ATC’s season-ending “Clybourne Park” is an instant stage classic

Jenny McKnight and Lee E. Ernst in "Clybourne Park" (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
Jenny McKnight and Lee E. Ernst in “Clybourne Park” (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

By CECELIA MARSHALL for Arizona Daily Wildcat Published April 19, 2013

If walls could talk, they could reveal past homeowners’ eccentricities, decades of history and difficult and painful moments that occurred within them.

Bev and Russ’ walls in the house on Clybourne Park have soaked up enough memories that the couple feels the need to move. After the heartbreaking loss of their son, they are so eager to move away that they don’t care who purchases the home from them — even if their neighbors do.

Arizona Theatre Company ends its season with the thought-provoking piece “Clybourne Park,” directed by Mark Clements. It features the UA’s own Taylor Rascher, a senior pursuing his Bachelor of Fine Arts, as Bev and Russ’ son, Kenneth. Rascher is known for his roles in ART’s past productions “Cymbeline” and “Julius Caesar.”
The Tony Award winner for best play in 2012, written by Bruce Norris, had its final performance on Broadway last fall.

“Clybourne Park” is a two-act play with each act set in the same house, but 50 years apart.

Photo by Michael Brosilow
Photo by Michael Brosilow

Inspired by “A Raisin in the Sun,” Norris incorporated themes and social conflicts from that time period. In Act 2 of “Clybourne Park,” Norris effortlessly threads these themes into modern times.

Subjects such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, race and sexuality aren’t forced on the audience, but presented only to stir emotions in viewers and make them question their own values. Great sets and a cast of talented actors make the play even more engaging.

It begins in 1959, as the upper-middle class, white community members of Clybourne Park, Chicago nervously try to stop a black family from buying a home in their predominantly white neighborhood.

Opening with boxes scattered across the stage, “Clybourne Park” eases into a comfortable scene of a home whose owners are preparing for a move. Out walks Russ, played by Lee E. Ernst, in a pajama shirt, indulging in a carton of Neapolitan ice cream.

Homeowner Association President Karl (Gerard Neugent) and his wife, Betsy (Greta Wohlrabe), join Pastor Jim (Grant Goodman), to confront Bev and Russ about their selling their home to a black family. As tensions mount in the house, Karl and Jim discuss the issue of race while Francine (Marti Gobel), Bev’s housekeeper, and Albert, (Anthony Fleming III) her husband, stand by, trying not to attract attention.

Though the play begins slowly, the tension escalates quickly, broken in places by humor and biting wit. Half a century later, in the same house, the home lies abandoned with graffiti sprayed across the walls and litter scattered on the floor. The Clybourne Park neighborhood is predominantly black now, and a white upper-middle class couple looks to renovate the home.

Grant Goodman and Greta Wohlrabe. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Grant Goodman and Greta Wohlrabe. Photo by Michael Brosilow

The actors from the first act return in vastly different roles with new power dynamics. Despite the time difference, the plot of Act 2 mirrors the plot of Act 1, with similar themes and lines as well as allusions to the previous act. Though the play is set in Chicago, far from Arizona, the themes of racism and acceptance reflect the same conflicts this state has faced in Senate Bill 1070 and immigration issues.

Regardless of age, background, race or class, everyone should catch this play before its last Tucson performance on April 27. Just as “A Raisin In A Sun” was an instant classic, it’s safe to say that “Clybourne Park” will remain timeless.

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