Thursday, September 26, 2013

Back to Front

Tonight Alice and I saw a truly remarkable play at Barrington Stage in Pittsfield:Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris.The play won the Tony award for Best Play in 2012, the Olivier and Evening Standard Awards (London) for Best Play 2011, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 2011.
Bruce Norris

Needless to say it is something else.

The play, Act 1, takes place in 1959 in Chicago.The play was  inspired by Lorraine Hansbury's play A Raisin in the Sun, which I saw on Broadway with Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee. It was also made into a film. In this case instead of seeing the lives of the black family whose mother uses her money to buy the house she can afford, which is in an all-white neighborhood, we look in on the white family who are selling them the house.

Each of the remarkable actors plays two roles; one in the first act and a different role in Act 2, which takes place in 2009. They are Remi Sandri as Russ/Dan, Carol Halstead as Bev/Kathy, Lynnette R. Freeman as Francine/Lena, Kevin Crouch as Jim/Tom/Kenneth,Andy Lucien as Albert/Kevin,Greg Jackson as Karl/Steve, and Clea Alsip as Betsy/Lindsey. Their transformation is magical.

The excellent direction is by Giovanna Sardelli. She gets the cast to pull out all the stops!

Their transformation between the acts is simply astonishing. In Act 1 (1959) the white family are selling their house because their son, a returning Korean War veteran, has hung himself in his bedroom. The father is especially distraught. They sell to the black family before realizing what is going on. A member of the neighborhood committee offers the black family money not to move into the neighborhood, but the strong black mother is determined to do this. In this play, this man comes to the house and argues with the owners to stop the sale. The sale goes through. We never meet the black family.

Between the acts we witnessed something I have never seen happen on any stage. The stagehands literally take the set apart in front of our eyes, removing wall panels, the fireplace mantle,removing doors and light fixtures, revealing graffiti everywhere. A crack house.

Now a white family wants to buy the house in what has become a black neighborhood. Regentification at work. The black neighbors are incensed that the new owners want to tear down the existing house and build a larger, taller one in spite of that fact that the neighborhood has been designated a historic bungalow district. What goes around comes around!

The play is funny, touching, angry, sad, all of the above and more. No wonder it won all the prizes. We are glad to have seen it.