By Jim McCarthy Jul 26, 2012 0 comments

Clybourne Park

I spent some time in New York earlier this week and saw a bunch of shows in just a couple days, along with a packed schedule of meetings.  Truly, a New Yorkish pace and feel to the trip!

But the real highlight of trip was seeing Clybourne Park at the Walter Kerr theatre on Broadway.  I don’t really write reviews on this blog, though I will often talk about a show that I’ve seen, but I do say that if you like theatre at all, you should go see Clybourne before it closes in early September.  (I assume it will tour, right Jordan?)

It’s a play, not a musical, for those of you for whom a musical is a non-starter, and the structure is so clever and so elegant that seeing it once doesn’t seem like enough.  I remember when I first saw the movie Pulp Fiction for example and instantly wanted to see it again to make sure that I was taking it all in, catching everything.  In a lot of ways, this show is like that, and I feel the same way.

Part of me wants to give you some information about the show, but part of me feels that the less you know going into it, the better.  In the end though, the part of me that knows most of you won’t get a chance to see the show (at least not right away) is in charge and will give you a hint about it.

The play is in two acts, and it’s not just because the story is so long that the actors need a break and so the theatre can sell some wine and M&Ms.  It’s because there are two very different but intricately related pieces of the story.  The first act is set in what must be the late 50’s or very early 60’s.  There is a family moving out of a house in, where else, Clybourne Park, which is a near suburb of Chicago.  We don’t exactly know why they’re moving out, but we sense that there’s something bad in there somewhere.   They are fleeing to the suburbs, pioneers of the movement away from the city center. One by one, their goofy neighbors show up and their maid (who is black) is in the scene and she’s later joined by her husband.  This becomes relevant when one neighbor reveals that he is learned that the family’s house has been sold to a black family and he implores the family who is moving not to sell their house to a black family.  Property values and all that, you understand.

The second act is set, roughly, in the present day.  The same actors are on the stage but in entirely different roles.  By now, the area, because it’s close to the city is hot again and a white couple is buying, tearing down and rebuilding the same house, which is now in a state of total disrepair.  But now, since the neighborhood has been populated mostly by black people for a generation, the white people are dealing with being “outsiders” in the neighborhood.

Along the way, you begin to understand a whole bunch of tiny little connections between the characters in the two acts, events that happened long ago, and the house itself.  It’s brilliantly written, emotionally powerful, and enjoyable all the way through.  It also tackles the touchy subject of polite racism (and not so polite racism at a couple points) in a way that doesn’t really preach at you but still is provocative.

This is an amazing piece of work because it’s simple, but extremely powerful, enjoyable, and important.  It doesn’t rely on anything but acting, scripts and a single set.  It’s another feather in Jordan Roth’s cap because without him, the play wouldn’t have made it to Broadway in the first place. (Not just him, of course.)

As I said, I don’t review shows, but I do talk about them, and this is one you should see if you can.  It’s closing on Broadway soon, but hopefully, it will be performed again for a long time to come.

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