Theatre Palisades:Play Opens, Playwright Festival Underway

‘Clybourne Park’ Examines Racial Attitudes

“Clybourne Park,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2011, opened at Theatre Palisades this past weekend and will run through May 5 in the Pierson Playhouse.

The play, by Bruce Norris, is in two acts. The first takes place in central Chicago in 1959 and the second in the same location fifty years later.

This 2010 play was written as a spinoff to Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun.” As The Washington Post wrote, “[This play] applies a modern twist to the issues of race and housing and aspirations for a better life.”

In researching the play, I discovered that Hansberry’s parents had bought a house in a white neighborhood, which resulted in a legal case (Hansberry v. Lee), and that this house is up for landmark status.

In the first act, neighbors try to dissuade a couple Russ (Larry Thaler) and Bev (Yvonne Robertson) from selling their house to a black family. Woven into the story is the couple’s loss of a son and their perceived lack of support from the community.

People might cringe when they watch as Bev tries to give a chafing dish to her black “help” Francine (Ruthenna Porterfield) because “you probably don’t have one.” Francine’s husband, Albert (Brooks Darnell), respond that “we have our own stuff.”

Karl (Matt Landig) and his deaf wife Betsy (Laura Goldstein) stop by. Karl urges Russ and Bev to reconsider selling, arguing that the neighborhood land values will go down if they sell to a black family.

In the second act, Clybourne Park has become an all-black neighborhood, which is in the process of gentrification. A black couple played by Porterfield and Darnell represent a homeowners group that opposes the proposed “mansionization” by a couple, Goldstein and Landig.

Instead the meeting turns it into a conversation about race. (Editor’s note: I couldn’t help but thinking about the Palisades home on Brooktree, in which neighbors opposed the construction based on building code violations, but it was turned into a racial argument.)

This play is infinitely fascinating. Despite the fact that the original director (Tony Torrisi) was hospitalized midway through rehearsals, forcing Sherman Wayne to add director to his already busy role of set and lighting design, and two of the actors dropped out of the production two weeks before the show was to open, the Theatre Palisades crew managed to make this a play well-worth seeing.

To add to the difficulties of this drama, the house set must be transformed from a well-kept middle-class home, to one that has been vacant and fallen into disrepair. Wayne is to be applauded for providing exactly that.

For “Young and Restless” fans, it’s a chance to see Brooks Darnell, who is a principal actor on that soap actor—and is one of the better actors in this show. He’s nuanced and likeable.

“Clybourne Park” (which also won the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play) will play Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 2 p.m. through May 5, at Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Rd. Visit: theatrepalisades.org or call (310) 454-1970. Tickets for adults are $22 and for seniors and students $20.

Palisades Playwrights Festival Underway

Also, at the theatre this month is the 10th annual Palisades Playwrights Festival on April 9, 16 and 23. First up was a comedy by Gregg Jones Ellis, “Culver City Fever.” A former soap-opera star turns to a “frenemy” for help in staying current.

On April 16, Robert Weibezahl’s “Hold On” centers around a 25-year high school reunion as two friends examine their past relationship. And finally, a musical “The Banana Tree,” written by Dan Castellaneta and Deb Lacusta, will debut on April 23.

All readings start at 7:30 p.m., with refreshments served prior to the show at 7 p.m. Admission is $5.

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