If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

“Clybourne” Concludes LWT Season on High Note

It what has been an otherwise mediocre season for them, New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre has concluded the year with a bona fide hit: Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play, “Clybourne Park”. This solidly cast, beautifully directed and potent American drama has just about everything going for it and boy, does Long Wharf need it now! Associate Artistic Director Eric Ting must be one happy man (after staging a string of questionable play selections), to finally get his hands on such great material.

“Clybourne Park” stands in the shadow of Lorraine Hansberry’s seminal classic, “Raisin in the Sun”, which depicted the struggles of an African-American family in 1959 as they attempt to move into a white neighborhood called Clybourne Park. Norris’ drama takes us to that home, currently owned by a white couple, as they prepare to move for reasons that are slowly revealed and which haunt the play throughout. The second act of Norris’ provocative premise finds the same home 50 years later as it has been ravaged by time with carpets ripped out and gang graffiti scrawled on the walls. The neighborhood apparently lost most of its white residents when that black family moved in 50 years ago, but now white Yuppies have arrived, building McMansions and redefining Clybourne Park once again.

Bruce Norris has hit a nerve here and “Clybourne Park” is nothing if not an up-to-the-minute report from the battlefield of racism, classism and neighborhood gentrification. One stirring observation in the play -- which can often be as mordantly hilarious as it is profoundly moving -- is that the overt racism of the 1950s has almost become more insidious now where the unsaid and casual references can set off a torrent of misunderstandings and race baiting. All the characters in “Clybourne Park” -- two of which are African-American -- have trouble with communication and Norris seems to be saying this is where we currently stand. This is the problem that needs desperately to be addressed.

At Long Wharf, the ensemble of seven actors play different characters in each act. It’s an exemplary group of performers none better than Daniel Jenkins as the white home owner whose heartbreak over the loss of a child and his deep resentment against the neighborhood he blames simmers to a fury that is riveting to observe. Also fine is Melle Powers who plays a docile but watchful housekeeper in the first act and a savvy neighborhood leader in the second. The entire company at Long Wharf, however, is to be applauded as there is not a weak link in the group which includes Jimmy Davis, Leroy McClain, Alex Moggridge, Lucy Owen and Alice Ripley.

Director Ting moves and shapes the play brilliantly especially in the volatile second act when multiple points of view are brought front and center. Frank Alberino’s amazing set design puts a tireless crew onstage at intermission to transform the homey confines of the 1950s residence to a dilapidated “fixer-upper” in 2009. Linda Cho’s costuming essays both periods successfully and the polished lighting design is by Tyler Micoleau. “Clybourne Park” is certainly the best work Long Wharf has produced this year. It may also be THE best play of the entire Connecticut theatre season. Well done!

“Clybourne Park” continues at Long Wharf Theatre through June 2. For further information or ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 203.787.4282432.1234 or visit: www.longwharf.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

 

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