Out-of-town review: Broadway's 'Clybourne Park'

July 24, 2012
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So this little white guy gets arrested and thrown into a jail cell with a big black man…

Got your attention?

So does “Clybourne Park,” a play not about two guys in a jail cell but seven people (well, technically 14 people—I’ll get to that), trapped in an exasperating loop of prejudices, miscommunication, and misinterpretation. The jail cell joke is in there. And so are some other doozies. But who says them and why and the reactions of the others in the room is the source of the comedy and drama in this crackling show.

Let me back up a second.

“Clybourne Park” is a Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play that starts off as a comedic sidebar to “A Raisin in the Sun” (but you don’t need to know that work to appreciate this one). In the first act of “Clybourne Park,” a white neighborhood in 1959 is shaken by the impending arrival of its first “colored” family. We never see the family. But we do see a minister, his deaf wife, a neighbor attempting a negotiation, the couple who sold the house, the maid who worked there and her husband. We learn why the house was such a bargain and we get to laugh at the overt racism of a supposedly bygone era.

When we come back from intermission, though, the actors are the same, but their roles—and the house—are different. In some ways.

It’s half a century later and the house has been sold again, this time to a white couple about to demolish it to make room for their new home in what has become an all-black neighborhood. And while the new group of characters may believe they are enlightened, race is still an issue. Many issues. And every sentence—including the joke begun above—is potentially combustible.

I’ve given more detail here than I usually do but, trust me, I haven’t begun to reveal the treasures in Bruce Norris’ play. It’s a rich work that even pre-Broadway was hot in regional theaters. Expect it to be the hot show in the coming seasons and here’s hoping we’ll see it at the Phoenix or the IRT soon.

Entertaining, very funny, and surely conversation-sparking (proceed with caution, of course)—and with plenty of room for talented actors and directors to bring something fresh to the table—“Clybourne Park” makes “God of Carnage” look like children’s theater.

More details on the Broadway production here.

Your thoughts?


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  1. Kent's done a good job of putting together some good guests, intelligence and irreverence without the inane chatter of the other two shows. JMV is unlistenable, mostly because he doesn't do his homework and depends on non-sports stuff to keep HIM interested. Query and Shultz is a bit better, but lack of prep in their show certainly is evident. Sterling obviously workes harder than the other shows. We shall see if there is any way for a third signal with very little successful recent history to make it. I always say you have to give a show two years to grow into what it will become...

  2. Lafayette Square, Washington Square should be turned into office parks with office buildings, conversion, no access to the public at all. They should not be shopping malls and should be under tight security and used for professional offices instead of havens for crime. Their only useage is to do this or tear them down and replace them with high rise office parks with secured parking lots so that the crime in the areas is not allowed in. These are prime properties, but must be reused for other uses, professional office conversions with no loitering and no shopping makes sense, otherwise they have become hangouts long ago for gangs, groups of people who have no intent of spending money, and are only there for trouble and possibly crime, shoplifting, etc. I worked summers at SuperX Drugs in Lafayette Square in the 1970s and even then the shrinkage from shoplifting was 10-15 percent. No sense having shopping malls in these areas, they earn no revenue, attract crime, and are a blight on the city. All malls that are not of use should be repurposed or torn down by the city, condemned. One possibility would be to repourpose them as inside college campuses or as community centers, but then again, if the community is high crime, why bother.

  3. Straight No Chaser

  4. Seems the biggest use of TIF is for pet projects that improve Quality Of Life, allegedly, but they ignore other QOL issues that are of a more important and urgent nature. Keep it transparent and try not to get in ready, fire, Aim! mode. You do realize that business the Mayor said might be interested is probably going to want TIF too?

  5. Gary, I'm in complete agreement. The private entity should be required to pay IPL, and, if City parking meters are involved, the parking meter company. I was just pointing out how the poorly-structured parking meter deal affected the car share deal.