Sunday, February 21, 2010

Clybourne Park

photo: Joan Marcus

The two acts of Bruce Norris' often caustic, provocative comedy take place 50 years apart in the same house. (We've heard of the place already - it's the very one that the Younger family buys in A Raisin In The Sun.) In the stylized first act, set in 1959, "white flight" is about to alter the neighborhood when a superficially sunny homemaker (Christina Kirk, excellent) and her brooding husband (Frank Wood, ditto) pack their things after a personal tragedy. In the second act, set in 2009, the same house has been sold to a white couple (Annie Parisse and Jeremy Shamos, both deliciously transparent) whose plans for the property offend the black neighbors (Crystal A. Dickinson and Damon Gupton, both wonderful and adept at subtext). With wicked humor Norris contrasts the then and now of how we talk about race - in the first act with a veneer of politeness that masks ignorance and bigotry, and in the second act with a veneer of correctness that masks distrust and resentment. By the time the present-day liberal characters sink to sandbox level and start throwing mud at each other (think God of Carnage only smarter and funnier) the oft-outrageous comedy has made its point that the more things change the more things stay the same. What's especially striking about the play, despite what may seem a cynical message about our supposedly post-racial America, is that it's spiked with moments of genuine poignancy. Even its most bracing element, the first act's back story of the white couple's son (Brendan Griffin, precise and detailed), delivers its stinging message with a mournful compassion. Highly recommended.

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