Inspired by Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, Clybourne Park brings theatre goers back to that familiar neighborhood. Spanning 50 years, this smart and complex play tackles how we deal with race relations on a daily basis.
Should you see it?
Billed as a “drama/comedy,” this play provides a commentary on race, class, and economic issues in America across many generations. If you haven’t already guessed, it’s more drama than comedy.
This award winning play takes a look at one house in the Clybourne Park neighborhood in Chicago, during periods of racial integration during 1959 and again in 2009. Act 1 of the play takes place after the Korean War, as Russ and Bev decides to pack up and leave after a family tragedy. They sell their home in a predominantly white neighborhood of Clybourne Park to a black family (The Younger’s from the 1959 play, A Raisin in the Sun.) When news of the sale gets out, Russ and Bev get bombarded with neighbors trying to impose their views, as their black housekeeper helps them pack.
The classic image of a 50’s housewife and working husband is the perfect setup for the veil of political correctness. As they attempt to debate with civility, the uninvited Karl and his deaf wife Betsy are themselves a metaphor for the conversation. Their pseudo-friendly attempt to evoke discussion about racial differences is a clear attempt to impose their own viewpoint.
Act 2 brings the play to 2009, when the home has become a rundown dump, perhaps a bit over exaggerated by the set. It’s ugly facade was distracting and seemed to reinforce Karl’s viewpoint from the first act. A new set of characters move in, played by the actors from act 1. They reflect the ways in which society has changed it’s perceptions on race and economic class in a post- civil rights era. While much has changed in the world, the conversation about political correctness and race continues on right where it was left off, 50 years earlier.
The play itself is quite well done and raises questions in a way that doesn’t drive the audience towards obvious answers. It’s designed to evoke conversation about the themes of the play, like race and political correctness, but also about the economic and social value of different cultures. There are moments in the play that drag on, especially in the early parts of each act with the series of inane conversations about the names of foreign capitals. Overall, it’s an engaging story, with some great moments of comedy in the second act to break up the tension.
The director of the OLT’s production, Chantale Plante did a wonderful job bringing together the cast of characters for this production. The duo of Lawrence Evenchick as Russ, and Linda Webster as Bev balance each other well, with the pressure of an unspoken history. David Holton as Karl is formidable foe who thrives on being argumentative. The costume designs by Jeanne Gauthier are on point and elevate the history of the characters.
Clybourne Park seems to be one of the highlights of the Ottawa Little Theatre’s 102nd season, and I enjoyed the political sparring and well timed comedy. It’s certainly not without flaws, needing better balance between the sluggish introduction and high tension that gets sustained for too long. It is, however, entertaining and thought provoking. A play very deserving of an audience.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d like to know what you think. Did Clybourne Park ignite conversation? Did you like the parallels between the first and second act? Join the conversation in the comments below.