PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Clybourne Park — The Upwardly Mobile

By Harry Haun
20 Apr 2012

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Among the first-nighters welcoming Norris to the club were several Pulitzer Prize elites — from three-time-winner Edward Albee (A Delicate Balance, Three Tall Women and The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia?) to five-day-old-winner Quiara Alegria Hudes (Water by the Spoonful) and including Marsha Norman ('night, Mother) and composer Tom Kitt (Next to Normal), plus three directors of Pulitzer Prize plays — George C. Wolfe (Angels in America), Moises Kaufman (I Am My Own Wife) and Michael Greif (Rent and the Off-Broadway Angels) — as well as those who've acted Pulitzer Prize plays: Judd Hirsch (Tally's Folly), Elaine Stritch (A Delicate Balance) and Edie Falco ('night, Mother).

"Civilian" first-nighters included Bob Balaban, Tamara Tunie, Roger Robinson, Roger Rees and Rick Elice (resting happily on their Peter and the Starcatcher laurels), Martha Plimpton of "Raising Hope," Bobby Cannavale and son Jake, The Public's Oskar Eustis, Pulitzer also-ran Adam Rapp, Michelle Clunie, Ben Feldman, Lois Smith, "Boardwalk Empire" baddie Paul Sparks ("I'm a gangster who's been around for a long time who's about to be killed — I spend a lot of time begging 'Don't kill me!'"), LaTanya Richardson, Salman Rushdie (prepping a sci-fi pilot for Showtime called "The Next People"), Arian Moayed (opening in Food and Fadwa at New York Theatre Workshop May 18), Wendel Pierce, Kathryn Erbe, Joanna Settle and Concetta Tomei.

All of the above were thunderous in their applause for the cast — bringing them back for seconds, in fact — then adjourned for the after-party at the elegant Gotham Hall.

The press line was set up, for the first time, just inside the rotunda rather than in one of the anterooms off the entranceway. It gave extra glamour to the party-in-progress.

After years of yeoman service Off-Broadway, director Pam MacKinnon marked her Broadway debut with this production. She'll stay in this Pulitzer vein by staging three one-acts by former recipient, Horton Foote, this summer at Primary Stages, under the overall handle of Harrison, TX. She said the author's daughter, Hallie Foote, would be appearing in two of the three (The Blind Date and The Midnight Caller). The third (The One-Armed Man) needs an all-male cast. In the fall, MacKinnon will be back on Broadway via the play that didn't win Albee the Pulitzer: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton, the Steppenwolf author and star of the Pulitzered August: Osage County.

Bruce Norris and Pam MacKinnon
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Another Broadway debut was racked up by costume designer Ilona Somogyi, who didn't let the slight fact that she wasn't around in 1959 stop her from working: "There's tons of research that's available from 1959. I did read A Raisin in the Sun, and that gave me a whole lot of subtext, which was good to have."

The cast of nine, all double-cast in different roles for each act, came from the original Playwrights Horizons production, and a third of them are Broadway-debuting.

"When we did it the first time," recalled one such debutante, Crystal A. Dickinson, "we all thought, 'Well, it's not going to go anywhere, but it was a pleasure to do.' We took it as that, and we loved every minute of it. And then Pam called us and said, 'Would anybody be available to do L.A.?' We knew nothing about Broadway. I said, 'I'm in. I don't care. Whatever happens, I would love to do it.' Then, the Broadway thing was the icing on the cake."

Damon Gupton, as her slightly battered-around-the-edges husband (in both acts), is also new to Broadway. "It's such an extraordinary group of people, and I think the way we prop each other up is special," he said. "This is such a hard play to do. Where we have to sit and listen to one another is always changing and always growing, so it always keeps us on the edge of our seats. I think that a piece that does that and entertains an audience as well as its cast is quite unusual."

Also making his first trip to Broadway, Brendan Griffin, noted how the cast had grown into their roles. He is the only actor with three roles to juggle. "We've lived so much life since the first time we did it that we can't help but inhabit something differently, y'know," he observed. "The older I get, I feel the more comfortable — and, with these characters, they're like an old pair of shoes, something you slip into."

Shamos liked the contrasts of his two roles. "I think that contrast is an important part of the play," he contended. "In the '50s, people tried to be polite and didn't let themselves hang as much — they were a little more tightly wound and didn't want to reveal themselves as much — and, in Bruce's version of 2009, people go out of their way to be loose and out in the open. I think that [Lindner] is written very, very specifically. I think Bruce has a great way of writing someone who wants to say something but is held back in a certain way. I literally just pulled my pants up a little too high and wore those glasses — and something sorta happens — but I think the writing does most of it. I intentionally didn't watch 'A Raisin in the Sun.' Bruce asked me not to, and I didn't want it to be based on another Lindner. He wrote a very specific Lindner."

A Tony winner for Side Man, Frank Wood is elected to play the houseowner who has to come out of his shell to butt heads with Lindner. "I like repressed people," the actor admitted. "I like people who've got a lot to say and don't want to say it — who get a chance to try to escape and then can't. That journey — it's satisfying for an actor to know he has somewhere to go, and the audience is going to get a chance to see you, but, just before that, there's this little beat where you get to say, 'No, I'm sitting here. I'm eating my ice cream. I'm reading my magazine.' For some reason, that's powerful — and I take great pleasure in that."