Review by Jenifer Moore of “Clybourne Park”: CCM Acting
If you are planning to attend a showing of CCM’s “Clybourne Park” by Bruce Norris, prepare to be equal parts entertained as well as reminded of the ways of living in America. Set in inner-city Chicago, the production picks up where barrier-breaking playwright Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” leaves off, with a white family preparing to move after selling their home to an African American family. In total transparency, Act I starts off somewhat slow with Russ Stoller (expertly played by Matt Fox) enjoying the simple pleasures of life with 1950s tunes on the radio and a spoon deep in a tub of ice cream. Bev (Abby Palen), his wife, stirs about nearby packing up the remainder of the home with the assistance of the Francine (Paige Jordan), the family’s maid. While everything seems okay, the couple’s friendly, yet strained, banter is an indication that something more troubling sits beneath the surface of their home life and they’ve transitioned from thriving to surviving. The play begins to pick up with the introduction of neighbors and “friends” and soon all hell breaks loose. And not in a good way.
I don’t want to give the plot away, but I will say this ” Clybourne Park” is about many things–home, community, prosperity, change and at the center of it all, racism. I found myself and much of the audience squirm awkwardly throughout various points in the production, but I believe that it was absolutely necessary. The topic of racism and America’s historical relationship to it is hard to approach, yet CCM, under the direction of Richard Hess, brilliantly nails it.
The cast carefully exposes how institutional racism, red-lining, and gentrification have affected the social construct of our history for decades. While Act I shows the unsubstantiated fears of white homeowners at the thought of an African American family moving in and changing the ‘character’ of the neighborhood, Act II explores how the African Americans create communities and the act of gentrification moving in to destroy them is yet again another reminder that they are not deserving of equality. What I love about the cast is that they are unrelenting in channeling the emotions of the characters. The choice to use separate casts for both acts is bold yet welcomed as it allows audiences to see the range of theatrical expertise at this nationally ranked premier institution of learning. Again, while some of the dialogue is cringe-worthy, it is an honest representation of the America we see not only in 1959, but also 50 years later in 2009.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Mark Halpin and the fantastic work of the set design. As I gazed upon the set prior to the show beginning I wondered how they would modernize the elements to reflect 2009. By this point in history, entertainment has moved from radio to TV and the old rotary phone exchanged for cell phones. The visuals and sounds of Act I included traditional oak flooring, large area rugs, and contemporary music. Enter Act II in dramatic fashion (it’s too exciting to share!) to the sounds of “Home” by Chi-town’s own Kanye West.
All in all, CCM’s production of “Clybourne Park” is a must-see. It is thought-provoking, uncomfortable, and requires audiences to ponder how the effect of unbalanced policies, socio-economics, and bias affect the lives of all Americans. This is especially true for the Queen City which is undergoing its own gentrification to the cheers and jeers of many. Home may be where the heart is. But we must ask ourselves what happens to our hearts when they are no longer welcomed where the home is?
“Clybourne Park” runs until Feb. 16 at the University of Cincinnati Patricia Corbett Theater.
Tickets and more info are available at https://ccm.uc.edu/boxoffice.html or by calling the box office at (513) 556-4183.