While Clybourne Park has some extremely funny moments, the comedy isn’t a light-hearted play. As much filled with tension as it is with hilarity, Aurora’s Theatre’s production of the Tony Award-winning and Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Bruce Norris will captivate you as it makes you think about the reality of race in the nation today.
Although set in Chicago, the play could be placed in any city, and we all know the story about the changing make-up of a city’s neighborhoods. From white flight to the new issues of gentrification, the comedy portrays both ends of the spectrum by showing the events inside one house 50 years apart. Act one tells the story of Russ (Robin Bloodworth) and Bev (Tess Malis Kincaid) in the 1950s who sell their home as they struggle to cope with their son’s death. Then, act two follows a set of new urban dwellers in the present day who are seeking to live closer to work in the historic neighborhood.
In the beginning the issues of racism and race relations in the 1950s are front and center. Well-crafted, the dialogue doesn’t force the issue, letting the situation and characters naturally reveal the ideas about race. Likewise, the second half explores the current issues cities face as African Americans work to protect the heritage of their neighborhoods that are quickly changing as young professionals move in from the suburbs.
Under the skilled direction of Melissa Foulger, the talented cast presents a captivating production with each of the cast members playing two different roles, one in the first act and another in the second. Bloodworth creates a powerful portrayal of Russ in the first act. He dominates the stage as the grieving father who could care less who moves into his home. As his prim and proper wife, Kincaid creates a warm housewife, and that demeanor allows her to move the audience by the end of the act.
Giving a strong performance, Joe Sykes provides a worthy foil to Bloodworth as Karl, and as his deaf wife Betsy, Cara Mantella gives a convincing performance. But, it is the subtle performance of Danielle Deadwyler during the second act that deserves notice. Her characterization of Lena speaks volumes about the tension that she feels. She is wonderful in the role.
The detailed set by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay works well with the production, and the quaint home vividly becomes a dilapidated structure in the second act. Their costume design also bring the two periods of the play to life.
Hilarious and thought-provoking, Clybourne Park runs through October 26, 2014 at Aurora Theatre. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website. The show’s run time is around two hours with an intermission.
– Kenny Norton