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Clybourne Park Brings Racy Topic to Asolo


SARASOTA – Bruce Norris' Pulitzer Prize-winning response to A Raisin in the Sun made big waves when it made an off-Broadway debut in February of 2010. Three years later, it is arguably more charged, in light of race-related story lines in U.S. culture. A skillful production by the Asolo Rep gives local theater fans an opportunity to experience this powerful dark comedy that fearlessly treks into dicey terrain to deliver thought-provoking social commentary.

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Douglas Jones

photo by Barbara Banks

A lot has happened since 2010. From Trayvon Martin to a racially-charged presidential race, the post-race myth perpetuated by the election of the country's first President who was at least half black, has been continuously shattered under bright lights and on big stages. As Norris' brilliantly-scripted Clybourne Park demonstrates, even the events and responses which happened after the play was written are nothing new, nor are they likely to dissipate.

The play positions two story lines 50 years apart in the same Chicago home, as it changes ownership on both occasions, with the actors playing a different role in each act. The house itself is to be the very one at the center of Lorraine Hansberry's brilliant examination of the complicated social issues involved in the neighborhood integrations that followed landmark court decisions and the eventual Fair Housing Act.

In Clybourne Park, we hear a tragic backstory for the home that probes even deeper into the human condition, which Norris' seems to view predominantly unpleasant. He uses the subtle placement of repeated lines, distant connections and constant themes in a way that reminds his audience that little of what we struggle with is unprecedented or even uncommon.

After a grieving white couple eschews neighbors' demands that they avoid selling the home in the all-white community to a black family in 1959, the tables turn as the same home, now in 2009, is consumed by an urban real estate boom that sends property values soaring in what had become a predominantly-poor black neighborhood. A wealthy white couple now wishes to purchase the home and make major modifications to its structure.

While the stated concerns are over the cultural integrity of a historical community, a much-more nuanced discussion of racial undertones eventually devolves into an equally-debased squabble that suggests new ideas may be little more than window dressing, papering over an issue that remains emotionally complicated for all parties.

Douglas Jones – fresh off a dazzling performance as Shelley Levine in Glengarry Glen Ross – once again delivers a poignant turn as heartbroken Russ in the first act, before switching gears and providing some comic relief in a second act cameo. Asolo newcomer Annabel Armour embodies the stark differences in female roles, first as an unapologetically scatterbrained housewife, then as a passive-aggressive real estate attorney. Sarah Brown also shows impressive duality, as two very different women who both happen to be pregnant.

Tyla Abercrumbie steals the second act with her explosive turn as Lena, whose concerns over proposed changes to the property serve as the catalyst for the debate. Lena has a personal connection to the home that is rooted in its complicated past, while David Breitbarth, serves as her antagonist, once again showing impeccable timing and a nuanced command of dialog.

Christopher Wynn continues to impress, turning in a strong performance in the second act as Lena's cynical husband Kevin, and Jesse Dornan shines as Father Jim. Clybourne Park is directed by Michael Donald Edwards and plays through May 2. Click here for ticket and scheduling information.

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Tyla Abercrombie and Christopher Wynn

photo by Barbara Banks

clientuploads/Theatre/David Breitbarth and Sarah Brown.jpg

David Breitbarth and Sarah Brown

photo by Barbara Banks


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