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CLYBOURNE PARK ASKS THE QUESTIONS WE ARE AFRAID TO ASK

Emily White ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff

Thomas Derrah, Tim Spears, Paula Plum, and Michael Kaye in a scene from SpeakEasy Stage's production of Clybourne Park, running March 1-30 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts. Tickets/info at speakeasystage.com. Photo by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo.
Thomas Derrah, Tim Spears, Paula Plum, and Michael Kaye in a scene from SpeakEasy Stage’s production of Clybourne Park, running March 1-30 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts. Tickets/info at speakeasystage.com. Photo by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo.

Bruce Norris’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play, Clybourne Park, hits audiences with the difficult questions about race and society. It does so through the stories of a house in 1959 and again in 2009, using the same actors in different roles to demonstrate the similarities and differences in the race relations of our society between the two time periods. Inspired by Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, Norris’s play takes a realistic look at the role race played in our society then and now, despite people’s best efforts to ignore it.

The open structure of the house that frames the set emulates the open and vulnerable nature that the actors portray throughout the show. The unfinished nature of the set emphasizes the transitional nature of the house (because of the owners moving in one act and remodeling in the other), but also the transitional nature of the time periods themselves. In 1959, the neighborhood in which the characters live, Clybourne Park, is about to undergo a transition from an all-white community into an up-and-coming racially diverse community. In 2009, the question is asked what the role of race plays in today’s society. Are we on the verge of eliminating the need to think about it? Or is it a necessary, though uncomfortable, subject that needs to be addressed? Norris’s play argues for the latter, as we watch the characters in both eras dance uncomfortably around the subject, getting nowhere until the truth comes out. What is truly shocking is just how afraid of the idea of race we still seem to be today.

The actors do an astounding job of giving weight to both sides of the issue. We identify with each of the characters’ struggle to deal with race in a “politically correct” manner. However, so much subtext about the nature of their conversations is apparent before the truth about the racial nature of their conversation is made obvious, as the actors subtly express their difficult and potentially offensive unspoken thoughts. The specificity of the props in each time period also lends to the credibility of the characters’ situation, reminding us that it is an issue we deal with in our society today. Even “intelligent women” and Starbucks drinkers like Paula Plum’s Kathy in Act II are colored by race, pardon the pun.

Norris’s play is provocative and thought-provoking, dealing with subject matter that has the potential to be explosive. Without careful direction and execution, the play could be an utter disaster. However, SpeakEasy’s incredible direction, production, and cast execute the play in a way that not only succeeds, but inspires.

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