In an even more interesting turn of events, my mother and I were able to see exactly the same theatre production across the country. Clybourne Park was produced by Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles after its Off-Broadway run and before it hit Broadway. She saw it in L.A. and last night I saw the Broadway production. In order to give our reviews full space, I’m running them as two different posts. Enjoy! – Lauren
Lauren Smart, April 5. Walter Kerr Theatre. NYC. :
If you ever wondered why the house on Clybourne Street was so affordable, Bruce Norris offers you an explanation and some deep-rooted laughs in Clybourne Park.The show - currently playing in the Walter Kerr Theatre – fleshes out Lorraine Hansberry’s magnum opus, A Raisin in the Sun, proffering the scenes that could have directly followed Mr. Linder’s visit to the Youngers family.
In the play’s first act, Bev and Russ are selling their house onClybourne Street because of their son’s recent death. Everyone in the neighborhood tries to talk them out of it, except Karl’s (the renamed Mr. Linder) wife Betsy (Annie Parisse), but that’s only because she’s deaf and mute.
Norris plays with 1959’s social conventions with ease, allowing the play to bubble over with comedic moments delightfully accentuated by the actors. One of his smartest moves happens at the play’s opening when Russ (Frank Wood) and Bev (an uproarious performance from Christina Kirk) discuss the origin of the Neapolitan.
Derivation from the Italian Napoli seems preposterous to Bev – after all, that’s not how Americans would do it. More circular arguments show up throughout the play and in a tense conversation with Russ and Bev’s maid Francine (Crystal A. Dickinson), Karl (Jeremy Shamos) demonstrates his unwillingness to see similarities between black and white people.
The howling laughter of the first act at the “way we were,” is followed in the second act by a brutal examination of racism today. Fifty years after the house on Clybourne is sold, a white couple Lindsey (Parisse) and Steve (Shamos) buy it with the intent of gentrification.
When a neighborhood coalition, set on retaining the integrity of the neighborhood, petitions against their monstrous house, Steve accuses the black couple heading the movement of reverse racism and a round of offensive conversation works everyone into a dither.
It seems there is no middle ground. As the couple stands in the rundown house with graffiti splattered on the walls, renovation seems necessary and desirable. But in a frustratingly stereotypical (though sometimes accurate) move, the white couple plans to put in a Koi Pond. And just as before the neighborhood is destined to change.
Despite the play’s humor, it ends with a bleak statement that life is nothing more than a cyclical argument. As Bev nags Russ at the beginning of the play, “Why not just sit in a chair and wait for the end of the world?” But somehow the ability of the audience to laugh together at our collective shortcomings is its own source of hope for the future. That house Hansberry imagined in Clybourne Park is just as meaningful when Norris re-imagines it more than half a century later.