Whenever moving into a new home, the first question usually asked is, “How is the neighborhood?”
If you're moving to Clybourne Park, the residents are still struggling to figure out how to address the state of the neighborhood, at least in this compelling rendition, directed by Rodney Lee Rogers.
Bruce Norris' Pulitzer, Tony and Olivier Award-winning play, “Clybourne Park,” currently running at Pure Theatre as part of the Piccolo Spoleto festival, is a harsh comedy-drama that skips over polite manners and goes right for the jugular.
Norris wreaks havoc on the “time heals all” cliche, for at least in a small suburb in Chicago racial tensions are still not quite healed. Produced on Broadway in 2012, the fictional Clybourne Park is a symbol for every city-suburb relationship, at least for the ones that experience white flight.
Hanging off the coattails of Lorraine Hansberry's play, “A Raisin in the Sun,” Norris uses the Younger family as the invisible protagonists throughout the show. The two-hour play has a brilliant parallel structure.
The first act is set in 1959; the community is filled to the brim with 1950s all-American values. But once a family is moving out (for incredibly horrific reasons) and a black family is moving in Karl (a character taken from “A Raisin in the Sun”; played by a vicious David Mandel) and presumably the rest of the residential neighborhood aren't happy.
The second act, now in 2009, features Clybourne after white flight. The Draper-esque townhouse is in a well-known black neighborhood. The problem this time, a white family wants to move in and black neighbors aren't happy.
A fine cast of seven, occasionally dragging the pace and missing some bruising comedic moments, plays two sets of characters. Erin Wilson is a traumatically graceful Bev, slowly shedding her 1950s housewife smile in the first act, then playing the sharp lawyer, Kathy, in the second act.
The rest of the cast follows suit nicely. The quiet and careful black couple, Michael Smallwood and Alanda Parker, soon change into a couple slinging cringe-worthy racist jokes.
Of course, part of the fun with this show is watching the townhouse morph into a dilapidated and dingy shell in 15 minutes. With a set design by Allen Lyndrup, it is apparent that 50 years has had a major toll on Clybourne Street.
Norris is continuing the conversation about a relevant issue, and suggesting that blacks and whites surely can find common ground.
Josh Austin is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.
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