Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 21, 2014

Clybourne Park

New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA
through July 26, 2014
by K.J. Rogowski
New Century Theatre's production of Bruce Norris' "Clybourne Park," is not a destination, it is a journey filled with hairpin turns, sudden stops, and jackrabbit starts.

The Act I crisis focuses around a house in Chicago in 1959 which is being vacated by Russ (Sam Rush) and his wife, Bev (Kathy McCafferty) because of the secret, painful memories that haunt them there. To compound their trauma, the couple is confronted by self-righteous/right thinking friends who accost them on how they can think of selling their home in exclusive Clybourne Park to a black family. Now, fast forward 50 years into Act II, and the same home is about to be demolished and replaced by a non-historical contemporary monstrosity by a white family looking to move into what is now a predominantly black neighborhood. At the same time, advocates for historical preservation petition to stop the new construction.

Norris' cleverly crafted script delves into the deeply personal beliefs, hurts, misconceptions, and prejudices of each of the characters as they sometimes naively, sometimes intentionally, try to explain, argue, joke and talk their way through issues and situations they never thought they would find themselves in. Each time the playwright brings these personal confrontations on race, sex, or secrets to a boiling point that can make the audience squirm more than just a little, he does a 180 degree turn, breaking that tension with a comic non-sequitur that lets everyone breathe a little easier. But, the concepts and issues are, for the most part, left unresolved, since it is not so much a matter of declaring a solution or a winner, as much as it is a matter of exposing them, and leaving them with the audience to live with and decide.

Under the direction of Ed Golden, the cast does a wonderful job as they first portray characters operating under the societal norms of 1959 middle America, and then switching into their 2009 mode of thought and action, as the decedents of the characters in Act I. The set design of Greg Trochlil cleverly transforms right before the viewers' eyes. Roles and arguments at Clybourne Park are fast paced; they reverse direction and twist down roads that one might not want to travel. Sometimes, "Clybourne Park" demands that the audience hold their (collective) breath, but it is a journey well worth taking.