BWW reviews CLYBOURNE PARK - a production from Canstage and Studio 180 that is not to be missed!
Norris, explores a parallel universe that neatly dovetails with Lorraine Hansberry's acclaimed 1959 play A RAISIN IN THE SUN, which told of the African American Younger family and their plans to move to the white neighborhood of Clybourne Park.
In the first half of the new play the author looks at the situation from the point of view of the people selling their home to the Younger family and facing opposition from friends, neighbors and even their vicar. We also learn of the tragic circumstances that have led to their decision to sell the house. The second half, jumping ahead 50 years finds us in a reverse image as the neighborhood is now inhabited mainly by African-American families and a white couple, planning to buy and renovate the house is facing resistance to their plans from neighbors as well as city housing regulators.
Norris is tackling a multitude of issues in two very densely packed acts, managing to create two well defined sets of characters in a script that veers from outright hilarity to genuinely moving pathos, while at the same time making some sharply profound comments on our natural territoriality.
The author seems to enjoy toying with his audience making viewers take sides only to later have to question their choices. It all boils down to one very adult joke told midway through the second act that manages to be racist, misogynistic, and homophobic in one broad stroke. Naturally everyone in the room has a personal reaction to the joke informed by their personal circumstances.
If you are familiar with A RAISIN IN THE SUN you will probably want to see CLYBOURNE PARK twice, because the first time you will spend much of the first act trying to recall the characters and incidents covered in Hansberry's play to see how they connect with the current offering. CLYBOURNE PARK is a play that is worthy of multiple viewings, because the characters are so richly and subtly drawn and the performances in this production directed by Joel Greenberg could hardly be bettered. In the first act, Michael Healy plays Russ, the family patriarch quietly grieving his son's death, still angry over the callous way his friends behaved when they heard the news. He is determined to get away from this house flooded with painful memories as soon as he possibly can. His sometimes violent outbursts are often directed at Jim, the hapless Vicar played with a good deal of smarmy holier-than-thou self-righteousness by Jeff Lillico.
Joining Russ in his flight from an unhappy house is his equally devastated wife Bev (played with a blend of rueful resignation and fiery determination y Maria Ricossa.) She is often solicitous of their maid Francine, played with understated dignity by Audrey Dwyer. Mark McGrinder takes on the role of their neighbor Karl Linder – the only cross-over character from A RAISIN IN THE SUN. Karl is determined to prevent the Younger family from taking up residence in Clybourne Park, even going so far as to question the maid and her husband, Albert, powerfully portrayed by Sterling Jarvis. Also joining in for the argument is Karl's very pregnant and deaf wife Betsy amusingly played by Kimwun Perehinec.
These seven performers return playing different character s in the second act, which is set in 2009 as the niece of Lena Younger (also named Lena and played by Audrey Dwyer) representing a neighborhood organization that wants to prevent a white family from making significant renovations to what was once her family's home.
Jeff Lillico returns as Tom, the housing regulator whose attempts to keep the meeting focused on housing codes are constantly thwarted as arguments about racial issues keep overtaking the meeting.
Michael Healy takes on the role of Dan, the contractor carrying out the work on the now dilapidated house. McGrinder plays Steve who along with his wife Lindsay (Kimwun Perehinec in another wonderful performance) is trying to get permission to raze the house and replace it with a much larger structure. It is Steve who tells the key joke that manages to offend just about everyone in the room.
The play contains many funny lines and exchanges, along with many moments designed to make the viewers squirm. Director Joel Greenberg (With assistant ray Strachan) keeps building tension from scene to scene so that even when the big joke is told the audience is already on edge. Their on edge because the play has called on them on their own territorial nature.
When a play this good can make the audience question its way of doing things and yet still provoke generous laughter and even a few tears, you know the piece is something special. Clybourne Park is indeed a special play and it is being given a production highly worthy of the script. Don't miss this one!
CLYBOURNE PARK plays at the Berkeley Street Theatre through Saturday April 28. For tickets visit www.studio180theatre.com or call the box office, 416-368-3110.