|Strong acting cuts to heart of the matter in 'Clybourne'|
|Written by Sentinel-Tribune Staff|
|Friday, 25 October 2013 11:14|
"Clybourne Park" makes the audience laugh until it makes them want to cry, all in the interest of making them think. Quite a task for a play about real estate.
The drama with comic overtones, or maybe it's a dark comedy, inspired by the American classic "A Raisin in the Sun," is on the Donnell Theatre stage on the Bowling Green State University campus tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m. with 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday.
"Raisin in the Sun" dealt with the aspirations of a black family to find a better place to live. "Clybourne Park" looks at the situation from the other side of the equation, the white family who sold their home in 1959 to the first blacks in the neighborhood.
In the second act it moves forward 50 years to look at the same property as the neighborhood grapples with gentrification.
The home at issue is freighted with meaning and weighted with tragedy. From the first exchanges between white homeowners Russ (Brent Mutter) and Bev (Hope Quinn), who are in the process of moving, it's clear there's something wrong. Why hasn't the blustering Russ been going to Rotary?
All this unfolds as Francine (Mariah Burks), the African-American woman who works for the family, moves about finishing up her chores for the day. She's privy to everything because her humanity is never acknowledged.
Bev is friendly toward her but patronizing way, assuming a familiarity that Bev recoils from.
As more characters enter, more is revealed, and the talk moves from comic chatter about what residents of different cities are called, to matters of society and soul that these characters would have preferred not to discuss.
All this seems dark and heavy, I know, in the telling. In the performance it is shockingly light and effervescent. The interplay between the characters amuses with its naturalness.
The minister Jim (JD Caudill) arrives, clearly summoned by Bev, to find out what's bugging Russ. Karl Linder (Eric Batts), a minor character from "Raisin" and his deaf and pregnant wife (Kendra Beitzel) arrive so he can inform Bev and Russ that their house has been sold to a black family. He wants to scuttle the transaction.
This plays out before Francine and her husband Albert (Quincy Thomas) whose departure is delayed by his desire to help by bringing a footlocker downstairs.
Thomas and Burks are striking, projecting the vibe of a long married couple who must communicate in subtext among a roomful of white folks. And that communication goes awry. The comedy relies both on the racial, and on the marital. She just wants him to drive her home, but he insists on lending a hand.
All this takes place amidst rapid fire repartee that had the audience laughing, until Russ pierces it with shards of revelation. That footlocker isn't moving with Bev and Russ.
In Act II we get the same actors in different roles that reflect the shifting social landscape.
Now it is Steve, played by Batts, and his pregnant wife Lindsey, played by Beitzel, who are moving into the neighborhood. They've bought the house and have grandiose plans for expansion.
And its the black couple played by Burks and Thomas who are concerned, especially the wife, about maintaining the character of the neighborhood.
Mutter moves from being the gruff husband in 1959 to the boisterous worker, who barges into the tangle of chit chat and negotiations.
The small talk, including an extended riff on what is the capital of Morocco and talk of European travels, only seems to open the chasm among the characters. The negotiations keep getting sidetracked. The climax of the scene is an exchange of crude jokes playing on ethnic and gender stereotypes. Everyone goes away offended, but not before greatly amusing the audience.
The locker from the first act appears, cueing a touching scene with Kenneth, Russ and Bev's dead son, reappearing in the house. After all the guffaws and shouting, the heart-rending scene a quiet descends on "Clybourne Park."
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