Now that I’ve seen Bruce Norris’ CLYBOURNE PARK a second time (last year in Rhode Island and now at SpeakEasy), here are my thoughts.
I have to say the SpeakEasy Stage version (now extended through April 6th) is by far the better production, with wonderful performances from Marvelyn McFarlane and Paula Plum, especially in the first act ---which is set at the same time as, and parallels some of the action in A RAISIN IN THE SUN. (You can see the Huntington’s RAISIN right now and compare the two.)
Norris has imagined the white side of the RAISIN story in Act I of Clybourne Park so we get to meet the white people who have upset their lily white neighbors by selling their home to an African-American family. Unfortunately, as good as director M. Bevin O’Gara’s production is, the story pales in comparison. It’s just not compelling, in my opinion, and has major inconsistencies.
The playwright wants us to have sympathy for the white sellers who are mourning the death of their son and are besieged by a nasty representative of the Community Association. The wife insists her maid is her friend (Plum makes her as well intentioned as she can) but any goodwill we might have for the couple is undercut when the husband (a strong performance from Thomas Derrah) states his far from altruistic reasons for going through with the sale.
The people we really care about are the family’s more than patient domestic (McFarlane) and her exceedingly helpful husband (DeLance Minefee) but Norris gives them short shrift as if their back stories don’t count. It doesn’t make sense, since their point of view is ours. They are the only ones on stage who see how badly these white folk are behaving. With an arch of an eyebrow, McFarlane says it all.
Everyone plays someone else in Act II which is now fifty year later when whites are moving back into the cities, buying up black homes. Act II has attention fatigue problems, chugging along in fits and starts, when a white purchaser (Michael Kaye) and his wife (Philana Mia) run afoul of strict city ordinances protecting historic neighborhoods. Tempers flare and accusations of racism fill the air. Then Norris ends the play with a flashback to Act I which doesn’t make sense (to me). The play won the Tony for Best Play and a Pulitzer Prize. Obviously, I’m missing something.