Chicago Steppenwolf Theatre's Clybourne Park in Living Black and White.

Chicago Steppenwolf Theatre's Clybourne Park in Living Black and White.
(left to right) Cliff Chamberlain, Kirsten Fitzgerald, Brendan Marshall-Rashid, Stephanie Childers and Karen Aldridge in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris, directed by ensemble member Amy Morton.  Photo by Michael Brosilow

Chicago, Wednesday, September 21, 2011. Steppenwolf Theatre explores the politics of race from two time periods almost three generations apart in the highly anticipated Bruce Norris Pulitzer-prize winning play Clybourne Park. The show, which opened this week at Steppenwolf's Downstairs Theater, takes place in the fictional Chicago neighborhood of Clybourne Park in the same bungalow on two different days separated by 50 years.

In the first act, it is 1959 and a white couple, Bev (Kirsten Fitzgerald) and Rus (exceptionally acted by John Judd) have just sold their Clybourne Park bungalow to the first "colored" or "negro" family in the neighborhood. It seems, Russ and Bev are moving out to the suburbs, after a tragic event that happened in their home. Karl (Cliff Chamberlain), the notorious representative of the "resident's association," tries to convince the family not to sell to no avail.   The surrounding neighbors are in panic mode, worried that their homes will plummet in value due to the commonly used euphemism of the times "white flight."  Chicago was undergoing a metamorphosis of sorts with white neighborhoods turning black once the first house in a white neighborhood was sold to a negro family.  In a remarkably short time frame, "white flight", became the reality in neighborhood after neighborhood with help from aggressive and predatory real estate agents fanning the flames of fear.

Jump ahead 50 years and the situation has reversed itself with the once white, now black Clybourne Park facing a new threat. It seems the new century has birthed the "liberal hypocrite" in the guise of  Steve (Cliff Chamberlain) who along with his equally insensitive wife, Lindsey (Stephanie Childers) tread unwittingly into a comedy of errors with a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.  The couple, who are starting a family and "just love" the area, want to become the first white family to settle into this convenient city setting.  However, rather than to restore the charming bungalow that has meet with some hard times, they have petitioned to replace it with a McMansion.  The black families now worry that the white family will gentrify the community destroying its character and increasing prices for homes in the neighborhood making it unaffordable for some of the black residents who will have to move to another area--maybe the suburbs.

A meeting is called, and those involved gather in the bungalow to settle things civilly.  The black couple, Lena (Karen Aldridge) and Steve (James Vincent Meredith) are long-time members of the community, who are raising their three children in a house down the street and want to express their concerns to the white couple, Steve and Lindsey.   Also present at the meeting, is the real estate agent (Brendan Marshall Rashid) and real estate attorney (Kirsten Fitzgerald).  In the yard, preparation for the McMansion is already underway with construction worker Dan (John Judd), running into the house interrupting the meeting at inopportune moments.

The Norris play illustrates that even though the language has changed in the past 50 years that racism is still alive and well...and one would think, no laughing matter--although there are many laughs along the way as the audience is left to painfully sort out how far we have come and how far we still have to go to be on the same race page.  It seems everyone is talking and no one is listening.

The emotional final scene is a dramatic shift in focus that puts things in perspective.

The top drawer production of Clybourne Park, under the outstanding direction of Steppenwolf ensemble member Amy Morton, gives a provocative nod to the Hansberry play A Raisin in the Sun.  The seven member cast handled the difficult task of playing duel and in the case of Rashid triple roles beautifully aided by the wonderful architectural prowess of scenic designer Todd Rosenthal and the costume designs of  Nan Cibula-Jenkins.

Flash forward, 50 years from 2009...it's 2059...have we won the battle of racism yet?

Steppenwolf Season.

Steppenwolf’s 2011/12 season explores how everyday lives are touched by war.  In each of the five plays, war exerts a pressure—sometimes centrally, sometimes obliquely—on the lives of the characters—a purpose, a deep need that moves them into action.

Tickets and Show Information.

Tickets:  $20 to $75.  Steppenwolf Theatre,  1650 N. Halsted St., 312 335 1650. Clybourne Park runs through November 6, 2011.

Discount tickets: 20 for $20: Twenty $20 tickets are available at Audience Services beginning at 11a.m. on the day of each performance (1p.m. for Sunday performances).

Rush Tickets: Half-price rush tickets are available one hour before each show.  Student Discounts: $15 student tickets are available online using promo code: “PARK15.” (Limit 2 tickets. Must present a valid student ID for each ticket). For more student discounts, visit www.steppenwolf.org/students.

Filed under: Theater in Chicago

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