Theater Review: "Clybourne Park" At The Mark Taper Forum
"Clybourne Park" highlights the residents of the titular community in 1959 and 2009. Act I follows Bev (Christina Kirk) and Russ (Frank Wood), a married couple and the current occupants, who are about to move out. Their neighbor, Karl (Jeremy Shamos) tries to convince them to stay, since the new tenants will be a black family (not just any black family, actually—the new family is the Youngers, from "A Raisin In the Sun," which is now playing at the Kirk Douglas). Tensions mount, as they are wont to do. The second act jumps forward considerably, and now Lindsey (Annie Parisse) and Steve (Shamos) want to remodel the house in question in a manner that violates local housing regulations, which perturbs the current community. The conversation about the house quickly devolves into a staccato set of statements about pretty much every controversial topic in existence.
Norris' play is very intricately drawn, and rewarding to a keen-eyed and -eared audience. However, it seems to subsist solely on conflict, which makes it an almost stressful experience. After all, the best part of any conflict is the feeling of relief that comes with its resolution, but in "Clybourne Park," there is so much toil and so few moments of calm that it feels like the situation needs a hostage negotiator to return everything to a world of near-normalcy. At times, it seems a scene out of a nightmare, like a family dinner where everything has gone wrong.
It's interesting, if taxing, material. Obviously, the cast has a lot to tackle. Everyone seems to really be in his or her element in the second, more contemporary, act, but the first act leaves something to be desired from many actors. Disappointingly, some moments don't really resonate as much as they could. As a whole, though, the cast works together to help bring the complex neighborhood to life.
The creative elements are delightful, as per usual at the Taper. Daniel Ostling's scenic design creates a charming house straight out of the American Dream, while John Gromada's sound design builds the rest of the world for the audience.
Director Pam MacKinnon creates a sentiment that the first act exists in a kind of hazy recollection, for all the conflicts that occur. Everything seems a bit more than real, so to speak—the costumes (by Ilona Somogyi) are just a bit too loud, the house is just a tad too perfect, and the people are a smidge too much like characters, and not like real humans. This provides a nice contrast to the second act, though, which is aggravatingly human, in that it showcases just how difficult life can be, while maintaining a light tone. "Clybourne Park" is certainly an engaging, if exasperating, experience.
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