BWW Reviews: CLYBOURNE PARK - Woolly Mammoth Theatre Presents Brilliant Encoreoduction

By: Jul. 29, 2011

What a way to be introduced to the small intimate Woolly Mammoth Theatre.  In my many excursions to DC, I had never made it previously.  But when I read that the highly regarded Clybourne Park would be returning to the theater over the summer, I made a note not to miss it.  And you shouldn't miss it either!

Like Arena Stage bringing back the hit musical Oklahoma over the summer, Woolly Mammoth is gambling that presenting this play again (sans subscribers) would be a success.  Even though the show was one of the highest-attended shows in Woolly's history, it is still a gamble.  There's no doubt in my mind though, the gamble will pay off because this show is simply remarkable. 

Wooly Mammoth  Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz  initially had the rights to Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park, but New York's Playwrights Horizons had an open slot earlier in their season and thus premiered the play in early 2010. And the decision to remount the play was made during the initial run, before the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Olivier Award for Best Play, and two Helen Hayes Awards. How prescient Shalwitz must be.

Director Shalwitz has assembled a terrific ensemble who all get a chance to demonstrate their acting chops in a play that is a biting comedy about race and real estate.

And what real estate 406 Clybourne Street in Chicago is.  You may recall the address since it was the home involved in Lorraine Hansberry's classic Raisin in the Sun in which a Black family, the Youngers, are attempting in integrate a White community.  The odds are against them. The neighborhood is against them.

Norris cleverly divides his play into two centuries, 50 years apart. Act I takes place just before the Youngers arrive back in 1959.  There is even a character shared in both plays.  Karl  Lindner in Raisin attempts to have the White sellers, Bev and Russ Stoller (the terrific Mitchell Hebert and Jennifer Mendenhall)  cancel their sale.  When that didn't work, the evid racist Lindner (the superb Cody Nickell) attempts to  convince the Youngers NOT to move into the White neighborhood.

Act II moves 50 years to 2009 (with the same actors from Act I in different roles)  and Clybourne Park has become a predominantly Black neighborhood ripe for gentrification.  This time a White family is attempting to move into the neighborhood with architectural drawings that change the entire character of the same home that was once owned by the Younger family and the inside has seen better days.    They hope to change the character of the small home by building up. This of course will need the approval of the neighborhood architectural control committee who must approve their plans and specifications.

The house itself is cleverly designed by James Kronzer.  One immediately notices what I call "the peanut gallery", 18 seats over-looking the living room from behind the actors through a cut-out of the wall. 

You will never forget the Act II happenings.  Jefferson A. Russell and Dawn Ursula (Kevin and Lena) are both stunning  in their portrayal of Black neighbors on the committee that must consider the changes the White couple Steve (an almost unrecognizable Nickell) and his liberal wife Lindsey (Kimberly Gilbert).  Michael Glenn does a fine job as Jim and Tom. Chris Dinolfo only appears in Act II in a flashback to Act I.

The Baltimore/Washington area is certainly becoming a hot bed of theater.  The Woolly Mammoth production is a testament to this.  I repeat...do not miss this show.

For tickets, call 202-393-3939 or visit www.woollymommoth.net. The theater box office is at 641 D Street, NW. The show ends August 14.

Following each performance, there will be post-show events. For more information, visit www.woollymommoth.net.

For comments, write to cgshbuow@broadwayworld.com.

ADDENDUM:

For a nice article about the house built by Technical Director Paul Bradley, see "Staging a house" by Maura Judkis in the Sunday, July 31, 2011 Washington Post (E2).  After reading the article, I suggest you stay in your seats during intermission to watch the incredible transformation of the 1959 home to the 2009 home.



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