Teresa Blakely transferred to my seventh grade class in 1976. She was my first black friend. Probably, the first black person I had ever really met. I grew up on the other side of the river in Elkhart. Our neighborhood was white. As was the next neighborhood over and the neighborhood next to that one… WHITE! Steppenwolf Theatre presents the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning CLYBOURNE PARK. Playwright Bruce Norris penned a two act play staged in the same house but at different years. In 1959, a white family is packing up to move from tragic memories. Neighbors come to complain about the black buyers. In 2009, the run-down house is being bought by a white couple. Neighbors come to complain about their demolition plans. 1959-2009: times have changed! Race, gender, sexual orientation, patriotism, discernment; everything is questioned! The fifty year difference is how it’s discussed. CLYBOURNE PARK is a house divided.
The technique is fascinating. Same house, different looks. Same 7-member ensemble, different roles. Scenic Designer Todd Rosenthal creates another “Virginia Woolf-esque” homestead and then during intermission totally trashes it. Rosenthal flips the makeover concept with the *after* being the mess. The house and the show is all about change! And under the direction of Amy Morton, the ensemble certainly does… especially the ladies.
Kirsten Fitzgerald (Bev, Kathy) goes from a nervous-talking housewife to a wise-cracking attorney. Fitzgerald is hilarious in both eras. As Bev, she says a lot about nothing. As Kathy, she zings with self-important finality. Just the opposite, Stephanie Childers (Betsy, Lindsey) is deaf in 1959 and a ranter in 2009. In a particularly funny scene, Childers storms out of the living room and blusters through the house. Even unseen, her disgust is heard loud and clear. Karen Aldridge (Francine, Lena) transforms from meek, detached maid to polite, educated neighbor to sassy, outspoken maverick. Watching and listening to Aldridge tell an *off-color* joke is mostly hysterical and a little disturbing. Cliff Chamberlain (Karl, Steven) is a loud-mouth, know-it-all in both eras. Chamberlain plays that person who says to much and continues to pontificate. He is offensive… to everyone. John Judd (Russ, Dan) leads with humor and transformation in the first act. A lifeless Judd is on the fringe until provoked and then he is passionately commanding. Unfortunately, his second character is practically invisible leaving me wanting more Judd in the house.
I leave CLYBOURNE PARK wanting more! For a playwright known for his in-your-face controversy, Bruce Norris keeps it pretty subtle. From lights up, it’s a slow take-off. The action is limited as I try to determine what is really going-on in the house. The second act has more of Norris’ signature dialogue and clips along. Norris effectively distinguished a tight-lipped generation from a too-much-information one. It’s these and other intentional nuances that give it a satisfying connectivity. It also gives it less than the expected, provocative Norris take-aways.
Teresa Blakely and I became best buds. She was different from anyone else. Not because she was black but because she was hilarious! I don’t know what happened to her but she made seventh grade thoroughly enjoyable! CLYBOURNE PARK is worth a visit. The house full of characters entertains! It might not be the unforgettable Norris standard but the talented cast is thoroughly enjoyable. After all, toning down his style was rewarded with a Pulitzer Prize!
En route to his show, “Corazon de Manzana,” Joshua Volkers describes CLYBOURNE PARK with ‘not race-y enough.’
Running Time: Two hours includes an intermission
At Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted
Written by Bruce Norris
Directed by Amy Morton
Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30pm
Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm
Wednesdays (10/19, 10/26, 11/2) at 3pm
EXTENDED Thru November 13th