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WLS Review: "Clybourne Park"

Welcome to the 1950s picturesque world of Clybourne Park, a quaint suburban neighborhood that offers ideal living — unless you are black, gay, disabled, or coping with any degree of grief or depression.  For those in the latter category this period in Clybourne Park’s history can be somewhat of a nightmare, as we soon learn in this compelling and fascinating new drama written by Bruce Norris, and directed by Pam MacKinnon. 

The first act takes place  in 1959, and introduces us into the living room of middle class couple Bev [Christina Kirk] and Russ [Frank Wood], as they are preparing to move.  The audience is witness to the tensions that arise in this sanitized world where comfort is prioritized over sincerity, a polite smile is preferable to an honest interchange, and any feelings of sadness or grief are expected to be buried deep below.  Two and a half years after their son’s death these tensions are boiling over and seeping up to the surface just in time to confront their neighbor Karl [Jeremy Shamos] who is upset and devastated they have sold their home to a black family.

The second act takes place in the same living room fifty years later.  The aforementioned black family has come and gone, and Clybourne Park has seen some harder days due the crack epidemic, gang activity, and violence.  A middle class white couple, Steve [Shamos] and Lindsey [Annie Parisse], is preparing to demolish the house in favor of building a 21st century home, while disagreeing upon nearly every minute detail and major decision.  These tensions are boiling over and seeping up to the surface just in time to confront their neighbors Lena and Kevin, who are concerned about what it means to the community to have a white family move in.  See a pattern here?

"Clybourne Park’s" strength lies in the eloquent way it demonstrates that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  More specifically, it illustrates that the fear of change we carry in our communities, the suspicions of others different from ourselves, and the tendency to attack what we do not understand, is not unique to any one particular time in history, to any one particular race, or to any one particular neighborhood.  It asks some uncomfortable questions along the way including what is racism? What makes a joke funny? What does it mean to be “offended"? What is "progress"? Who defines "history"? How does one perceive “comfort”? And what sacrifices and compromises do we make to live in polite harmony with each other?

This ambitious piece is brought to life by it’s tremendously talented and able cast.  Annie Parisse, known better by soap fans as the duplicitous Julia Lindsey on AS THE WORLD TURNS, demonstrates that her skills displayed in Oakdale only scratched the surface of her abundant talent.  Frank Wood amazes with the way he can convey so much desperation and grief with so little words, and use those same words to change the pacing and rhythm of an entire scene.   And Damon Gupton is one of those few actors who can say more with a facial gesture than with one hundred sentences, and this is more than welcome in a play where people rarely express what they are truly feeling.

Here is the S.A.S.S. [Short Attention Soap Summary]

WHAT: "Clybourne Park," a new drama written by Bruce Norris, directed by Pam MacKinnon, playing February 21st - March 7th at the Playwright’s Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street (off 9thAve). 

WHY SOAP FANS WILL LOVE IT:  This is an intense family drama that explores how one generation’s actions impact the next.  There are no clear heroes or villains, just complex adults struggling to figure out how to do the right thing.  AS THE WORLD TURNS viewers will appreciate seeing Carly’s old nemesis in two very different roles.

BOTTOM LINE: If you enjoyed watching the intergenerational patterns of the Bauer, Hughes, or Horton families over these past 50 years, then you will enjoy Clybourne Park.  If you have ever gotten frustrated with the lack of diversity on daytime television and how the topic of race is so poorly handled, then this is the show for you.

VERDICT:
Make "Clybourne Park" an essential destination on your next trip to New York City!  You won’t be sorry. 

Click here for tickets to "Clybourne Park."

Damon L. Jacobs is a Marriage Family Therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve". He is re-imagining a world without "shoulds" at www.shouldless.com.

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