BRUCE NORRIS’S BRILLIANT SEQUEL TO ‘A RAISIN IN THE SUN’ TACKLES RACE RELATIONS WITH HUMOR AND
IN YOUR FACE INTENSE ACTING
Altarena Playhouse celebrates the close of their iconic 80th season of Bay Area Theatre with the Pulitzer Prize winning play “Clybourne Park” now at their High Street Stage only through November 11. This powerful play inspired by Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” is a smart sequel that deals with gentrification, racism, family and the American Dream. Directed by local favorite Daren AC Carollo, who brings a best of Bay cast to the Altarena stage as this story picks up the Younger Family move up in the American game. The family from “A Raisin in the Sun” is about to purchase a home in the all white “Clybourne Park”.
APH Artistic Director Sue Trigg says “Clybourne Park could not be more relevant than it is in 2018. It tackles the issues of race, and the quest for a better life (we have) assembled a gifted cast who play different roles in each act.” Playwright Bruce Norris' emotionally gifted work won a Tony for best play and an Olivier Award, and the honored Pulitzer. 406 Clybourne St is the address that promised a better life for the Younger family. It is 1959 and the house is located in the white neighborhood of fictional Clybourne Park in Chicago. It is being sold to a black family, the Youngers who are approached in their inner-city apartment by Karl Lindner, a representative of the Clybourne Park neighborhood association who has the job to convince them not to move in.
The current owners of the home are Russ and Bev, played by the terrific Ted Baker and Shay Oglesby-Smith; they are disconnected members of the neighborhood. They desperately attempt to talk about anything other than the unspeakable tragedy that is driving them from from 406 Clybourne St., the suicide of their son Kenneth, who came home from Korea mind wounded from war crimes. The angst ridden Steve Rhyne plays our confused first act villian Karl Lindner fresh from his visit with the Youngers. Karl’s deaf wife Betsy is played by the riveting Leslie Howard. Betsy’s disconnect to the turmoil in the opening act is excellent as her role becomes a mirror of the times. Peter Budinger plays the community minister Jim who tries to bring reason to arguments. The stellar Champagne Hughes plays the housekeeper, Francis, and her husband, Albert, is played by local favorite Khary L Moye. The only black actors in the two hour play are both superb and fill in for the intense tension in the opening act as the two characters are just trying to leave the home before being involved in the drama of black vs white.
In the second act we fast-forward 50 years to 2009. Over time, Clybourne Park has changed into an African-American community that has seen better days.The tables have been turned, and now a white family owns 406, Steve and a very pregnant Lindsay, played by the same actors who portrayed Karl and Betsy Linder in Act 1 – who want to move into the black neighborhood. The rundown property on Clybourne St. has been sold to an upper class white couple with plans to demolish and rebuild the house. Now in 2009 the characters still have the same hypocrisies. Identical conversations from the first act are woven into the second. Housing board representatives Kevin and Lena, Moye and Hughes, who are unwilling to have 406 torn down. In 1959, prejudice is blatantly acknowledged now in 2009 it is given a thin hint of political correctness. By combining the two, Norris tells us that communities and society, the more things have changed, the more they remain the same. The two generations of this play tell the tale of middle class hypocrisy. We witness normal people behaving bad when race becomes an issue and gentrification of real estate becomes the battleground.
Added to the drama is the engrossing overlapping dialogue, deftly shouting matches, racist and sexist jokes that relieve the dramatic tension, and as many poignant moments as there are humorous ones. The in house APH player aspiring Cameron King fills in as Kenneth, the lost son. This play is brilliantly constructed and we experience the families in a site specific setting, we are in their living room with in your face emotion and humanity. Director Carollo has beautifully staged this emotional drama on Stewart Lyle’s living room setting that transforms from the 60’s to the millennials with ease. Liz Martin’s period and contemporary costumes with Miranda Waldron lighting who gives the 406 address that lived in effect. Stage managers Michael Ghysels and Cam King have to deal with the company entrances from all directions in the black box theatre, and Ghysels and King have a short intermission to move the setting up 50 years. Simon Liu’s sound design includes wonderful period music to warm up the sold out audiences.
The group of eight actors, seven of them playing dual roles, create perfect emotional pitch with a script that requires them to bounce from comedy to in your face tragedy. “Clybourne Park” is also a pleasure to listen to, the fast pace overlapping dialogue does not let you go, there is not a moment when this drama drags. This is the sort of play you wish you could rewind after the final scene and watch again. Altarena Playhouse ends their successful 80th season and Trigg and staff have announced 81 that includes HAND TO GOD and ends with WHAT THE BUTLER SAW. But in the meantime join these families in Clybourne Park, you will leave the High Street stage thinking and talking about the American Dream.
ALTARENA PLAYHOUSE PRESENTS
by Bruce Norris,
Directed by Daren A.C. Carollo,
Must Close Sunday, November 11, 2018.
1409 High St., Alameda
Running time: 2 hours
Ticket Info: altarena.org
For tickets, call 510-523-1553
Photo’s by Jim Norrena
Cast: Ted Barker, Peter Budinger, Leslie Howard, Champagne Hughes, Khary L. Moye, Shay Oglesby-Smith, Steve Rhyne and Cameron King