Clybourne Park

Clybourne Park

This weekend has been almost an entire theater season in just one weekend. Friday night, we saw “Daddy Long Legs” and on Saturday night, we saw “Clybourne Park”. Both shows were at The Rep. Friday night’s show was on the main stage, while Saturday’s Stages production was down below, in the basement, sort of speak.

“Clybourne Park” (2010) is a play by Bruce Norris written in response to Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun” (1959). It portrays fictional events set before and after the Hansberry play and is loosely based on historical events. The play was awarded the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play.

The first act of “Clybourne Park” is set in 1959 its events precede those portrayed in “A Raisin in the Sun”. In this act, the grieving parents Bev and Russ are planning to sell their home in the white middle-class Chicago neighborhood of Clybourne Park to the black family that was portrayed in “A Raisin in the Sun”. Their Korean War veteran son had just committed suicide and Russ blames the neighborhood for its callousness and cruelty to his son.

The second act was set fifty years later, in 2009. The scene is still the same, albeit somewhat worse for wear, Bev and Russ’s former living room. All of the actors reappear in new guises, some though portray characters with ties to the first act’s characters.  In the intervening half-century, Clybourne Park has become an all black neighborhood. A gentrifying white couple is seeking to buy and McMansion the house. They are being forced to negotiate with local housing regulations and a black couple that represents the neighborhood. This racial role reversal soon devolves from discussions of zoning regulations into an angry shouting match about race. The play’s climax is introduced by a handyman, played by the same actor that played Russ. He unearths the son’s foot-locker that Russ had buried fifty-years ago. A short coda closes the play, back again in 1959, Bev finds her son writing [his suicide note] late at night, she says, “I believe things are about to change for the better.”

Joanie joined us last night. We had dinner together at Cyrano’s. A historical note: Hansberry’s originating play was based upon real events in the Chicago neighborhood of Washington Park. The three-story red brick at 6140 S. Rhodes, which was sold in 1937, is up for landmark status.

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