At the center of Bruce Norris’ tragicomic exploration of American “community” hangs Kenneth (Win Britt), the Korean War Vet who returns home only to commit suicide in his family’s home.
During the war, he committed an atrocity, perhaps a precursor to Vietnam’s My Lai Massacre; home, the memory haunted him to death.
Now, in 1959, his mother Bev (Julie Zito) and father Russ (Michael Kharfen) have sold their Chicago home … to a black family …
“And there goes the neighborhood.”
Silver Spring Stage’s production of Clybourne Park might not hit the tragic hard enough, but when it gets rolling the comic mayhem that ensues more than makes up for the loss of genuine anguish.
You’ll be thoroughly entertained.
Clybourne Park is most definitely a DC play, even though it’s about Chicago, circa Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun.
In 1950, DC was 70% white; by 1970, it was 70% black. That’s not white flight; that’s a tsunami. Since, the 1990s and the return of investment dollars to urban DC, the “white” folk have returned, and continue to return, with gentrification and “pop-ups” the result.
Clybourne Park, a “nice” neighborhood close to downtown Chicago is all white, except for Francine (Gayle Carney), Bev and Russ’ “help”, and later her husband Albert (Brad Eaton) when he arrives to take her home.
When the “community” hears about a black family moving in, they come aknockin’. Karl (Matthew Gallant) and his near deaf, pregnant Swedish wife (Paige Fridell) want to do whatever they can to stop the collapse of Clybourne Park’s home values.
Even the local priest (David Gorsline) joins in the ruckus.
Clybourne Park‘s second act jumps 50 years, and we see a DC-like-circa-2009 taking place before our eyes, with the actors taking on a whole new set of characters.
The ensemble does a fine job capturing the discord, particularly with the more modern characters and, as said before, with the more comic elements: the second act was so much like a chaotic community meeting that I almost stood up and took charge of the damn thing myself. The interactions are a combination of “spacey” and witty, and the pacing is excellent.
Gayle Carney stood out in both acts, as she captured both the subtext and deportment. In Act I, as Francine, we could see her “double consciousness” just bursting at the seams, as she had to “stay nice” no matter how intolerable, or insensitive, the situation became. In Act II, with the neighborhood now “her neighborhood”, her Lena no longer had to play nice, at least not for long. She took the gloves off and her “jokes” could be as offensive as anyone else’s.
Matthew Gallant, as Karl and Steve, also does a nice job bridging the 50 years and in revealing its impact on character and conscience. His 1950’s Albert confronts the grieving Russ with as much sensitivity as a bulldog while his 2009 Kevin couldn’t be more a bull in China Shop.
And that is the real challenge presented by Norris’ Clybourne Park: beneath its comic exterior lies a deeply tragic tale; so the actors have to reveal the truth without ever really speaking the truth.
Although Director Seth Ghitelman does well with the comic elements, his direction does not touch strongly enough upon that most deeply felt element of the play: the loss of American idealism and the “community” that springs from it. Instead, property values dominate the landscape and personal gain.
The war(s), and the loss of innocence that follows and continues to follow, bleed underneath the play’s action like a tragic sin.
Clybourne Park‘s production team is led by Set Designer Maggie Modig and Costume Designer Harlene Leahy, with Lighting Designer Bill Strein and Sound Designer Roger Stone adding to an overall strong scenography.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre introduced Clybourne Park to DC audiences back in 2011; with Silver Spring’s production we can once again remember that sometimes theatre strikes very close to home.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.
‘Sometimes a House Is Much More Than a House: “Clybourne Park” Opens Friday at Silver Spring Stage’ by Lennie Magida.