Nominated for four Tony awards including Best Play, Direction, Scenic Design and Best Featured Actor (Jeremy Shamos), ‘Clybourne Park’ is an innovative look on race relations spanning over 50 years, plus a take on the classic, ‘A Raisin in the Sun’. In the classic Lorraine Hansberry play, ‘A Raisin in the Sun’, an African American couple move into a house on Clybourne Street, a suburb of Chicago, which is a predominately white neighborhood in 1959.
‘Clybourne Park’, written by Bruce Norris, imagines on stage, a two act play bookending the white family who sells the house to the black family, as in the classic, also set in 1959, and then again in Act Two, set in the present day, where now a predominately African American neighborhood, is about to be gentrified by an upwardly mobile white couple.
The character of Karl Linder is also lifted from the pages of ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ and finds himself in ‘Clybourne Park’. In ‘Park’, Karl is played by Jeremy Shamos, who is currently nominated for a Tony as Best Featured Actor in a play. He plays Steve in Act Two. The first Act is set in 1959 and we learn that Russ and Bev have lost their son, after he committed suicide due to mental issues he developed as a soldier in the Vietnam War. With too many memories surrounding their loss, aside from an era that would rather mask their issues, rather than deal with them, the couple sell their house which was subsequently bought by a black family. Karl, who is friends with Russ and Bev is outraged and is willing to do whatever it takes to convince the couple to take back their property, and reconsider introducing, ‘those types of people’ into the neighborhood.
Act Two is set in the very same house, but in the present day featuring the same cast in new roles. At first this may seem awkward, and it does take the audience a few minutes to warm up to these new characters, played by the same cast. However, it’s this very talented cast that begin to unravel a present day story that resurrects Act One, while reflecting race relations between Blacks and Whites that still haunt the house, and ultimately mirror issues of racial tension that still exist today.
Tony award winning actor, Frank Wood, is spectacular as Russ in Act One playing a man who withholds a lot of emotions, but is bubbling under with a lot of unspoken anger. Christina Kirk is also fun to watch as the neurotic, Bev, in Act One which conjures up all of the zany and overly optimistic female leads in 1950’s television shows. In Act Two, she plays Kathy, a lawyer, who you love to hate. All of the cast does a great job of pulling you into this original story that deals with racial prejudice and upward mobility, that is at the heart of Norris’s story. Jeremy Shamos shines, both as Karl and Steve in both Acts, making an unlikable character mesmerizing to watch on stage.
Clybourne Park plays at the Walter Kerr Theatre: 219 West 48th Street. Go to ClybournePark.com for ticket information.