The Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park’s greatest strength is its embrace of the uncomfortable. Bruce Norris’s play, tangentially related to Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, features two acts separated by 50 years, and though some things change during that period, a lot doesn’t – namely, the pain and prejudices of humanity that often begin to break through the façade of civility when the pressure’s on.
Currently running on Broadway after an acclaimed off-Broadway stint, Clybourne Park comes to Seattle Repertory Theatre through May 13 in an engaging, well-acted production that serves Norris’ work well.
The play opens in 1959, where Russ (Peter Crook) and Bev (Suzanne Bouchard) are in the final stages of packing and moving away from their suburban middle-class Chicago home. Norris begins to weave the discomfort in early, with Russ and Bev’s conversation about semantics clearly standing in as filler for a host of unspoken hurt. Neither seems like a particularly happy or pleasant person – he snipes at her unprovoked; she patronizingly condescends constantly, most egregiously to her black maid, Francine (Kim Staunton).
But the uneasiness is just getting ramped up, as visits by supercilious priest Jim (Aaron Blakely) and Raisin minor character Karl Lindner (Darragh Kennan) and his deaf, pregnant wife (Marya Sea Kaminski) expose the raw nerve of a past familial trauma and a massive wave of underlying racism. Turns out the buyers of the house are a black family – Raisin’s the Youngers – and Karl is worried their presence in a white neighborhood could lead to declining property values or worse. When the conversation turns to Francine and husband Albert (Teagle F. Bougere) for an African-American perspective, things get even more mortifying.