Jerry McGrier, Amelia Lang-Wallace in a scene from CLYBOURNE PARK at Playcrafters of Skippack.

CLYBOURNE PARK Shows Ugly Side of Humanity

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In 1959 A RAISIN IN THE SUN opened on Broadway, and received 4 Tony nominations. The play dealt with a black family’s experiences in a Chicago neighborhood, and their subsequent attempt to purchase a house in a then all-white neighborhood. In this play, the Younger family is visited by Karl Linder, a representative of the neighborhood they plan to move into, and he makes a generous offer to buy back the house. This provides the background for Bruce Norris’ response play, CLYBOURNE PARK. As this play opens, we meet Bev and Russ, who are packing to move. They are visited by a local clergyman, a neighbor and his deaf, pregnant wife. As the story progresses, we find that the family who bought this house are the Younger family and the neighbor is Karl Linden. Karl attempts to get Russ to renege on the sale, citing the problems of integrating their neighborhood. As the discussion escalates, the couples awkwardly ask Russ and Bev’s black housekeeper and her husband their opinions. Russ throws everyone out, expressing his disregard for everyone due to their mistreatment of his sun Kenneth, who committed suicide on the upper floor of that house. Act II takes place fifty years later, the neighborhood is now all-black, and a white couple seeks to purchase the house and replace it. They are negotiating with a black couple representing the neighborhood organization. Again, the discussions intensify, and eventually degenerates into a bitter discussion of racial issues.

Ben Fried in Playcrafters of Skippack's CLYBOURNE PARK.

Ben Fried in Playcrafters of Skippack’s CLYBOURNE PARK.

The long-winded synopsis above is a very poor description of what is a very well written play, currently running at Playcrafter’s. Director David Deratzian has assembled a cast of both veteran and new talent, and has put together a solid production. In Act I, Ben Fried gives a very controlled performance as Russ, and Michele Loor-Nicolay is appropriately naïve as Bev. Michael Covel shows us the discomfort of being in the house and trying to discuss matters that he does not want to. Amelia Lang-Wallace and Jerry McGrier portray the maid Francine and her husband Albert solidly, being deferential to the others yet keeping their emotional distance. Greg Kasander is pushy and arrogant as Karl, and Natalie Merlino does a great job as the confused deaf wife Betsy. In Act II, Kasander and Merlino are the affected white couple indifferent to the feelings of the community they are trying to buy into, Lang-Wallace and McGrier defend their neighborhood at first overly-politely, then with increasing anger. Loor-Nicolay and Covel are the real estate agents, neither of whom truly seem to be there emotionally and Fried is a workman who discovers something buried in the back yard. Kudos to the cast for giving each of these characters different lives.

The set is functional, needing to show 50 years of deterioration, and does so fairly well. Lighting is functional, and again shows the difference in the years. The pace of the show is mostly brisk, although it falters in a few cases when line delivery is given perhaps a bit too over-the-top.

CLYBOURNE PARK is a taut, intriguing drama, showcasing how peripheral issues can blind us to the most basic of questions…can’t we all just get along?

 by Bruce Norris
Directed by David Deratzian
June 5-21, 2014
Playcrafters of Skippack
2011 Store Road
Skippack PA 19474
(610) 584-4005


Author’s Bio:

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Walter Bender

Walter Bender

Walter Bender is a veteran of over 35 years performing all over the country. He attended Texas Lutheran University as a Theatre Arts and Vocal Performance major. While in college he toured much of the Southern and Western states with various acting and singing groups. He appeared briefly on radio in San Antonio and on TV in Miami while in college. Moving back to PA, he has performed in well over 100 amateur and professional theatrical productions, and directed dozens more throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Among his favorite roles are Lt. Colonel Jessup (A Few Good Men), Daddy Warbucks (Annie), and most recently he was George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Arguably his favorite theatrical memory was creating the role of Alan Frick in A Fast Train to Heaven for Bill Gottshall Productions. He is co-founder of Spring-Ford Community Theater, has served as Managing Director of 2 different theaters, Artistic Director of a third and President of another. He worked for the Delaware Valley Arts Institute, where he worked with many wonderful artists and instructors, culminating in being selected to facilitate a post-graduate course at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Currently he serves on the board of directors for dcp theatre as their Director of Corporate Communications.

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