CLYBOURNE PARK (BROADWAY) Send This Review to a Friend
Bruce Norris’s play “Clybourne Park,” which won a Pulitzer Prize, is not only devastatingly funny but is slyly complex and makes wickedly perceptive points about the gulf of the racial divide even though a half century has brought changed circumstances. Normally I am put off by riffs on previous works, but Norris had a stroke of genius in going back to Lorraine Hansberry’s landmark 1959 play “A Raisin in the Sun” as inspiration for a work that culminates in 2009. Norris doesn’t just take the obvious road. He has assigned his couples tensions that explode between them. What’s more, in this production that Playwrights Horizons originally presented off Broadway and has now been brought to BroadwaY. The cast is the same. As originally done, the actors take different roles in the two acts denoting the time spread, and what fun it is to watch this superb, versatile ensemble work re-created.
The issues that rage on stage are just as pertinent as when the drama was first presented. Note the set up. In the first half we get the picture of a white husband and wife besieged by a local representative of the upscale Chicago community pleading with them not to go ahead with a sale to a black family and thereby set off a decline in property values. (In “A Raisin in the Sun” the black family in an effort to improve its lot is poised to move into a white neighborhood and implored not to do so.) Here we get the picture from the pressure on the white family not to sell—the other side of the coin.
Fifty years later we see the same house, now run down, and s white couple moving in as a reflection of the gentrification taking place is besieged by black community members with a demand that alterations not be so broad as to destroy the neighborhood character that has developed over the years. In 2009, as in 1959, racial attitudes burst forth, spotlighting white condescension even when trying to show lack of prejudice, and blacks simmering with resentment against whites who reveal their bigotry.
As previously noted, if you think this is heavy, preachy stuff, don’t worry. The playwright has packed the situations with dagger-like humor, the cast maximizes the effect and Pam Mackinnon’s on-target direction keeps the focus on lacerating revelations as well as on the comedy. She has made certain that when characters listen as others speak, the silence can be as important as the dialogue. A joke-telling face off in the second act is explosively and revealingly funny.
It is best not to say too much about what specifically happens. But in the first section the anger between the husband and wife moving out is rooted to the past, and in the second act the event is nastily used to try to deter the couple moving in.
I can’t say enough to praise the marvelous cast of seven—Crystal A. Dickinson, Brendan Griffin, Damon Gupton, Christina Kirk, Annie Parisse, Jeremy Shamos and Frank Wood. Their work is just plain swell, and the versatility is even more developed and apparent. See for yourself in this new opportunity afforded by the reopening on Broadway. At the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street. $50-$127. Phone: 212-239-6200.