Friday, February 12, 2010

Clybourne Park

"Clybourne Park" at Playwrights Horizons, February 6, 2010

Bruce Norris' new play tells the tale of an urban neighborhood, specifically one house as it suffers and recovers from white flight over the course of 50 years.

(Spoiler alert)

In 1959, Bev (Christina Kirk) and Russ (Frank Wood) are fleeing the pain of losing their Korean War veteran son to suicide following accusations of war crimes.  They've relinquished responsibility for the sale of their house to the realtor who has sold it to a black family, the first in the neighborhood.  Russ' depression has practically paralyzed him, so Bev has called Jim (Brendan Griffin) their pastor for a little counsel.  As news of the sale gets out, Russ' co-worker Karl (Jeremy Shamos) and his hearing-impaired and pregnant wife (Anne Parisse).  Francine (Crystal A. Dickinson), Bev and Russ' maid and her husband Albert (Damon Gupton) get dragged into the discussion about the impact of the property's sale on the rest of the homeowners in the area.

Fifty years later, the proximity of the neighborhood to downtown has created new interest in the area and a white couple expecting their first child has bought the same house with plans to raze it and build new.  The politics now include a neighborhood association concerned that their plans will destroy the personality that has evolved over the last 50 years.

Mr. Norris manages to avoid a replay of "All In The Family" when the Jeffersons moved in next door, but does create a tense environment in both eras.  He doesn't quite reach the "pitch black" comedy put forth in the marketing materials, but there is an awkward reality to the premise, highlighting two generations of white guilt on each side of political correctness.  The plot construction is good, but the writing pales at times, falling to stereotype particularly in the second act.

Ms. Kirk's Bev never quite rings true, but Mr. Wood's Russ demonstrates his consummate skill as a character actor.  Mr. Shamos pulls off the most convincing transformation from the panicky neighbor Karl to the new homebuyer Steve in Act II.  Ms. Parisse doesn't have so much to do in Act I as the deaf Betsy, but gets a chance to put in a bit of work through her second act apology of a character, Lindsey.

Daniel Ostling's set ages well, complemented by Allen Lee Hughes lighting.  Ilona Somogyi's costumes capture both periods effectively.  Director Pam McKinnon tries to keep things apace, but gets bogged down from time to time.

Overall it's a nice effort.  The show runs through March 7, 2010.

Playwrights Horizons is offering a discount:

Order by February 21 with code CPGR and tickets are only
  • $40 (reg. $65) for all performances Jan 29-Feb 14
  • $50 (reg. $65) for all performances Feb 16-March 17
How to Order: Order online at  Use code CPGR.
Call Ticket Central at (212)279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily)
Present the discount code at the Ticket Central box office, 416 West 42nd Street (Noon-8pm daily).

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