by Heather Parish
As we inch our way toward the Tony Awards on Sunday, June 10, check out this article on one of the nominees this year!
There’s a reason you should know about Clybourne Park. The address 406 Clybourne Street has a special resonance in the American theater.
That’s the place that offers a better life in Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun—a sunny home with a garden in a white enclave where the black Younger family in 1959 plan to move in order to escape Chicago’s South Side poverty. That play is high school required reading in America for a reason: A Raisin in the Sun captures our struggle to attain and keep “The American Dream” in the midst of race and class distinctions.
Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park picks up where A Raisin left off. In this sly, sharp play, Clybourne Park is also set at 406 Clybourne Street. Act I picks up where Hansberry ended in 1959, and Act 2 jumps to 2009, when the house is about to be demolished, but its legacy is no less emotionally charged.
Separated by 50 years, the two acts of the play could conceivably stand alone, but they ingeniously weave together through fragments of dialogue and neighborhood characters with connections to Hansberry’s original play. The Act I Clybourne Park is an all-white middle-class neighborhood whose residents are upset when they hear a “colored family” is moving in. Fifty years later, the Act II neighborhood has become all black and middle-class. Because Clybourne Park has nice homes ready for remodel, is “affordable,” and has close proximity to downtown entertainment and culture, young whites begin moving in (known as “gentrification”–something cities like Fresno are beginning to experience).
Clybourne Park has provocative things to say about race relations, about community, about our failures at communication, about whether generational change is real change. It says them with humor and with insight. There are also some moving moments, and some really unnerving moments. The play is without question worth seeing if you ever get the chance. If not, consider reading the play. The reward of doing so is the satisfaction not only of terrific theater but of keeping up with what’s happening in the culture of our time–and having it put in a context of our history. In fact, consider reading it alongside “A Raisin in the Sun” and see what ideas it sparks.
The play has been well received, including being awarded the prestigious London Evening Standard Award for Best New Play in 2010. Entertainment Weekly called the play “completely audacious;” the New York Times called it a “spiky and damningly insightful new comedy;” London’s Independent found it “outrageously funny and squirm-inducing;” while New York Magazine wrote the play “goes for the jugular of P.C. liberals.”
Like those critics, I enjoyed The American Conservatory Theater’s West Coast premiere of the play. The 2011 production was well-directed by Jonathan Moscone, and included great performances by some of San Francisco’s best actors. Having debuted at Playwrights Horizons in NYC in 2010, been produced in several incarnations in London and in regional theater, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2011, Clybourne Park finally debuted on Broadway last March, just in time to be nominated for several Tony Awards in 2012.
Will Clybourne Park stand on its own as well as A Raisin in the Sun has? Probably not. But sitting right beside it, the play is an excellent work of ideas, of criticism, and delves into our ongoing issues regarding race and real estate in America.
Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris has been nominated for Best Play at the 2012 Tony Awards.
Watch for more articles on the nominees here in KRL this week and check out the list of nominees on our Tony event page. Also don’t forget to watch the awards this Sunday, June 10.