Friday, March 28, 2014
THEATRE REVIEW BLOG - CLYBOURNE PARK AT CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE
Currently at the Cleveland Play House is the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris, presented in association with Geva Theatre Center, Directed by Geva Artistic Director Mark Cuddy. Clybourne Park (2010) was inspired by Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun (1959). This play will certainly generate discussion. One discussion point is about suicide and how family members and loved ones cope with and mask their emotions. But the major discussion will be about racism.
We journey to 406 Clybourne Street, in the near northwest of central Chicago. In Act One, we are taken to September, 1959, where an anxious group of white neighbors attempts to talk a couple out of selling their home to an African-American family. Seeing as this is a response to Raisin in the Sun, I was quite taken by surprise. Instead of a dramatic edge, we meet a cast of characters that could have lived in Pleasantville, with racist tones intact. There are a few liberals thrown in the mix, but they are dealing with their own son’s suicide. It is a bizarre ride. But what I began to notice is that the characters were caricatures of racist white people. It is disheartening to hear it thrown in your face, but after a while, you have to admit you actually know people like that.
Act Two is 50 years later in the same house, but now it is dilapidated. Once again sparks fly when a white couple presents a plan to knock down the house in order to build their dream house in the now predominately black neighborhood. The same actors assume new roles; some of the characters are direct descendants from 1959. This group is much more careful about stating racist remarks, which is our new found “political correctness.” Respecting the memory of what the house represents becomes important, and also forces frank conversation about racial issues. It seems to me that the black couple now has been empowered by their predecessors struggle and has found confidence in protecting the value of the past.
As I stated before, the cast does double duty. Roya Shanks (Bev) unfolds as a hilarious, emotional train wreck directly from the Pleasantville station. In Act Two, she (Kathy) turns into an uptight lawyer who obviously didn’t have to pass a geography lesson on her bar exam. Remi Sandri (Russ) is a knock out as the father, riding the emotional waves perfectly. And then is a very funny ‘Dwayne F. Schneider’ of Clybourne (Dan).
Kristen Adele (Francine) brings class and elegance even donned out as a maid, and then morphs into Lena, an Angela Bassett spitfire who has impeccable comedic timing and delivery. Daniel Morgan Shelley brings stature and grace to Francine’s husband (Albert), then transforms beautifully into Kevin, a modern day preppie with a wonderful connective energy with the audience.
Jessica Kitchens is a blast in both acts. We find her as Betsy, a deaf and pregnant wife. She handles the disability with such care that she is able to generate some terrific laughs. Then Kitchens becomes a confident mother-to-be who is an emotional rollercoaster handling the conversations around her, especially her husband. Along the way, she creates some great laughs and social commentary. Christian Pedersen has the assignment of issues throughout both ends of the play. As Karl, he comes across like a pre-superman uptight jerk as he attempts to convince the couple not to sell and ruin the neighborhood. Later, as Steve, he excels at being someone who just can’t keep his mouth shut.
Jim Poulos arrives to the party as Pastor Jim and must confuse bigotry with a religious freedom. Poulos is great. Later, he comes back “light in the loafers,” and contributes his sexual preference in a very funny moment. The final moment of the show features Bernard Bygott as Kenneth, the son who left their world way too soon. It is handled with beautiful honesty and is a very touching moment to end the show.
I am left with the theme of being in fear of others--the others that we don’t understand and who scare us. We must not remain in a bubble. One by one we must reach out and extend openness to what is uncomfortable and seek those who are based in truth. That is what I left with.
The technical elements were excellent. Embellishing the beautifully restored Allen Theatre were Scenic and Costume Designer G.W.Mercier, Lighting Designer Ann G Wrightson, Sound Designer Lindsay Jones, and calling a great show was Stage Manager John Godbout.
Kevin Joseph Kelly
March 12 - April 13
7:30pm Thursdays (1:30pm show on Thursday, April 3)
2:30pm and 7:30pm Saturdays
$15-$61 Reserved Seating
Order Tickets Online
Cleveland Play House
Allen Theater Complex
1407 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44115