Review by Tulis McCall
22 Feb 2010
Save yourselves some time. Pick up the phone and make a reservation to see this show right now. It is fab-oh-lah and then some.
It takes a certain chutzpah to base a play on an icon. 406 Clybourne Street, the setting of this play, is the home Lena Younger buys in A Raisin In The Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry. Bruce Norris has written the story of that house at the time of the sale and 50 years later. Why was it sold and what happened to it afterwards? Thank God Norris has not only chutzpah, but the chops to go with it.
The tale is told by an ensemble cast reminiscent of the recent Steppenwolf productions – August Osage County and Superior Donuts. In the nearly perfect first act we meet the sellers Bev and Russ (Christina Kirk and Frank Wood) in the final stages of packing. Well, Bev is packing. Russ is reading the National Geographic. This is enough to raise the hackles of any woman in the audience, but Norris is smarter than the average bear. As the act unfolds we see that Russ is anything but relaxed and the life that he and his wife are leaving behind is anything but happy.
While Bev is filling the air with chatter she has time to casually demean her black maid Francine (Crystal A. Dickinson) by repeating instructions over and over and by offering Francine a sterling chafing dish that has not been used in years and for which Francine has no use. The local priest Jim (Brendan Griffin) stops in for a sterile but well meaning chat. Francine’s husband, Albert (Damon Gupta) comes to take her home and is coerced into helping with a trunk that Russ has been avoiding. Into this mix butts neighbors Betsy and Karl (Annie Parisse and Jeremy Shamos). Betsy, who is deaf, is weeks away from giving birth and blends awkwardly into the background as her husband brings up the rumor being bandied about the Rotary Club that the house was sold to a colored family.
To call what happens next fireworks is an understatement. Within minutes the story and characters whirl out of control and under the direction of Pam McKinnon the devolution a mighty wallop.
In the second act we are in 2009. The house bears the scars of gang tags on the walls, and what happened in the intervening years is left to the imagination. What is on the table now are the various easements and requirements that need to be defined and honored by the buyers. Parisse and Shamos are again paired up as a married couple who are interested in completely renovating the house so that it will be unrecognizable as a part of the neighborhood. Representing the neighbors are Dickinson and Gupta – also paired again as married. Griffin is now a legal-eeze person as is Kirk, and Wood is a handy man putting in a Coy Pond (halloooooo in there!) in the back yard. Because the first act is so solid (it is really a one-act) the second act just has to show up and make a decent argument to fulfill our needs. And it does so. Shamos and Parisse are a tag team of self reference and finger pointing. What starts out as a conversation (reminiscent of God of Carnage) builds into the stuff of which feuds are made.
It is, however, the way in which Norris completes the play by bringing the touchstone that is the past into the present that ties the entire production up into a bundle that makes your heart burst. This is a brilliant reminder of why I love the theatre. What Norris has created is not something that could translate to film. Time and emotion fold over on each other like the ingredients in an Angel Food cake. It is a construction whose weight bearing elements are people with hopes and hurts, dreams and demons.
This cast is a dream team. There is no lead player. There is only the drive to the net. With the exception of Ms. Kirk’s limp wrists (an Acting 101 faux pas that overshadows her skill) there is simplicity of movement and design in this production that makes it all look effortless. These actors trust the excellent script and each other, which means the director did as well.
This is a show that should be extended at the very least, and one could hope that it makes its way to Broadway in the not too distant future. Racism is a subject that we white folk here in New York like to think is no longer an active issue in our country. We hardly notice that 95% of our working actors, 97% of the theatre going audience, and 107% of what passes for entertainment on television and in film are white because we are so damn used to seeing it that we don’t notice any more. Clybourne Park disabuses us of that notion with style, and wit and grace.
You should pardon the expression, but it will get under your skin.
"A spiky and damningly insightful new comedy."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"It's getting a superb world premiere, courtesy of director Pam MacKinnon and a dynamite cast that glides between humor and tragedy, and eras, without a bobble."
Joe Dziemianowicz for NY Daily News
"You laugh a lot at "Clybourne Park," but it's almost always uncomfortable. And that's a very good thing."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for NY Post
"Intermittently funny and pointed, but heavy-handed and often crude."
John Simon for Bloomberg
"Though it's a reasonably engaging way to pass a couple of hours, one waits in vain for "Clybourne Park" to draw blood."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage
"A lumpy, indigestible stew of farce, comedy, satire, drama and tragedy."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"Remarkably perceptive, often hilarious and surprisingly poignant."
Michael Kuchwara for Associated Press
"The arguments about race are heated and humorous under Pam MacKinnon's crisp and lucid helming, but the lack of nuance in the characters' simplistic thoughts and language limits the level of discussion."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...