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
Monica Smart reviews Center Theatre Group, Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, February 5, 2012
The ﬁrst act of playwright Bruce Norrisʼ Clybourne Park begins with Bev (Christina Kirk) and Russ Stoller( the aptly sad-faced Frank Wood) having a silly, seemingly light-hearted conversation that that is actually quite tense. A 1950ʼs era box of Neapolitan ice cream spurs discussion of the names for people from different cities and ends with Bev pushing Russ to get out of his pajamas and back out into the world.
The audience quickly discovers that all is not well when the minister arrives to talk to Russ about his lack of involvement with the Rotary Club which serves as the symbol of life in the community and the world at large. Boxes are piled around the living room as the Stollers prepare to move into a new neighborhood. When Karl Lindner arrives we learn that the neighbors think that when the Stollerʼs move, Clybourne Park will change forever.
Karl Lindner, played convincingly by Jeremy Shamos, is the character from the Lorraine Hansberry play, A Raisin in the Sun. The 1959 drama follows the Younger family as they attempt to make a better life in the suburbs away from the ghetto of Chicago. The character of Karl Lindner appears in both plays and is a bigoted suburban dweller who thinks that black people are a threat to his way of life and he attempts to convince the Youngers that it is in their best interest to keep to their ʻplaceʼ.In Clybourne Park, Lindner attempts to coerce the Stollers into staying in their home by appealing to their guilt and when that doesnʼt work, things get ugly.
There is another serious issue affecting the life of the Stollers which has made Russ withdraw from the world. The issue is symbolized by a large chest and is revealed to the audience throughout the ﬁrst act.
It all sounds extremely serious, right? But no, it is hilarious! Not just awkward laughing at people repeating racial stereotypes (although they do) that cause you to cringe (although you do) but because the actors are so good and the dialogue is so funny in Act I.
Then in Act II, the cast re-appears, completely transformed into modern hipsters negotiating a deal to buy the house which once belonged to the Stollers and then to the Youngers family. Two young couples and their representatives are negotiating the purchase of the home and at ﬁrst it seems to be all about business. But we soon learn that Lena, Crystal Dickinson who appeared in Act I as the Stollerʼs maid, has more on her mind than simply working out the details of the sale.
Just as in Act I, the issue is race. Not only are the actors playing different roles in the second act, there are other changes as well. The modern characters are reluctant to speak clearly or candidly and while they may be just as bigoted as Karl Lindner, they are much better at disguising it. However, the characters in the second act lack the humanity of those in the ﬁrst act. They are simply caricatures, not sympathetic or real. This reﬂects the view of the playwright that there hasnʼt been much progress in race relations although people have become much better at faking it.
Their true feelings emerge in spite of their best efforts at civility and things quickly deteriorate and the meeting ends with the characters telling jokes equally offensive to black and white, male and female. The jokes seem designed to shock the audience
rather than to reveal the thoughts and feelings of the characters themselves.
The second act didnʼt ring true as the ﬁrst act did. Those characters lived in my world when I was a kid. But I do not feel that the ‘hipsters’ represented in the second act reﬂect the way young people think today. I have not met these smart, successful racists that Bruce Norris designs for Act II. The young people I know really are color-blind; more apt to judge based on the music you listen to or the type of car you drive than the color of your skin.