The press materials for this 2011 play by Bruce Norris call it a “wickedly funny and fiercely provocative play about race, real estate and the volatile values of each.”
The adverbs in that phrase matter: Your reaction won’t be mild at all. Using Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 “A Raisin in the Sun” as a springboard, Norris has fashioned a script that will have you talking about it long after you’ve left the theater.
Hansberry’s play works from the inside, from the point of view of a black family trying to leave a cramped Chicago apartment for a home in a white neighborhood. Consequently, the work is full of great feeling and ideas. Norris’ play works from the outside, using a clever theatrical conceit (like Caryl Churchill’s “Cloud Nine”) and humor to examine the issues.
The conceit is this: It’s 1959. Russ (Remi Sandri) and Bev (Carol Halstead) are the white Clybourne Park couple into whose house (handsome set by Narelle Sissons) the Younger family is supposed to move. However, their neighbor Karl Lindner (Greg Jackson) and the homeowners’ association want to buy out the Youngers, and the unctuous minister, Jim (Kevin Crouch), doesn’t object.
WHERE: Barrington Stage Company, 30 Union St., Pittsfield, Mass.
WHEN: Through Oct. 13
HOW MUCH: $40 to $15
MORE INFO: 413-236-8888 or www.barringtonstageco.org
Francine (Lynette R. Freeman), the black maid, and her husband, Albert (Andy Lucien), are initially witnesses to the discussion but ultimately participants in an argument that’s exacerbated by a terrible event in Russ and Bev’s life that slowly becomes apparent to the audience.
Span of 50 years
Act 2 takes place in 2009. The same actors appear in different roles, in the same house, a house that is 50 years older and a culture that is 50 years further along in terms of race relations, with all their successes and failures. Here much of the rough and revealing humor occurs.
Director Giovanna Sardelli has elicited sharply drawn portraits from her actors. Jackson’s Karl has echoes of John Fiedler’s movie Karl, with a touch of Paul Lynde: all to the good as a hale-fellow-well-met sort for whom talking is an end to matters, not the beginning. Clea Alsip is touching as his sweet, pregnant and deaf wife in Act 1 and hilarious as a pregnant and assertive wife in Act 2.
Freeman and Lucien subtly navigate the power shift from being visitors to Clybourne Park in Act 1 to being homeowners in Act 2. Crouch’s one-note minister is irritatingly spot-on. Sandri reveals deep pools of feeling in Act 1 while everyone else plays prescribed, 1950s types, but his Dan in Act 2 is poorly written and oddly performed. And Halstead, inappropriately outfitted for house-packing in heels and a dress, a la Donna Reed, often indicates what Reed must have felt had she been given a few minutes not to think about everything else. A moving performance.
For my money, this is a play about The Other, whatever the guise: race, class, gender, etc. Ironically, deaf Clea might be The Other, but don’t tell Karl. Listen, too, to the way talk about nationalities morphs from one act to the other. And, finally, pay attention to the tolling of the bells: Norris’ clever homage to Donne’s sonnet “No man is an island.”