Clybourne Park

By Bruce Norrisclybourne park by bruce norris

Directed by Clive Cholerton

Caldwell Theatre Company

At the Count de Hoernle Theatre

Potentially brilliant work falls short

Bruce Norris is an extraordinarily innovative playwright, and Chicagoans enjoyed his skill when Steppenwolf mounted Parallelogram last summer. Now, South Floridians are getting their turn. But if it is possible to stretch and force innovation too far, that is what happens in the Southeast premiere of Clybourne Park.

The idea is terrific – a wonderful extrapolation. The literature of “what if” is always stimulating. What if the South had won the Civil War? What if Napoleon had never been born? Leaving history for fiction, a prime example of “what if” is the story of Hamlet as told from the point of view of minor characters. Now, Norris takes us to 1959 and the world of Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun. He extrapolates on the white family who became first in their neighborhood to sell to the African Americans of Hansberry’s drama.

Reminiscent of Stoppard’s coin toss opening in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Norris opens his play by tossing words. A husband and wife speculate about what residents of major cities call themselves A discussion of whether or not Neapolitan ice cream is named for Naples leads to discussion of the rules for creating citizenship names – especially for cities than end in the letter “s.” What would one call people who live in Brussels?

While Norris may intend the exchange to provide a provocative foreshadowing — starting with national before moving on to racial identity –, it goes on far too long, numbing rather than stimulating the audience. Less would really be more here.

Pacing and timing are also discordant. At times, characters seem stranded, standing, listening, but not participating in the action. Often, just too many are on stage: a husband suffering from depression, his high-strung wife, an inept but well-meaning minister, a put-upon maid and her husband, a bigoted family friend and his deaf wife.

All of the actors – Kenneth Kay, Patti Gardner, Karen Stephens, Cliff Burgess, Brian D. Coats, Gregg Weiner, Margery Lowe and Andrew Wind — play dual roles, reappearing in Act II in the same house, circa 2009. Now, economics, politics, and social situations have changed and in this reversal, the white couple who want to buy and renovate the house must pass muster with the neighborhood-preservation committee.

Everyone sits around, reading aloud and commenting on zoning laws, once again making some asides about the names of national capitals. Too much time is wasted until the plot threads begin to be rewoven. Too much is said about too little. The plot resumes, laced with tasteless racial jokes as the individuals antagonize each other.

The strongest moment comes at the end when something significant buried in Act I is dug up from the back yard – tying both stories together with an originality and strength that was lacking until this moment. The play ends brilliantly. Unfortunately, this it is just not enough to compensate for earlier weaknesses.

This moderately good play needing more work and tightening could be a great one. Norris certainly has the talent.

Not Recommended

Beverly Friend

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At the Count de Hoernle Theatre, 7901 Federal Hwy. Boca Raton, Fl., 33487,  561-241-7432, tickets, $38-50 (Students $10), runs Wednesdays through Saturdasy at 8 pm, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 m, running time is 86 minutes without intermission, through Feb 6.

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