A funny, confronting and fascinating look at life over the fence…
By Diana Tarr
MTC’s latest production Clybourne Park, the Pulitzer prize-winning play by Bruce Norris, is a frank and honest depiction of the racial tension in northern American cities in the 1950’s and raises the question of what, if anything, has changed in our attitudes in the subsequent years.
In 1959, in the affluent Chicago suburb of Clybourne Park, a white couple is forced to consider the impact that selling their home to a black family will have on the neighbours they are leaving behind. Fast-forward fifty years, and a young white couple tries to go forward with their plans to demolish the same, though now sadly decrepit, house and rebuild – with considerable resistance from their soon-to-be (black) neighbours.
The set, designed by Christina Smith, included just the right details to send me straight back to the homes and neighbourhoods of my childhood in suburban Detroit: the built-in bookcases, the string dangling from the basement light, even the sound of footsteps on the carpeted stairs.
Each of the superb cast (including Patrick Brammall, Bert LaBonte, Zahra Newman, Luke Ryan and Alison Whyte). portrayed at least two unique characters, though Greg Stone and Laura Gordon produced the most convincing and dramatic transformations in mannerisms, voice and characterisations for the second act. As grieving father Russ and then forthright tradie Dan, Stone gave the stand-out performance of the night, inspiring incredulous belly laughs and shocked silences from an audience that was eating out of his hands from his first bite of Neapolitan ice cream.
There is so much of the familiar in Clybourne Park, which is at times comforting but also self-convicting: not only in acknowledging the awkward relationships and social niceties, but particularly in recognising the people with good intentions who either don’t realise or don’t want to acknowledge how much they misunderstand about the experiences of others.
By the end of the first act, I was mentally kicking myself for even considering that perhaps a few of the arguments for keeping the neighbourhood unchanged might just have a certain logic to them. By the end of the second, I was cringing by how much I recognised myself in the comments and ideals of the yuppie wife, Lindsey (Gordon). But although Clybourne Park acknowledges these feelings of confusion and guilt, it does not seem to try to invoke them – just poke fun at them.
And oh my, what fun it was!
Clybourne Park: The Black and White Picket Fence
17 September – 26 October
The MTC Theatre, Sumner
140 Southbank Blvd, Southbank
Tickets: $30 (29 & under); $86-$97 (full)