Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 28
PCPA's Clybourne Park reveals that things don't changeBruce Norris' Pulitzer Prize-winning drama takes on issues of race
BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
Sitting in the audience for PCPA Theaterfest’s newly opened play is slightly uncomfortable and definitely awkward. And that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be for anyone watching Clybourne Park, a contemporary play written by Bruce Norris about racism, real estate, and sociological constructs.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning drama takes place over two acts, each during two eras in the same house. Act one is set in the late 1950s, act two is set in the present day, and each act elicits its own combination of seat-squirming tension and outright or nervous laughter from the audience.
Norris developed the play as an addition to Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, a play chronicling a black family’s life in Chicago during the 1950s and their move into a white neighborhood.
The intimate Severson Theatre at Allan Hancock College puts play attendees smack in the middle of living room discussions at the house in Clybourne Park. Those conversations start softly and build into a tempest of pent-up angst that pits black characters against white characters as they question motives, monochromatic neighborhoods, and history.
Although act one takes a little while to build, the person sitting next to me pointed out it could be because as an audience member, I don’t necessarily connect to the ’50s like I do to present day. The meat of the act is exposed when Karl, a community leader played by Andrew Philpot, barges into the home of Bev and Russ (Elizabeth Stewart and Peter Hadres) two days before they move to a new neighborhood.
Karl tries to dissuade Russ from selling his home to a black family by arguing that the family wouldn’t fit into the all-white area. He says the neighborhood will go to hell and property values will plummet as, one by one, all of the homes turn from white to black.
As act two unfolds, we find that the African-American neighborhood is battling to hold its historical ground in the face of gentrification. This struggle is exemplified by the white couple who recently purchased the home with plans to tear it down and rebuild.
While I understand the reasons behind aging the home over the course of 60 years, I can’t comprehend Norris’s decision to adorn the walls with graffiti. It almost seems like he’s perpetuating the stereotype Russ presented in the first act—that black families would take over the neighborhood and run it down. And now, white families are coming back to give it a major facelift.
The same actors play both sets of characters. Philpot once again plays the loud, obnoxious, and very racist—although this time he doesn’t think he’s racist—present-day character, Steve. Philpot seamlessly portrays the person everyone loves to hate.
Throughout the act, his very pregnant wife (Karin Hendricks) constantly tries to shush him and ply her brand of political correctness to pacify the situation they find themselves in. In doing so, she proves herself to be just as racist as her husband, although she too believes she isn’t.
Playing off of them are Lena and Kevin (Cara Ricketts and Ryan Vincent Anderson), an African-American couple who lives in the neighborhood. The battle for who’s racist and who’s not culminates with everyone revealing their own undercurrents of bigotry. It’s a firecracker of an act that pulls from the fertile ground already sowed in the first and pushes the audience to view what contemporary society tries to bury and ignore.
The reality of what we try to ignore in ourselves is what makes the second act so poignant and uncomfortable. I think as an audience, it’s easy to believe the overt racism of the ’50s shown in the first act because it’s the way people were. Whereas now, we believe ourselves to be accepting and politically correct, but those feelings of superiority and inferiority continue to exist.
The best thing about Clybourne Park is what audience members leave with: being forced to rethink what they believe about societal norms.
Contact Staff Writer Camillia Lanham at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PCPA Theaterfest’s rendition of Clybourne Park brings the audience into a world where racism and real estate intersect to ply and test social constructs between black and white, both in the 1950s and today.