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.
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