Clybourne Park is a title that would not be out of place on a bookshelf of Gothic novels. The play itself has a lot of Gothic elements and the setting is gloomy. There is a fallen hero in the story and the characters are dealing with doubt, tragedy, and transition. All of these features add atmosphere and tension to this satire about race and real estate.
The play begins in the year 1959. Bev and Russ are selling their home in Clybourne Park –a suburban neighborhood in Chicago. However, the community is appalled to learn the buyers are African-American. Flash forward to 2009 where Clybourne Park has become a predominately African-American neighborhood, and a white couple are moving in.
There are a lot of great things playwright Bruce Norris wrote into his show. I like how the actors are double (and in one case) triple cast –each having a 1959 and a 2009 character to play. It definitely highlights the similarities and contrasts between the characters they play and the two-time periods. “History repeats” is definitely a theme in the show. The confrontational moments were well done from buildup to climax.
On the less positive side, the beginning is a bit slow. The 2009 storyline does not feel resolved. I do not mind open-ended storylines, but this one felt a little extreme. While the ending scene is gripping, powerful, and flawlessly executed, the transition to it is incredibly jarring (with the gothic elements brought to the forefront) and simply does not provide enough closure.
Still this does not change the fact that the acting is spectacular. The entire cast –Sam Arnold, Kelsey Jackson, Nicole Cowans, Craig Brauner, Amandla Bearden, Robert Tendy, and Shannon Funderbunk — are incredible. Each of the performances are spot on. They have no problem playing more than one role. Their facial expressions are incredibly emotive. They bring a lot of physicality and energy to their roles. One of my favorite moments is the way most of the characters rearrange how they are seated in order to stare down one character.
The dilapidated house set in both eras is fantastic and the costumes are also well done. The ads and music played before and between the acts nicely add to the atmosphere. The warnings about communism were especially amusing.
Some other things of note: The play is held at the Robert Cohen Theatre, which is a black box. The seating is amphitheatrical on all sides, and the set is spread out. This show is not recommended for young audiences. The program includes Drama Chair Daniel Gary Busby’s interview with Clybourne Park Director Leslie Ishii. It is worth reading. The interview can also be found at http://www.arts.uci.edu/press-room/daniel-gary-busby-sat-down-clybourne-park-director-leslie-ishii.
Clybourne Park is a melancholic, reflective piece (though it is not completely without laughs). It has a lot of things to say. Thanks to this cast and crew, it is interesting to watch its message unfold.
January 30 – February 7, 2016
Robert Cohen Theatre
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