BWW Reviews: Cadence Theatre Delivers Powerful CLYBOURNE PARK
Cadence Theatre Company's current production of Bruce Norris' thought-provoking CLYBOURNE PARK is a must see and showcases one of the finest casts of the season. The original play received numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize (2011), the Tony Award (2012), Olivier (2010) and Evening Standard Award (2010).
Authenticity seeps from every aspect of this production-costumes by Lynn West, set design and elements by Phil Hayes, Joel Ernst, Terrie Powers and Irene Ziegler, dialects coached by Janet Rodgers, sound design by Reid Kirtley and lighting by Andrew Bonniwell-all authentic.
At the outset, Norris' characters call to mind the innocence of 1950's sitcoms. It is 1959 and Russ (David Bridgewater) and Bev (Katie McCall), with the support of their help, Francine (Tyra Robinson), are in the final stages of selling their home in the white neighborhood on Clybourne Street in Chicago.
As the explosive script unfolds, Norris introduces compelling characters who poke and prod at the seemingly innocuous lives of Bev and Russ and reveal the tragic past the couple is trying to escape, while protesting that a family of color is buying the home. Engaging with the unavailing minister, Jim (Steve Perigard), is the impervious director of the neighborhood association, Karl (Andrew Firda) and his hearing-impaired wife Betsy (McLean Jesse). Francine's impressionable husband, Albert (Thomas Nowlin), shows up shortly thereafter and unintentionally stirs things even more. Russ buries his emotions deep inside a trunk, beneath a tree in the backyard.
If possible, remain seated during intermission to watch one of the most well orchestrated set changes, executed with skill by Hannah Caffacus, Jesse Mattes, Emily Medina, Daniel Allen and Morgan Barclay. While wallpaper and furnishings are quickly removed, the transformation also serves to peel back layers and expose the underbelly of a deep-seated racism that, as pointed out in the second act, are still present in the modern world.
The second act pushes things forward 50 years-same home, same actors, but new characters. As a couple sets out to demolish the home, now empty and peppered with graffiti, conversations among realtors, lawyers and neighbors connect the dots from 1959 to 2009. And in the production's final poignant moments, the trunk, buried with emotions, surfaces and brings the play full circle.
Norris' script is as scintillating as it is pensive. There is plenty of tension, but it strikes a proportionate balance and even sprinkles on some ill-mannered humor. Keri Wormald directs this first-class ensemble with vigor and awareness to the precise cadences of Norris' first-rate script.
Each member of the ensemble is impressive in each of his or her roles. Special notice goes to each of the performers who demonstrate skillful sign language, and especially to McLean Jesse for her display of the mannerisms and acute unawareness of a hearing-impaired individual. Bridgewater and Firda are commanding as the source of many heightened tensions and interruptive outbursts. McCall and Robinson are at once sweetly demure in the first half and perfect instigators in the second.
As part of the Acts of Faith Festival, CLYBOURNE PARK is a powerful drama, filled with tensions, outbursts, overlapping dialogue and sharp and witty humor.
The production runs through March 15 at the Theatre Gym at Virginia Repertory Theatre.
Photo by Jason Collins