New Haven Register: Clybourne Park
Stellar ensemble makes for a smart 'Clybourne Park' at Long Wharf Theatre
NEW HAVEN — Isn’t it comforting to know that we’re far more enlightened, civilized and tolerant than our relatives from previous generations? That Political Correctness has rendered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 superfluous?
Well, before we all smugly pat ourselves on our backs, consider the awkward truths about contemporary racism replete in Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning “Clybourne Park,” the regular-season finale at Long Wharf Theatre, where it runs through June 2.
Deftly directed by Eric Ting, “Clybourne Park” nimbly proposes that the PC Police may have censored speech in “mixed” company, but have only stuffed our unspoken fears and prejudices beneath our “Kumbaya” countenance of acceptance.
“Clybourne Park” is not only a dramaturgical treat, for, indeed, it is expertly crafted, baldly honest and briskly entertaining, but it also genuinely earns its poignancy and humor. It is, furthermore, a delightful acting exercise, as Norris calls upon seven actors to magnificently portray two sets of characters — one in 1959 and another 50 years later.
The fact that all these characters spring from the shadows of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” via Norris’ fertile imagination (save one, Karl Linder, a small but pivotal character of Hansberry’s creation), adds welcome intrigue to kindle our attention.
Ting, whose staging denies none of the play’s splendid subtleties, deals himself a killer seven-card-stud cast, a seamless ensemble in which each actor stands out while maintaining balance.
Daniel Jenkins and Alice Ripley are Russ and Bev, a troubled, married couple living in the very same house that Hansberry’s Younger family purchases at the conclusion of “A Raisin in the Sun.” Linder (Alex Moggridge), the character who, in Hansberry’s play, tries bribing the Youngers out of moving into the titular neighborhood, here tries dissuading Russ from selling to the Youngers, whom Russ doesn’t realize, are African American.
Right in front of Bev’s black maid Francine (Melle Powers) and her husband, Albert (LeRoy McClain), the Rev. Jim (Jimmy Davis) and Karl’s deaf wife, Betsy (Lucy Owen), the men’s argument spills from real estate into various, muddy tributaries, most notably the one leading to the unpleasant subject of Kenneth, Russ and Bev’s son who committed suicide right upstairs not long after returning from the Korean War.
The tenor spirals from awkward to downright belligerent, as words rip old wounds wide apart, well beyond the reach of plastic surgery.
Act II finds a latter-day group of neighbors discussing a white couple’s desire to bend zoning laws to its wishes as the pair, Moggridge and Owen, now Steve and Lindsey, prepare to move into the same house once owned by the Youngers. And though all of the conferring characters — black, white, straight, gay, male and female — appear to be on the same socio-economic field and blessed with the same sense of entitlement, those pesky prejudices that openly nagged their grandparents continue to nag them, however cleverly they pretend otherwise. The characters’ actions indicate that racism, like any tireless virus, adapts to all antibiotics and thrives.
E. Kyle Minor of Danbury is a freelance writer.
Title: “Clybourne Park”
Where: Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven
When: Through June 2; 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 7 p.m. May 19, 22 and 29, 3 and 8 p.m. May 25 and June 1, 2 p.m. May 26 and June 2