Favorite

'Clybourne Park' at the Rep shows you can laugh about race in America 

Pulitzer-winning drama opens Jan. 24.

click to enlarge ae_feature1-1.jpg

There's a black president in the White House and a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall, but anybody who tells you we're living in a post-racial society is kidding themselves. Don't believe it? Just bring up the issue of race in a racially mixed crowd and watch everybody squirm through uncomfortable silences. While there are arguments that still need to be made about race in America today so we can hold the ground that's been gained, very few will risk kicking the hornet's nest and being labeled a bigot — or at least naive and clueless about a topic that continues to shape our life and times.

"Clybourne Park," opening Jan. 24 at the Arkansas Repertory Theater, serves as a reminder that we can all still have a conversation — and yes, laugh — about race in America. The director and actors behind Rep staging hope that in addition to a good time at the theater, the comedy can provide a stealth wake-up call for those who harbor the most insidious brand of prejudice: the kind you don't even know you have.

"Clybourne Park," which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2011, was written by playwright Bruce Norris as a companion piece to Lorraine Hansberry's classic 1959 drama "A Raisin in the Sun." While "Raisin" is about as serious as you can get on stage, Norris' play is a dark comedy, getting some of its biggest laughs from the nervous crab-shuffle most people, and especially liberally minded people, tend to do when the topic of race comes up.

The first act is set in 1959 as a white couple, Bev and Russ, prepare to sell their home in Chicago's all-white Clybourne Park neighborhood to a black family (the Younger family from the Hansberry play) following the death of their son. The second act is set 50 years later, as a black couple representing the neighborhood association butts heads with a white couple who hope to buy the same house, now run down, in the predominantly black but quickly-gentrifying neighborhood. The same set of actors play different characters in each act. Even the set gets the ol' switcheroo: a stagecraft quick-change during intermission that transforms the house at the center of the story from a tidy bungalow to a forlorn wreck.

The Rep's production of "Clybourne Park" is directed by Cliff Fannin Baker, who was the founding artistic director of the Arkansas Repertory Theater before stepping down in 1999. Baker said that though the Hansberry play "feeds" "Clybourne Park," knowing "Raisin" isn't crucial to be able to understand it. Baker said that for him, "Clybourne Park" is about the human connection that transcends race. It's also about the way the racial issues that haunt America tend to percolate through from the past to the present.

"Fifty years go by," Baker said, "and a marginalized black couple in the '50s is now a successful, achieving couple in 2009, and yet the same issues still exist for black and white characters: where you're going to live, what's going to happen to property values. It has that underpinning of a deeper issue that America has always fostered and been a part of, which is the changing complexion of neighborhoods."

Baker said that one of the reasons he believes the play struck a nerve with audiences in 2011 was that the country was going through financial upheaval fostered by real estate, after "the whole banking system had sort of collapsed under the weight of corrupt real estate investments." While that might sound like more spinach than cotton candy, the play turns out to be very funny, often inducing those delicious cringe-laughs of guilty recognition while tackling the topics of race and gentrification head on.

Favorite

Speaking of Arkansas Repertory Theatre

Related Locations

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by David Koon

Readers also liked…

Most Shared

  • Department of Arkansas Heritage archeologist resigns

    Bob Scoggin, 50, the Department of Arkansas Heritage archeologist whose job it was to review the work of agencies, including DAH and the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, for possible impacts on historic properties, resigned from the agency on Monday. Multiple sources say Scoggin, whom they describe as an "exemplary" employee who the week before had completed an archeological project on DAH property, was told he would be fired if he did not resign.
  • Labor department director inappropriately expensed out-of-state trips, audit finds

    Jones was "Minority Outreach Coordinator" for Hutchinson's 2014 gubernatorial campaign. The governor first named him as policy director before placing him over the labor department instead in Jan. 2015, soon after taking office.
  • Forget identity politics

    Amid the climate of disbelief and fear among Democrats following Donald Trump's election, a fascinating debate has broken out about what's called "identity politics" on the left, "political correctness" by the right.
  • Lawsuit filed against ADC officials, prison chaplain convicted of sexual assault at McPherson

    A former inmate who claims she was sexually assaulted over 70 times by former McPherson Womens' Unit chaplain Kenneth Dewitt has filed a federal lawsuit against Dewitt, several staff members at the prison, and officials with the Arkansas Department of Corrections, including former director Ray Hobbs.
  • Lessons from Standing Rock

    A Fayetteville resident joins the 'water protectors' allied against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Latest in A&E Feature

Visit Arkansas

Arkansas remembers Pearl Harbor

Arkansas remembers Pearl Harbor

Central Arkansas venues have a full week of commemorative events planned

Event Calendar

« »

December

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Woeful

    • If the UA could get the SEC to stop all games if at any time…

    • on December 2, 2016
  • Re: Woeful

    • The Mizz loss was worse than getting beat by Louisiana-Moron

    • on December 2, 2016
 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation