The Pulitzer and Olivier winning new play Clybourne Park now finds itself on Broadway for a sixteen week engagement at the Walter Kerr. Taking his cue from Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, playwright Bruce Norris explores racial attitudes in America before and after the Younger family inhabit the house on Clybourne Street.
The first act is set in 1959, and depicts the residents of the neighborhood trying to convince the departing couple from selling their home to a black family (the Youngers of Raisin in the Sun). The second act moves the action forward 50 years, with a tacky white liberal couple moving into the now predominantly black neighborhood. The structure reminded me of Norman Lear’s classic All in the Family and its forgotten short-lived 90s follow-up 704 Hauser, a sitcom which found a liberal African-American couple living at Archie Bunker’s home.
The ensemble is quite strong, especially Christina Kirk, Annie Parisse, Jeremy Shamos, and Frank Wood. Pam McKinnon’s staging is exceptionally sharp, mining the nuance and humor for all she can. Special mention, too, to Daniel Ostling’s excellent set (which undergoes an exceptional transition during intermission).
Though entertaining and thoughtful, Norris’ play isn’t as devastatingly funny or cutting as it either wants to be or should be. There are some great moments and a series of intentionally shocking racist jokes in the second act, but I couldn’t help feel that the play fell short. Don’t get me wrong, issues regarding racism in a “post-racial” America must be addressed, but Clybourne Park feels more like an assignment for a dramatic writing class than a fully realized play.