Publisher: Elizabeth Hurd / Managing Director: Adrienne Proctor / Editor: Jillian Pritchard Ball

Theater Review: ‘Clybourne Park’ entertaining and thought-provoking

Elizabeth Hurd Published: April 13, 2016

Chicago, a city of diversity, and sometimes animosity, is the setting for “Clybourne Park” being presented at Carpenter Square Theatre through April 23, 2016.

“Clybourne Park” received the 2011 Pulitzer Prize as well as the 2012 Tony Award and the 2011 Laurence Olivier Award.

Playwright Bruce Norris is also a noted actor and director, and he is affiliated with the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. “Clybourne Park” is a natural result of the experience, talent and skill of Mr. Norris and is considered to be the next generation following “Raisin in the Sun,” a 20th century classic.

The first act of the play is set at 406 Clybourne St. in Chicago at 3 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon in September 1959. The second act is 50 years later — 3 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon in September 2009.

In the first act, the cast portrays a couple on moving day and a few acquaintances dropping by for various questionable reasons. The second act is a meeting of several people who are connected to the sale of the house, each with various questionable agendas.

Fifty years is a long time, but, as a nation, we have progressed a great deal. Or have we? Underneath the political correctness that is currently structured enough to limit communication, we might not have changed at all.

The cast of the first act is the same cast used for entirely different people in the second act, and they must perform a tall order, as well as, of course, performing the play. Under the direction of Albert Bostick, the cast brings the characters to life powerfully, portentously and sometimes pretentiously.

Heading the cast is David Fletcher-Hall as Russ, a typical executive of the 50s and 60s, and then Dan, a timeless example of a typical manual laborer. Stacy Casaluci is Bev, the fluttering wife of Russ and then the disorganized organizer Kathy. Together they set the timing and humor of the show with skill, particularly in the first act. Ariel Therkiel is Francine, the perfect maid of the era in Act I, but in Act II she is Lena with an antagonism that unaccountably reveals itself. Michael Page is her helpful husband, Albert, in Act I; but Act II finds Kevin is over his head. Thor Bautz is Jim, the interfering Minister in Act I, but in Act II he is clearly a bored administrator, Tom. He also has a small role as Kenneth. Derek Kenney is Karl, a very opinionated jerk in Act I, but in Act II his Steve is a bit of a waffler. Crystal Ecker is Betsy, the cowed wife of Karl who is about to deliver the next generation, but by Act II, generations later, she is not so pliable with Steve as she is about to deliver today’s generation.

All of these characters come to life expertly with the great cast and the sensitive direction of Bostick. The first act is excellent, and the point is made with great humor and perfect timing. The second act seems a bit awkward. Perhaps that is because it is also a bit scary. We may have progressed in the past half century, but we seem to be overly concerned with our external presence more than with our actual ideas. That awkwardness is hard to convey and requires accurate timing, but perhaps we need another half century to get it.

The ensemble cast has excellent moments, from the first bite of ice cream by a defiant Russ, to the difficulty of just sitting down by a familiarly uncomfortable Betsy, to the officious rear view of the unpleasant Karl, and the naturally unnatural flightiness of Bev and the poignant arrival of Kenneth. These actors bring the subject of racism and snobbery to modern audiences with wit from characters with little wisdom.

“Clybourne Park” plays at Carpenter Square Theatre, 800 W Main, through April 23. Take a moment in the lobby to view the excellent artwork of the multi-talented Bostick. Bostick’s artistic talent is as superior as his success as an actor and director. Curtain is at 8 p.m. for evening performances and 2 p.m. for Sunday matinees. Visit www.carpentersquare.com or call (405)232-6500