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Clybourne Park: A Play (Tony Award Best Play) Paperback – August 16, 2011
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“A spiky and damningly insightful new comedy.” ―Ben Brantley, The New York Times
“Superb, elegantly written, and hilarious.” ―John Lahr, The New Yorker
“Courageous…Norris's elegantly structured play nails marital tensions as much as it does racial disharmony in an evening of ebullient provocation.” ―Lyn Gardner, The Guardian
About the Author
Bruce Norris is a writer and an actor whose Pulitzer Prize– and Olivier Award–winning play Clybourne Park premiered at Playwrights Horizons in January 2010. Other plays include The Infidel, Purple Heart, We All Went Down to Amsterdam, The Pain and the Itch, and The Unmentionables, all of which premiered at Steppenwolf Theatre. Norris is the recipient of the 2009 Steinberg Playwright Award and the Whiting Foundation Prize for Drama. He currently resides in New York.
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Reading the play reminded me of how enjoyable it was to have seen, as images of the superb Off-Broadway cast repeatedly flashed in my memory. Mr. Norris' play presents a different perspective on Lorraine Hansberry's classic play "A Raisin in the Sun." While that masterwork focuses on the Youngers, a Black family in Chicago about to move to a new home in Clybourne Park, a previously all-white neighborhood, Act I of "Clybourne Park" takes place at the same time, 1959, in the house to which the Youngers are about to move. Hansberry's sole white character in "Raisin...", Karl Lindner, visits the home just after his attempt to talk the Youngers out of moving into his neighborhood. That attempt having failed, he now tries to persuade the Stollers, the family selling the house at below-market value, to revoke the offer. We gradually learn why the house is available at such a bargain rate, through scenes involving a quirky group of well-delineated characters. Norris skillfully combines serious themes with a good deal of humor, and provides all of the actors with very juicy roles.
This last continues to be true in Act II, which takes place fifty years later, in 2009, in the same house, now much changed. The same actors from Act I reappear in different roles, though some are in parallel relationships (e.g., married couples), and we soon realize how some of the Act II characters are connected to some whom we met in Act I. Norris cleverly shows us how the more things differ, the more they stay the same, as presumably "enlightened" characters prove to be even more uncivilized than their counterparts from half a century before. Once again, the characters are clearly drawn, and the dialogue is crisp and revealing. The play's conclusion merges the two acts neatly and theatrically.
"Clybourne Park" is an outstanding play which should be on the schedules of repertory companies all over the country.
The 1959 scene opens with the careful parsing of words (where does the term Neopolitan come from? why?), and the 2009 scene opens with the careful parsing of words as well, only this time it is mind-numbing terms having to do with deeds, zoning, and architecture (frontage, etc...). In both Acts, the dialogue is fantastic, raw, funny and upsetting. Characters talk over each other. It's very well done.
So I read "Clybourne Park" with great interest. I confess I have neither read nor seen "A Raisin in the Sun," but perhaps that allows me to have a fresh perspective on the play. So I can say that the first half works exceptionally well, while the second is a bit clunkier. The issues of gentrification addressed in the second half are more immediate than those of integration in the first, but too often, the latter half devolves into a cacophony among rather unlikable people. It is quite clear who Norris thinks is right and who is wrong.