Fifty years of racism
The characters in Clybourne Park talk, but they don’t listen. Bruce Norris’ bitingly funny and provocative satire, which won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a 2012 Tony Award, too, opened with an impressively brave and intelligent production by Capital Stage. The play deals with the uncomfortable subjects of racism, fear and how the “liberal” middle-class deals—or doesn’t deal—with them. Michael Stevenson directs an outstanding cast with staccato speed to match the rapid rhythms of Norris’ script.
The play is set in the same Chicago house where the black Younger family from Lorraine Hansberry’s classic A Raisin in the Sun was about to break that community’s color barrier. Act one begins at that moment in 1959 before the Youngers (who don’t appear here) move in. Norris focuses on Russ and Bev, the white family (played by Jonathan Rhys Williams and Shannon Mahoney) vacating the house to move to the suburbs. Francine (Atim Udoffia), the couple’s black maid, helps with the packing, but the work is interrupted by visitors: Jim (Dan Fagan), the local minister; Albert (Beethovan Oden), Francine’s husband; and most significantly—and unpleasantly—by Karl (Aaron Wilton) and his pregnant, deaf wife, Betsy (Stephanie Altholz). Karl is the same repulsive neighborhood representative in Raisin who tried to persuade the Youngers not to move into the house; now he tries to pressure the sellers into changing their minds.
Act two is set in the same home 50 years later, when the neighborhood, now predominantly African-American, is undergoing gentrification, and a white couple, Steve and pregnant wife Lindsey (Wilton and Altholz), is negotiating with lawyers and preservationists about renovating the home. Plenty of unpleasantries ensue.
Despite the passage of half a century, we may have become more aware of our prejudices, but we certainly haven’t transcended them. People hide behind words and cloak their fears. But racism that comes out of fear is still racism.