What Inspired Clybourne Park?

PlayBlog   What Inspired Clybourne Park?
John Fiedler's claim to fame was that he supplied the voice of Piglet in the "Winnie the Pooh" movies, but he was physically quite recognizable as well. Most people remember him as the milquetoast Juror #2 among "12 Angry Men," but Bruce Norris knows him as Karl Lindner in A Raisin in the Sun (also on film), the unctuous spokesman for an "improvement association" who tried to talk Sidney Poitier and family out of moving into Clybourne Park and disrupting the community's all-white status quo.

Therein hangs another play, called Clybourne Park, by Norris, and it just went into extra innings at Playwrights Horizons because of its critical reception.

Fiedler and a school teacher can be thanked for this, according to the play's director, Pam MacKinnon: "Bruce grew up in Houston in a very much all-white neighborhood, and he had this subversive junior-high school English teacher who showed him this play by Lorraine Hansberry, and it really stuck in Bruce's head for years and years."

As an actor, Norris laid in wait for the role, but it never came his way. "From childhood," he said, "I always loved that play. I always wanted to be in that play. I never got to. I never got to play Karl Lindner so I wrote more for him to do." Jeremy Shamos plays Lindner in the new play.

Lindner is not the only incidental character to inspire a new work. When Billy Wilder saw Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in "Brief Encounter," he was taken by the chap who lent his flat for their affair. That guy has a story, Wilder figured — and he wrote it. It became the Oscar-winning Best Picture of 1960 ("The Apartment") and a Tony-nominated Best Musical in 1969 (Promises, Promises).

— Harry Haun

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