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Preview Wendell Pierce-Produced, "Raisin In The Sun"-Inspired Drama "Clybourne Park"

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by Tambay A. Obenson
April 6, 2012 2:35 PM
4 Comments
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A new Broadway show we've previously covered, but which I completely forgot was opening very, very soon; it's actually already in previews, and has been for over a week now. 

The Mountaintop, Porgy & Bess, Stick Fly, A Streetcar Named Desire, and now add Bruce Norris' play titled, Clybourne Park, which examines race relations in the 1950s and in modern-day Chicago, to the list of new (or revival) plays/musicals on Broadway in recent months, that feature all-black casts, or black characters in central leading roles.

The play counts Mr Wendell Pierce as a producer by the way - a fact I only learned about this morning, courtesy of Wendell himself. I should add that he's produced previous stage works as well like August Wilson's Radio Golf (on Broadway), and Jitney (Off Broadway).

Clybourne Park official opens on Broadway a the Walter Kerr Theatre on April 19; although, as already noted, you can see it right now in previews.

And the original cast of the 2010 world premiere Playwrights Horizons production, including Crystal A. Dickinson, Brendan Griffin, Damon Gupton, Christina Kirk, Annie Parisse, Jeremy Shamos and Frank Wood, are also in the Broadway cast of the production.

Synopsis for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize and Olivier Award-winning Clybourne Park, which borrows elements from Lorraine Hansberry's groundbreaking A Raisin in the Sun, reads:

In 1959, the house, which is located in a white neighborhood at 406 Clybourne St. in Chicago, is sold to an African-American family (the Younger family in A Raisin in the Sun). Then, in 2009, after the neighborhood changed into an African-American community, the house is sold to a white couple. It is through this prism of property ownership that Norris' lacerating sense of humor dissects race relations and middle class hypocrisies in America.


The play already had its run on London's West End Wyndham Theater, where it was seen by MsWOO, and she reviewed soon afterward. I've re-posted her thoughts at the bottom of this post for those who may have missed it.

Directed by Pat MacKinnon, preview performances for the Broadway premiere began March 26 at the Walter Kerr Theatre, and it's set to open April 19 for a 16-week limited engagement. Tickets are on sale now via Telecharge, HERE.

Another play on Broadway for me to hopefully see. And I won't at all be surprised if a film adaptation of the play happens eventually.

For now, check out the show if you can; watch a trailer below (although it's for the London run), as well as a few still images. And underneath all that, you'll find MsWOO's review:

And here's MsWOO's review of the play:

If you’ve ever seen Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin In The Sun, or watched the 1961 film adaptation starring Sidney Poitier, and wondered what made the unseen white family sell their home, in a nice all-white neighbourhood, to a black family in late 1950s America, then you may want to consider seeing Clybourne Park, a 2010 play written by playwright Bruce Norris and directed by Dominic Cooke.

Clybourne Park, you may or may not recall/know, is the name of the neighbourhood in Hansberry’s play to which the black family, the Youngers, move from their cramped tenement rooms in search of a brighter future and better standard of living. You do not have to have seen A Raisin In The Sun to watch and/or appreciate Norris’ play but, if you have, midway through the first act, you’ll sense a vaguely familiar feeling when one character, Karl Lindner (Stephen Campbell Moore), appears with the exact same complaint that Karl Lindner had in Hansberry’s play, seeking answers to the query I opened here with. Yes, it’s the very same character, the only white character in A Raisin In The Sun, who appears now, in the home of Russ (Stuart McQuarrie) and Bev (Sophie Thompson), a middle aged, middle class white couple, having just come, Lindner informs us, from the home of the black, working class Younger family. We learn nothing new of Lindner from what we know of him in A Raisin In The Sun, other than the propensity to leave his pregnant wife, Betsy (Sarah Goldberg) in the car when attending to potentially unsavoury business, as when visiting the Younger family earlier.

Norris is quoted in the program of the 2011 London production of Clybourne Park as saying: ‘My play is a continuation of a conversation that began 50 years ago and is far from being resolved.’

Sure enough, as if to highlight this fact, Clybourne Park left me feeling a little impatient and frustrated, both in its slowness to find its pace and in its lack of resolution. With the first act set in 1959, it’s hard to believe that the civil rights movement has begun and that the next decade will see a major change in race relations and integration. It’s moving day in Russ and Bev’s home. In typical 1950s civil society style, everyone speaks in a jokey ‘gosh darn it’ manner, belying their genuine feelings and intentions. Even the two black characters in the first act, Russ and Bev’s maid, Francine (Lorna Brown), and her husband, Albert (Lucian Msamati), speak in a very earnest and overly polite manner that vaguely veils their contempt for the white society they must tolerate in order to earn a living. But banal banter, at least among the white characters, soon gives way to unflinchingly unfurled feelings and vicious contempt all round, a viciousness that even the well meaning vicar (Sam Spruell) doesn’t escape.

So what’s the cause of the house sale? Well, let’s just say that, like the Younger family to which they are selling their home (who we do not see or learn anything about in the play other than their ethnicity), Russ and Bev have a son who cannot quite keep it together. He has done everything expected, even demanded, of a young man of his class and race and yet his actions/reactions bring about a stain on his character and an unspoken shame on his family, a shame which they find hard to bare, especially given the very ‘gosh-darn-it-ness’ that thinly veils the disdain of their neighbours. Nonetheless, regardless of the transgressions of their son, they are much more preferable to a black family. Despite Lindner’s best efforts, however, it seems that Clybourne Park is set to enter the civil rights era after all.

Skip the civil rights and fast forward to 2009. Integration, white flight, urban degeneration, gentrification… Oh, and political correctness turned on its head! With different characters but the same actors, unlike the first act, the pace here is pretty fast, reflecting the changing times, no doubt but, true to Norris’ words, very little is achieved or resolved by way of race relations, nor the matter at hand. They may all be equal in terms of income, lifestyle and opportunity, but the white characters (who very much mirror their counterparts in act I) are still as charmingly condescending and the black characters (who also mirror their act I counterparts) still use exaggerated politeness to cover their thinly veiled contempt of the white people they have to deal with. The banter which turns to viciousness in the second act culminates with an exchange of jokes, each joke funnier (in the right company) and more offensive than the previous. The most offensive is reserved for the uptight black woman who is indignant at the prospect of Clybourne Park’s recent (black) history being eroded. Her ‘how d’you like them apples?’ assertion that it was just a joke also just happened to get the biggest laugh from me – no mean feat, given that the play won the London Evening Standard’s Funniest Play award during its run at the Royal Court Theatre last year.

But, make no mistake, this is no comedy. A comedy of manners, perhaps – an observation on society, then and now, that will make audiences laugh with discomfort or embarrassment rather than with genuine mirth, as they recognise the trite yet often insidious mannerisms they may have often witnessed and overlooked or performed themselves.

The performances were exemplary, the cast sublime. However, as I said earlier, the play gave rise to feelings of impatience and frustration. On reflection, however, I’m not sure my reaction was so much a ‘so what?’ as a ‘what now?’ to the question of race relations, an answer which, as Norris himself implies, is still in the making. The moral of the somewhat unresolved story, if there was one, seems to be that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Following its success at the much smaller Royal Court Theatre last year, Clybourne Park has moved to London’s West End and will play at the Wynhdam’s Theatre until 7th May. Check the Wyndham’s Theatre website for details.

In the meantime, here’s a trailer to give you a preview of what to expect.

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4 Comments

  • Shak | April 6, 2012 6:12 PMReply

    I saw this play when it first came to NY and I agree with the review that the cast is exemplary. Crystal Dickinson and Damon Gupton are incredible - they could have been actors in the silent film era because they are able to convey so much without saying anything - and to do that on stage, without a camera to get a close up, is really some talent to be able to witness.

  • CareyCarey | April 6, 2012 4:20 PMReply

    First, MsWOO is arguably the best writer-reviewer to grace the pages of S&A. Now, race relation plays/films... UGH... MsWOO said it best, "banal banter"... "lack of resolution". Although Wendy was referring to Clybourne Park, that's my exact feeling on most racially themed productions. And again, MsWOO took the words right out of my mouth---> "On reflection, however, I’m not sure my reaction was so much a ‘so what?’ as a ‘what now?’ to the question of race relations, an answer which, as Norris himself implies, is still in the making". Yeah, tell me about it Norris and MsWOO, "still in the making". I'd say it's a messy and sticky situation. Speaking of "sticky", the play Stick Fly got the memo. They closed their doors on a down note (financial loss for the play’s producers). Now Clybourne Park???

  • Akimbo | April 6, 2012 3:35 PMReply

    I saw the play (with this cast) when it was in LA earlier this year and liked it. I went in knowing that it was kind of a follow-up to "Raisin," but nothing more; wasn't quite what I expected, but I was won over. There is no way this could be a movie, though; it's all talk, not much action, though still entertaining. I was already a fan of Damon Gupton, but I came out a fan of Crystal Dickinson and the redheaded guy who played the priest, too.

  • SayNay | April 6, 2012 4:58 PM

    We saw it when it was in LA as well. I agree that Damon Gupton and Crystal Dickinson are the reasons to see this. Their performances were excellent. The play overall was a bit 'meh'. A lot of the dialogue was heavy-handed, so at times it was hard to feel any sympathy, empathy, or even anger with some of the characters.

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