Clybourne Park packs tension on stage

Michael Brosilow

While Bruce Norris's award-winning play has earned plenty of notice for its exploration of race and gentrification issues, the emotional hook sometimes gets tossed to the side. That's a shame. While the conversation about relations is a strong part of the show, the unspoken tragedy at the core of the play is what stays with you afterward. Norris is the latest playwright to riff on A Raisin in the Sun, the classic middle-century play about a black family moving into a white neighborhood. Here, Norris looks at the house the Younger family bought at two points in time — before they move in and then 50 years later, after the neighborhood has deteriorated but has become attractive for its proximity to downtown Chicago. Each act unfolds in similar fashion, as unspoken tensions finally come out in the open, showing that maybe we haven't advanced as far as we'd like to think. Still, the emotional impact is stronger in the first half, as we learn what has moved middle-aged Russ and Bev to sell their home for a song — a song that the poor Younger family can afford. The second act doesn't have that: It's essentially a bunch of middle-class folks bickering, while their assumptions about each other are laid bare. It's been done better (the recent Buzzer at the Guthrie, for example) and pales in comparison to the story we were following at first. A coda does bridge the gap, presenting us with some closure. The company is uniformly excellent, led by Bill MacCallum as the grief-struck father in Act One, Jim Lichtscheidl as neighbor Karl (also a character in A Raisin in the Sun), and Sha Cage and Ansa Akyea as an African-American couple in two very different economic situations over the two acts. —Ed Huyck

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