Written by Bruce Norris
Directed by Phaedra Tillery-Boughton
If you like the benefit of great stuff Bruce Norris‘ Crackling smart Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning Best Play, what remains is casting and directing. Director Phaedra Tillery-Boughton succeeds on both counts in Hillbarn’s award-winning production of Clybourne Park.
gearing on Lorraine Hansberryis groundbreaking A raisin in the sun a black perspective housing discrimination, racismand assimilation in chicago, Clybourne Park focuses his keen eye on a dark satire of the white role in racism, gentrification, and historical heritage. Wonderfully cast, the actors gnaw their teeth at Norris’s sizzling dialogue, showing the range of social attitudes in the aftermath of the Korean War in Act I in 1959 through to an inverted reflection fifty years later.
Russ (Ron Dritz) and his wife Bev (Mary Lou Torre) move to the suburbs after their son’s tragic suicide. His grief is compounded by anger at the community for treating his son as an outcast. When it turns out his real estate agent sold their house to a black family, it’s time for Russ to pay back.
The first act shows the blatant anti-integration racism of its time, illustrated by two community figures, neighbor Karl (Scott Reardon) and clergyman Jim (Steve Allhoff), who desperately try to stop Russ and Bev from selling to blacks. There are some comedy elements in Act 1 (Russ and Bev’s harmless, goofy banter about the origins of Neapolitan ice cream and laughter at the expense of Karl’s deaf pregnant wife Betsy (Caitlin Gjerdrum)) to offset the sickening racism. Russ and Bev’s maid, Francine, and her husband (Anju Hyppolite and Ron Chapman) become ignorant pawns in battle.
Act II jumps forward to 2009, where a white couple attempts to demolish and rebuild the Act I home. All actors are now playing different characters, some related to characters from Act I. What begins as a discussion between concerned community members, including a black couple, a gay man and a housing representative, evolves into a battle to gentrify the now mostly black community.
Allegations of veiled reverse racism escalate into acrimonious exchanges of vulgar jokes and accusations. Ron Dritz, who had a dominant role as Russ in Act 1, gets a comical role as a construction worker who encounters a ’59 trunk of Russ filled with memorabilia, playing a part in a sentimental coda dealing with her son’s suicide to finish the play.
Clybourne Park is unabashed in his depiction of race relations codified by the Jim Crow Acts of 1959, a slam dunk to say the least. His greatness lies in reversing the conversations in Act II and transporting the setting to modern times. Sustained by superb ensemble playing throughout, the Hillbarn Theater should pride itself on presenting tough material that is both topical and controversial.
Clybourne Park runs through October 30, 2022. Tickets available at 650-349-6411×2 or online at hillbarnthetatre.org
Photo credit: Mark and Mary Photography