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.

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