now that it has happened, I think the play gives us a different perspective on what was gained or what was lost by the move,” Gibbons says.

A decade after InterAct Theatre Company’s premiere of the play, artistic director Seth Rozin is reviving “Permanent Collection” as part of the company’s 25th anniversary season. The piece, which won the 2004 Barrymore Award for outstanding new play, is the most successful production in the company’s history. Four of the six original cast members are returning, as are several members of the original design team.

A lot has happened in the last 10 years outside of the Barnes as well. “The dramatic situation of the play is one of the primal dramatic situations: A stranger comes to town,” Gibbons says. “In the last several years, it’s been interesting to see how that mirrors Barack Obama being elected president, which is in a sense the same kind of story. There’s not a one-to-one parallel, but there are eerie resonances.”

“Permanent Collection” was inspired by the protests of the Barnes’ Lower Merion neighbors to a proposed new parking lot at the site. The Barnes’ then-president Richard Glanton accused the neighbors of racism; they retaliated by suing him for slander.

At the time, Gibbons was working primarily with themes of race in plays set in Philadelphia, including “6221,” about the MOVE bombing, and “A House With No Walls,” about the President’s House site. He points to the controversial recent Philadelphia Magazine cover story “Being White in Philly” as proof that those concerns are still ongoing in the city.

“Philadelphia offers up these stories on a pretty regular basis,” he says. “So it’s impossible to just pretend that race is no longer an issue, which some people would like to think.”

‘Permanent Collection’
Through May 5
Adrienne Theater
2030 Sansom St.
$20-$40, 215-568-8079
www.interacttheatre.org

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