“Clybourne Park” – Arizona Theatre Company

This review aired on KBAQ May 6, 2013


Arizona Theatre Company, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

“Clybourne Park,” Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize winning new Broadway comedy/drama uses the characters of Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 “A Raisin in the Sun” to explore race relations over 50 years.  Norris discusses this touchy theme with brilliant bursts of humor that lighten the play’s message that neither race can accept the other race into segregated neighborhoods.

In the play’s local premiere, Arizona Theatre Company in conjunction with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater stages an exemplary production.  Mark Clements stages the piece with humor but also with dignity and pride.

“Clybourne Park” opens in 1959 when longtime residents Russ and Bev prepare to move to an upscale neighborhood.  While they claim ignorance of the buyers, it turns out that they are Black.  As they finalize their move, the Stoller’s are visited by Karl, the bigoted neighborhood representative, who tries to persuade the Stoller’s not to sell the house to Blacks.

In the second act, Blacks have lived in the now rundown house as the neighborhood has changed its racial profile until a White couple hopes to buy it.  Inverse discrimination now plagues the neighborhood as the Blacks who inherited the house hope to sell it.

It’s obvious here the playwright’s one huge bias.  Whites kept the house pristine but Black owners allow the house to deteriorate badly.  But other than this blatant bit of racial profiling, Norris’ play is funny as it makes audiences think about the challenges of race relations.

The superb production is performed by brilliant actors who successfully tackle divergent roles in each act.  Lee E. Ernst initially plays the solemn Russ and only late in the first act does the hypocrisy of the bigoted neighborhood representative get to him.  In the second act, Ernst plays a brawny but biased worker.  Jenny McKnight plays the clueless wife, Bev initially to become the politically astute real estate agent later who hopes to get the house for her White clients.  Marti Gobel plays the Stoller’s Black maid, Francine, but becomes the owner’s niece, Lena, who tries to sell the house.  Anthony Fleming III plays Francine’s hen-pecked husband but later becomes Lena’s enlightened partner, Kevin.  Grant Goodman plays a hypocritical reverend in 1959 but is then the Black’s real estate agent.  Gerard Neugent plays the most diverse characters as he moves from the bigoted neighborhood representative to the young white trying to buy the house.

“Clybourne Park” is a fascinating look at white and black racial hypocrisy.  “Clybourne Park” continues through May 19.  For tickets, call the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 602-256-6995 or order tickets online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: A