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Theatre Review (LA): Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris at the Mark Taper Forum

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Anyone familiar with A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry might be familiar with the name Clybourne Park; it’s where the Younger family moves to when they leave a Chicago South Side Ghetto to go to a safer, cleaner, all-white neighborhood. Hansberry herself claimed that her family had made such a move and encountered lots of resistance. In A Raisin in the Sun, now getting a first-rate production at the Kirk Douglas, the Youngers are visited by Karl Lindner, the chairman of the Clybourne Park’s Welcoming Committee, who tries to dissuade them from the move.

Clybourne Park, a play by Bruce Morris now at the Mark Taper Forum, picks up where Hansberry’s play leaves off. The action switches to Clybourne Park where the white Stoller family is packing to leave. In comes Lindner to try and persuade them to stay.

The comparisons with A Raisin in the Sun, a truly great play, end there. Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris is a vastly inferior play. It won the Pulitzer Prize and is on its way to Broadway but the Pulitzer Committee has made mistakes before. The characters are decidedly one-dimensional stereotypes. This provides for some funny lines just as you would expect from stereotypes. Norris adds a subplot about a son who has killed himself (the reason, I guess, why the Stoller family wants to move). The play takes a full half hour to introduce the conflict of the black Younger Family moving in. While it may satisfy some liberal longing to see Mr. Stoller tell Lindner to “f” himself, it is not clear if this is from a real sense of racial justice or just Stoller’s desire to leave.

Act Two isn’t much better. The play skips 50 years and we find a group of people sitting around the abandoned Stoller house going over papers. Again it takes a good half hour to find out what they are doing there. I thought they were rehearsing a play. It seems a new White family who wants to move in wants to expand the house beyond the wishes of the community (which is now integrated thanks to the Youngers. Again we find an obnoxious neighbor who eventually reduces the argument to race. What race has to do with easements I will never know.

What is good about the play are the terrific performances by the cast, which includes Crystal A. Dickinson, Brendon Griffin, Damon Gupton, Christina Kirk, Annie Parisse, a terrific Jeremy Shamos, and Frank Wood. The director is Pam Mackinnon. Despite the fun of their performances and some funny lines, I say go see A Raisin in the Sun for a much more satisfying experience.

Clybourne Park will play at the Mark Taper Forum until February 26. A Raisin in the Sun plays at the Kirk Douglas Theatre until February 19.

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About Robert Machray

  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    Maybe this was an inferior production – the Off Broadway version I saw in New York was one of the best plays I’ve seen in years. Or maybe we just don’t see it the same…

  • robert machray

    same cast but laeger theatre. Didn’t think the play said anything new.

  • Jeff

    Exact same production as NY Jon… I saw both… and I agree… one of the best new palys in years.

  • schermnaam

    Just saw the play last weekend. It is enjoyable and the main conceit, the tables turned 50 years later, is I think a very creative idea. Inclusion, exclusion, tribalism, gentrification, personal as political, were all themes suggested for exploration, none of them successfully. I agree with your main contrast: the performances, production, direction were excellent. The writing, dialogue, and (non white male) character development were not.