PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Clybourne Park — The Upwardly Mobile

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20 Apr 2012

Jeremy Shamos; guests Elaine Stritch, Bobby Cannavale and Martha Plimpton
Jeremy Shamos; guests Elaine Stritch, Bobby Cannavale and Martha Plimpton
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Meet the first-nighters at the Broadway opening of Bruce Norris' Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park.


Like they say: Location! Location! Location! It has taken two years and two months for Clybourne Park to move eight blocks uptown from Off-Broadway's Playwrights Horizons to Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre, where it arrived April 19, and even then it required the push and prestige of a Pulitzer Prize to get there.

It landed rather unsteadily, with one of its major backers loudly backing out in the homestretch, requiring a lot of financial scrambling-about to secure its place on The Great White Way. Jujamcyn Theaters' young sun god, Jordan Roth, stepped up to the plate, and a raft of Roth co-producers helped him shore up the property.

"From the moment I read it, I was captivated," admitted Roth helplessly. "The play pulls people to it. It compels people to be a part of it, to amplify it, to surround it."

A half-century separates the two acts of Clybourne Park, which gets its name from a middle-class white 'burb in Chicago. In 1959, a white family is moving out, and a black family is moving in; in 2009, that color scheme is reversed. Much racial sturm und drang accompany both attempts to move upward to a better life.

The original African-Americans who "block-busted" their way into Clybourne Park are not seen in the play — this play. They are the Youngers, who resided in Lorraine Hansberry's classic, A Raisin in the Sun; the lone Caucasian to intrude on their world was an unctuous little man named Lindner, who, representing the neighborhood "improvement association," tried unsuccessfully to buy the house back from the Youngers. John Fiedler played the conniving pipsqueak in the original drama, in its movie version and in one of the play's last Off-Broadway revivals. In Clybourne Park, the character is played by a buttoned-down and no-less-determined Jeremy Shamos, fresh from the Youngers' rejection and threatening the white owners with legal action from their "friends" and neighbors.


Bruce Norris, who let his imagination drift from A Raisin in the Sun into Clybourne Park, was an actor before he was a playwright but said he never auditioned for Lindner. "However," he asterisked, "one of my best friends was best friends with John Fiedler." (Lindner was one of Fiedler's three best-remembered roles: he was Juror #2, the least angry of the "12 Angry Men," and the high-pitched voice for Piglet in Disney's animated "Winnie the Pooh" productions.)

The next Norris on the horizon, written for Lincoln Center, is currently titled Domesticated and is set to surface there in the fall of 2013, he said.

Lincoln Center Theater was one of the organizations that came up with the emergency funding needed to bring Clybourne Park to Broadway. Another was Playwrights Horizons, where the play world-premiered in February 2010.

That makes five Pulitzer Prize plays that originated at Playwrights Horizons, its artistic director was happy to point out. It follows Doug Wright's also Tony-winning I Am My Own Wife, Wendy Wasserstein's The Heidi Chronicles, Alfred Uhry's Driving Miss Daisy and Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Sunday in the Park with George.

"At our spring benefit," said Tim Sanford, "we're honoring all five of our Pulitzer Prize winners, and all of the authors — except Wendy, of course — will be there." The gala, slugged "The Highest Standard," is set for Monday, June 11, at the event space 583 Park Avenue. Songs, excerpts and testimonials are the bill of fare.


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