Clybourne Park is an equally excellent production now on at Seattle Repertory Theatre. You can’t make filet mignon out of hamburger. And you can’t mount an excellent theatrical production without a first-rate script. Playwright Bruce Norris has certainly delivered on that count, as demonstrated by Clybourne Park receiving the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The current Lincoln Center production on Broadway has been nominated for four Tony Awards.
There was a story last week in the New York Times about how, after four years of Barack Obama’s presidency, race remains an issue for voters. The reporting took place in Ohio but has relevance to the entire country. We, perhaps especially those of us on the two coasts, like to think of America as post-racial but while society has certainly progressed in that direction, this play reminds us that we’ve still got a long way to go. This morning the Seattle Times reported on research being done at the University of Washington about racial biases in our society.
Race. That is the uncomfortable subject of Clybourne Park. Nominally a sequel to Lorraine Hansberry’s classic 1959 play, A Raisin in the Sun, Clybourne Park takes place in a Chicago neighborhood that in the late 1950s began to transition from white to black (Raisin’s plot and the first half of Clybourne) and then fifty years later (Clybourne’s Act Two) whites in 2009 are returning via gentrification.
Like to squirm as you guffaw? Then you won’t want to miss this play. Laughs are plentiful all the way through Clybourne Park. If Norris hadn’t underpinned his script with humor, the play’s exploration of racial tension would be nigh unbearable.
Braden Abraham, the Rep’s young Associate Artistic Director, is a maestro at the director’s podium for this play. He has directed several productions at the Rep by now and this is his finest effort to date. The mostly Seattle-based cast is superb. In particular Darragh Kennan (giving nuance to an Archie Bunker-stereotype) and Peter Crook are magnificent. Most of the actors are double-cast, and in ways that deepen resonance, most powerfully with Peter Crook’s two characters.
Often one of the hardest things in playwriting is delivering a satisfying ending. Norris closes his play with a gut-pummeling zinger, one I hadn’t seen coming. (Sorry, no spoiler here; go see the play.)
The detailed set, designed by Scott Bradley, embeds you in a Chicago home being remodeled in a neighborhood being changed. Costuming, also excellent, was designed by Constanza Romero, who happens to be the widow of the great African-American playwright August Wilson. I suspect Wilson would have welcomed this play.
Even getting the rights to Clybourne Park was a coup for Seattle Rep because it is now running on Broadway, produced by Lincoln Center Theater, and usually writers, agents and producers want plays to conclude their Broadway run before being licensed for regional productions. The Rep tied up the rights two years ago, probably before any commitment had been made for a Broadway production.
The bad news is that Clybourne Park closes this Sunday, May 13. This is one of the finest plays you can see in Seattle this season. Try to catch it. It deserves your attention.