By Kenneth Jones
19 Apr 2012
|Photo by Nathan Johnson|
A domestic satire of clashing cultures, this tale of the origin of a suburb's racial integration in 1959 (in Act One) and its legacy 50 years later (in Act Two) began at Off-Broadway's Playwrights Horizons in 2010. The title refers to the white neighborhood mentioned in Lorraine Hansberry's groundbreaking 1959 drama A Raisin in the Sun, about an African-American family busting the color barrier in a white Chicago suburb. The sole white character of Raisin, Karl Lindner, has been lifted from Hansberry's play for Clybourne Park. Here, he's trying to convince white neighbors not to sell their home to a black family.
Pam MacKinnon (Completeness, The Four of Us, Peter and Jerry and Occupant Off-Broadway, Steppenwolf's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) directed the play's premiere; her staging was reconstituted earlier this year at Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, and is now at the Kerr. (Independent regional productions have also surfaced since 2010, and the title played to acclaim in London, where it won the Olivier Award for Best Play).
Earlier this year, commercial producer Scott Rudin dropped his plans for a Broadway staging of the play, leaving its engagement in limbo until Jujamcyn Theaters president Jordan Roth stepped in to pick up the ball. (The Kerr is a Jujamcyn house.)
|photo by Nathan Johnson|
Here's how the play is billed: "Clybourne Park is the wickedly funny and fiercely provocative new play about race, real estate and the volatile values of each. Clybourne Park explodes in two outrageous acts set 50 years apart. Act One takes place in 1959, as nervous community leaders anxiously try to stop the sale of a home to a black family. Act Two is set in the same house in the present day, as the now predominantly African-American neighborhood battles to hold its ground in the face of gentrification."
The production team features Daniel Ostling (sets), Ilona Somogyi (costumes), Allen Lee Hughes (lights), John Gromada (sound), Charles LaPointe (hair and wigs), C.A. Clark (production stage manager). The company also includes understudies Brandon J. Dirden, Carly Street, Greg Stuhr, Richard Thieriot and April Yvette Thompson.
In Clybourne Park, "Norris imagines the history of one of the more important houses in literary history, both before and after it becomes a focal point in Lorraine Hansberry's classic A Raisin in the Sun," according to the production's original 2010 press notes. "In 1959, the house, which is located in a white neighborhood at 406 Clybourne St. in Chicago, is sold to an African-American family (the Younger family in A Raisin in the Sun). Then in 2009 after the neighborhood has changed into an African-American community, the house is sold to a white couple. It is through this prism of property ownership that Norris' lacerating sense of humor dissects race relations and middle class hypocrisies in America."
Other plays by Bruce Norris include The Infidel (2000), Purple Heart (2002), We All Went Down to Amsterdam (2003 Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Work), The Pain and the Itch (2004 Jefferson Award) and The Unmentionables (2006), all of which premiered at Steppenwolf Theatre. He is the recipient of the 2009 Steinberg Playwright Award, the Whiting Foundation Prize for Drama, and the Kesselring Prize, Honorable Mention.
Norris' other career is as an actor. He was once a regular presence on the Broadway and Off-Broadway stage, but he hasn't appeared on the New York stage since playing the lead in John Guare's Chaucer in Rome more than ten years ago. Still, his former vocation informs his current one. "I think what's absent from the plays I write is maybe a lot of literary merit," he told Playbill magazine. "I tend to write plays that are scenes of conflict between people, because that's what actors do. I write plays that — I don't want to say they're 'actor friendly.' But they give preference to those things that are active, rather than friendly."
Norris doesn't perform in his own plays — "I don't think I can do both jobs well," he says — but he does think about how he might play the people he creates. "I don't think it's possible for me to write a character if I don't think I could act it," he explains. "I think writing is a private improvisation. I've never had the courage to be an improvisational actor, so I do it in secret, and let other people do it."
The producers of Clybourne Park are Jujamcyn Theaters, Jane Bergère, Roger Berlind/Quintet Productions, Eric Falkenstein/Dan Frishwasser, Ruth Hendel/Harris Karma Productions, JTG Theatricals, Daryl Roth, Jon B. Platt, Center Theatre Group in association with Lincoln Center Theater.
Walter Kerr Theatre is at 219 West 48th Street. Tickets range $50-$127 (premium seating ranges from $137-$199). Tickets can be purchased via telecharge.com or by calling (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250. Visit ClybournePark.com.