Monday, January 10, 2011

Review by Irv Rikon: CLYBOURNE PARK



CLYBOURNE PARK, produced by the CALDWELL THEATRE COMPANY in the Count de Hoernle Theatre in Boca Raton, is a comedy-drama with which longtime Century Village residents can readily identify. So can people of London, where Bruce Norris's play won the Best Play Award in 2010. So can people of New York City and Chicago, where the play is set, Act One taking place in a "modest three-bedroom bungalow" in 1959 and Act Two occurring in the same location fifty years later.

Clybourne Park, which was in the running for a 2010 Pulitzer Prize here in America, is about the process of change. Neighborhoods change. Century Village began as a retirement community where, by accident or design, mostly Jewish families came to retire. Predominantly from the northeast or midwestern United States, they left behind children and other family members to live with folks their own age. Now, fifty years later, the community is quite mixed, many newcomers having come from European or Caribbean countries or from Canada. Quite a few have families close by, but the central point here is that their cultural backgrounds differ from that of the original settlers. And there are, in today's terms, underlying "culture wars."

Something quite similar happens in Clybourne Park. In 1959, a family in an all-white neighborhood sells its home to a black couple. Trouble rears its ugly head. A local bigot says, among other things, in essence, "They're not like us," and "Maybe you can walk away from here. It won't matter to you what goes on here, but our property values will go down, and the neighborhood will decline."

Playwright Norris also says, in essence, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." In 2009, Clybourne Park hasn't necessarily declined, but the now-integrated community is fighting a developer who wants to build high-rises on their land. The essential argument: "There goes the neighborhood!" Meanwhile, underneath it all, racial tensions exist.

Lurking in the background, yet much at the core of Clybourne Park, is another theme: Why did the original home seller want to leave his community? He had a son who fought in the Korean War, who came home, committed an anti-social act, was damned by his neighbors for it and later hanged himself in an upstairs bedroom. The father has never gotten over this. He blames himself for the tragedy. He blames the government for sending his son to war. He blames the neighbors. In his soul, he hates. And he sells his property because of the memories that still haunt him.

Mr. Norris spoke with Clive Cholerton, Artistic Director of the Caldwell and the Director of this play. Mr. Cholerton records part of that conservation in his program notes. Here's the playwright speaking: "We still have these two wars going on, and it begins to dawn on me, perhaps it isn't a black/white thing. Maybe it's just that humans are innately territorial and everything is just an outgrowth of that. Regardless of the war -- Korea, Vietnam, gang warfare, or a bidding war for a single family home -- human beings, on some level, instinctively desire to defend their turf while at the same time want to exert dominance over another."

What if he's right? "The more things change --"

Withal, Clybourne Park is at times very funny. One cannot help but laugh. The ensemble cast of eight is terrific: Note especially veterans Kenneth Kay and Margery Lowe. The technical staff, headed by the always reliable Tim Bennett, does things just right. The trunk, the play's umbilical cord, which I've not previously mentioned, almost steals the show. A real thought-provoking play, this one. Go see it. Closing date is February 6.

February 20-March 27, see Next Fall, a comedy-drama by Geoffrey Nauffts. The CALDWELL also has a "Story-Telling Series" and luncheon discussions of ongoing productions. For tickets and additional information on all these activities, telephone 1-877-245-7432 or online:

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