Sunday, February 21, 2010

Clybourne Park

photo: Joan Marcus

Several recent productions have dealt with the always-sensitive issue of race relations in America, but few have been as nuanced and well-constructed as Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park, which opens tonight at Playwrights Horizons. Set in two contrasting eras--segregated 1959 and the supposedly post-racial present--the play navigates the changing dynamics that both mid-century white flight and contemporary gentrification have proferred. In the first act, a white couple (Christina Kirk and Frank Wood) decide to quit their urban neighborhood in the wake of a personal cataclysm. The sale of their house (to an African American family) opens up a can of worms for the rest of the community, who cannot shake their deeply-rooted racism. Fifty years later, the neighborhood is now predominately black, and the plans for a white couple (Annie Parisse and Jeremy Shamos) to level the house that broke the color barrier causes longtime residents to question their sense of society. Norris, riffing well on Lorraine Hansbury's A Raisin in the Sun, manages to capture every aspect of both debates with aplomb; alternately hilarious and heartbreaking, he allows all of the characters to search the depths of their souls and discover things that they might have wanted left untouched. The cast is practically flawless, but special mention goes to Wood, quietly brilliant as a father who cannot overcome a horrific tragedy.

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