"CLYBOURNE PARK" ENCOMPASSES FIVE DECADES OF LIFE

BONNIE GOLDBERG

A lot can happen to a neighborhood and the houses in it over five decades. Through the passage of time, changes can improve or decimate a community, making it unrecognizable to its former inhabitants.

Such is the case with the Chicago neighborhood at the center of Bruce Norris' Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning play "Clybourne Park" now gracing the stage of New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre until Sunday, June 2. The set design of the home by Frank Alberino beautifully illustrates those drastic changes.

In 1959, Clybourne Park is a desirable white enclave that is visibly frightened by the prospect of a black family moving in to its sacred territory. While Bev (Alice Ripley) and Russ (Daniel Jenkins) are eagerly awaiting their move to a new home, their neighbors are alarmed. Do they know who is purchasing #406?  Bev and Russ are moving to escape their home's bad memories, for it is here their son Kenneth (Jimmy Davis), a Korean War veteran, committed suicide.

Now close to moving day, and Russ' new job, their home has a revolving door policy. Jim (Jimmy Davis) drops in to offer some spiritual advice, Karl (Alex Moggridge) and his deaf, very pregnant wife Betsey (Lucy Owen) arrive to question the suitability of the prospective new owners and the effect on the neighborhood, while Albert (Leroy McClan) stops by to pick up his wife Francine (Malle Powers) who has worked for years for the family. Albert and Francine are quickly called upon to offer their perspective as the only African-Americans present.

The turmoil and questions of 1959 are turned on their head fifty years later in 2009 when a white family dares to foray into what has become a clearly black neighborhood. Lindsey (Lucy Owen) and Steve (Alex Moggridge) have grand architectural plans for #406 and they are meeting at their perspective new home to address a housing permit with friends and associates. With sharp witticisms and biting commentary, the thin veneer of civility is stripped from the racial questions not far from the surface. When Lena (Malle Powers) introduces the subject of a suicide here fifty years before and a construction worker (Daniel Jenkins) uncovers a footlocker buried in the backyard, all the suspicions and mistrust quickly surface. Eric Ting directs this talented cast in this thought provoking exploration of racial prejudices with a truly skilled perspective.

For tickets ($40-70), call Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharf.org. Performances are
Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

In a partnership with the New Haven Free Public Library's Page. Stage. Engage. program, free talks on the play will be offered: on Tuesday, May 28 at 6 p.m. at Wilson Library, 303 Washington Avenue with local historian Colin Caplan and Eric Ting and on Saturday, June 1 at 1 p.m. at the Fair Haven Library, 182 Grand Avenue, with local historians Tom Ficklin and Colin Caplan and Eric Ting. A scene from "Clybourne Park" will precede the discussion.

Pick up the story where "A Raisin in the Sun" leaves off, as the Younger family prepares to move to their first real home, and bear witness to the cultural clashes that can ensue over a prized piece of real estate.

 

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