John David Pittman, courtesy Arkansas Repertory Theatre
'CLYBOURNE PARK': LeeAnne Hutchison, Jason O'Connell, Lawrence Evans and Shaleah Adkisson star.
Many things about “Clybourne Park”
– playing through Sunday, Feb. 9, at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre – will likely make you squirm: the tension on stage as characters dance around the delicate subject of race; the clear proof that not much in the inextricably tied issues of race and real estate have changed in 50 years; the brutally coarse language that blasts like a sawed-off shotgun in an intense “joke off” late in the play; and even the realizations about yourself the play might make you confront.
“Clybourne Park” is riveting, powerful, expertly presented and definitely worth a trip to the Rep, where excellence is definitely the norm. That the play that won the Pulitzer for Drama in 2011 and the Tony for Best Play in 2012 is being staged in a city still, sadly, known by many for the racial intolerance that brought the National Guard to Little Rock in 1957 seems notable. But, in fact, the citizens of every city in America have their reasons to be ashamed for their behavior in this area.
It’s 1959, and Bev and Russ are packing to move out of their home in Clybourne Park. It takes a while for the first of the play’s many plot bombs to drop – the details of why they are fleeing their home. That their willingness to take less than market value for the home, prompting a black couple to purchase it, sends the all-white neighborhood into a disbelieving frenzy, and much of Act One’s intense action is tied to conversations about all the issues surrounding the pending transactions. All except straightforward admissions of racism by the combative neighborhood association representative.
Fast forward 50 years later for Act Two. The house in Clybourne Park is now run down. The neighborhood indeed has made the 180-degree flip-flop the white neighbors had predicted decades ago. But now the area’s proximity to the center of town is making it attractive to whites to return – albeit it with intentions of a tear-down of the graffiti-marred house and the erection of at least a semi McMansion. And the same intense racial tensions simmer before boiling over in verbal assaults that include at least one of the crudest “jokes” you’ll ever hear.
All characters but one – David Tennal in a late-play cameo as Russ’ and Bev’s son Kenneth – play two roles, and all do each of theirs compellingly. First as the movers’ maid Francine and later as Lena, representing the very different 2009 neighborhood association, Shaleah Adkisson is arguably the star of the show, but the performances are uniformly excellent. This small team of actors is composed of proven pros.
“Clybourne Park” is in its final stretch with a 7 p.m. show Thursday, Feb. 7; 8 p.m. shows Friday and Saturday, Feb. 8-9, and 2 and 7 p.m. shows Sunday, Feb. 10. Tickets are $35 or $45; get them at www.therep.org or by calling 501-378-0405.