BWW Reviews: Guthrie's CLYBOURNE PARK Reveals How Little/Much Has Changed in 50 Years
Many plays and musicals attempt to deal with the changing relations between the races in the 1950s, 1960s and beyond. BUDDY! THE Buddy Holly STORY, which just wrapped a run of the national tour in Saint Paul, MEMPHIS, HAIRSPRAY and others show how the times were changed through the music of the era. Bruce Norris' play, CLYBOURNE PARK, covers the topic in the past and present day. With Act 1 in 1959 and Act 2 in 2009, he artfully shows how much has changed and how much as stayed the same in the 50 years between acts.
Interestingly, Norris' play is built on another famous American play, A RAISIN IN THE SUN, which he remembered reading as a boy and that gave him his first cause to consider what it might be like to be in the minority group. The title, several characters and the premise were pulled from that story, but he takes it a few steps further to explore whether things have really changed that much or if white Americans just think so.
In CLYBOURNE, Bev and Russ are selling their home and moving to escape a family secret they'd never fully dealt with. Meanwhile, neighbor Karl Lindner (also the villain in RAISIN) comes to protest their buyers - a black family (also the same family featured in RAISIN) - moving into the community. Act 1 ends with the former friends at odds as Bev and Russ move forward with the sale and move, running from their problems and leaving the community to deal with the changes to come.
When the curtain goes up on Act 2, the same home is 50 years worse for the wear, stripped of its charm and in disrepair. A meeting is taking place between the white buyers about to tear it down for a bigger, better model and the black family who wants to retain the character of the neighborhood that their community built over the 50 years since the first black family moved to Clybourne Park. Even though the modern-day participants think they're all beyond the issues of race, as they discuss the issues with changing the house, they're really discussing the issues with the neighborhood returning to one of mixed races and still burning-under-the-surface issues they don't think they have.
Norris' script is witty, funny, insightful and accessible. Director Lisa Peterson helms the Guthrie Theater's production, lead by Bill McCallum, Kathryn Meisle and Jim Lichtscheidl as the 1959 neighbors who find the humor and tragedy in the situation the characters are in while they openly discuss the race issue while each firmly believes they're in the right in their beliefs. Emily Gunyou Halaas, Sha Cage and Lichtschedil stand out in the 2009 story with its biting and raw look at how similar the issues still are but these characters don't want to say it out loud or believe it to be true.
Along with Peter Christian Hansen and Ansa Akyea, who play supporting roles, the cast is cohesive and span the two decades easily. The acting is the strongest part of this production and worth a trip to Big Blue before it closes on the McGuire Proscenium stage Aug. 4.
The show ends with a flashback to the family secret Bev and Russ tried so hard to push away and run away from. Going back to this after the deep dive into the modern times feels a bit out of left field and did not provide the closure for the characters or for the play's two connecting storylines that the writer and director may have expected it to.
A read of RAISIN or watching a video of one of the productions of that show would serve to provide even more depth to a view of this show before you go.
As the Guthrie celebrates 50 years of theatre in Minneapolis, this 50-year-look at where we were and how far we've come is a fitting way to honor this company's history.
For more information about the play, tickets and the Guthrie, visit http://www.guthrietheater.org/plays_events/plays/clybourne_park.
Photo: Shá Cage (Francine), Ansa Akyea (Albert) and Jim Lichtscheidl (Karl) in the Guthrie Theater's production of Clybourne Park, by Bruce Norris. Directed by Lisa Peterson, set design by Rachel Hauck, costume design by David Zinn and lighting design by Mark Barton. June 1, 2013 - August 4, 2013 on the McGuire Proscenium Stage at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis. Photo by Michael Brosilow.