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BWW Reviews: CLYBOURNE PARK at Long Wharf Theatre


What happens during and after A Raisin in the Sun from the perspective of the residents of the sought-after Chicago neighborhood, Clybourne Park? That's the story told by Bruce Norris in his 2010 play of the same name. Clybourne Park won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2011 and Tony Award for Best Play in 2012. It remains fresh, edgy and perceptive under the direction of Eric Ting.

The first act is the other side of the story of A Raisin in the Sun. It is 1959 and Karl Linder (Alex Moggridge), the minor but essential character in Raisin) is trying to talk Russ (Daniel Jenkins, pictured left) and Bev (Alice Ripley) out of selling their house to the family they never met. Linder even brings his deaf and heavily pregnant wife, Betsy (Lucy Owen), to turn on the pressure that she may give birth imminently. Bev and Russ pry out of Karl that the reason is to protect the community and keep the property values from declining because the family that wants to buy their house is black. Community? Where was the community when Russ, Bev and their son Kenneth (played by Jimmy Davis in the second act) needed their support? Kenneth committed suicide after killing innocent people during the Korean War and the people in the community treated Kenneth heartlessly. Russ and Bev can no longer stay in the house they once loved, but before they move out, Russ buries a locker in the back yard. Linder engages the priest, Jim (also played by Davis) and the maid Francine (Melle Powers) and her husband, Albert (LeRoy McClain) to convince Bev and Russ that a black family wouldn't really be happy in Clybourne Park.

Fast forward to the second act, which takes place 50 years later. Oh, goodness, how times have changed. Clybourne Park is now a group of run down homes that are just ripe for gentrification. Steve (played by Moggridge) and Lindsay (Owen) want to buy a tear down and replace it with a house that is 15 feet higher than the other bungalows. A representative from the association objects. She is not just any representative, but Lena, who was named after her great aunt, the first black woman to buy a house in Clybourne Park. And, Kathy, the lawyer representing Dan and Lindsey, is the daughter of Karl and Betsy. While they discuss the legal aspects of building a big house in that association, Dan and Lindsey make trip over themselves as they try to be politically correct in the presence of Lena and her husband Kevin (McClain). Dan makes some ugly racist jokes. So does Kevin. It gets worse. They also make offensive jokes about women. And Tom (Davis), the builder, admits he's gay and says that perhaps they might want to include something about that. The end of the play leaves the audience with plenty to think about. It's not just about race, but how people treat each other. The character of Kenneth finally appears after Dan, the workman (played by Jenkins), digs up the locker and people look through the letters.

Clybourne Park has been called a play that's a tragedy in Act One and a comedy in Act Two. Norris's play is ingeniously crafted. Even with his sharp, politically incorrect dialogue, he is hardly disrespectful to Hansberry. The ugly jokes are not gratuitous, but used effectively to show how awkward and callous people can be. This production was graced with a fine cast of seven performers. Ripley is touching as the bereaved and lonely Bev and is funny as Kathy. Moggridge is perfect as Lindner and Steve. Powers and McClain are a delight to watch in their dual roles. Powers gets that both the maid and the association representative are suffering fools as best as humanly possible, and with great dignity. Owen makes the most of Betsy, who is defined in the play only by her handicap, and is amusing as the affluent would-be homeowner who bends over backward to prove she is not a bigot. Davis is terrific as the bumbling priest, bewildered builder and bruised soldier. The best performance, though, is Jenkins as Russ and Dan. Many of the characters are isolated, even when they are among others. Jenkins captures that perfectly as the disillusioned Russ in the first act and as Dan in the second act. You actually have to strain to realize it's the same actor in both roles because he is so completely different in each role. As Russ, he is supposed to be the salt of the earth. As Dan, he is supposed to be the invisible hired help. Frank J. Alberino's set is brilliant, depicting a house in its prime and in its state of ruin. I think Hansberry would love this play.

Clybourne Park plays at the Long Wharf Theatre through June 2. Even if you think it's not your cup of tea, do yourself a favor and see it. As Gordon Edelstein wrote in his notes, "The layers of misconception, prevarications and idiocy are Norris's subject here. No one escapes...I will be surprised if you do not see yourself on stage tonight." For tickets or more information call 203-787-4282 or visit

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