Published on October 10th, 2014 | by Sasha Glenn0
Play Review: Harlequin Productions’ ‘Clybourne Park: a black & white comedy by Bruce Norris’
By Sasha Glenn
The award winning “Clybourne Park,” written by Bruce Norris portrays the dynamics of life in Chicago in 1959 and then later in 2009. He wrote the play in 2010 as a sort of prequel and sequel combination to Lorraine Hansbury’s, racially charged, “A Raisin in the Sun.”
The themes of race conflict and fear of the unfamiliar “other” still ring true in society today. Harlequin Productions’ director Scot Whitney brings this very relevant story to life on stage at Olympia’s State Theater.
Consisting of two acts which take place in separate eras, the play shows how things change, yet also stay the same. The comedic interactions between the characters aim to inspire the audience to laugh at the backwardness of attitudes toward race.
Act one focuses on a middle class white neighborhood facing the possibility of a Black family moving in. This scenario is equivalent to the sky falling for some residents. Jason Haws is incredibly convincing in his role as Karl, the overly concerned neighbor. Karl is a man driven by fear into a state of hysteria. Haws portrays this state of mind perfectly through intense vocal inflection and facial expression. The chaos he makes out of the situation is troubling, yet hilarious all at once.
Karl embarks on a crusade to persuade his neighbors Dan (Phillip Keiman) and Bev (Nikki Visel) not to sell their home to the Black family. He urges that they must listen to him for the good of the neighborhood.
Keiman and Visel do an amazing job in their roles as parents who recently suffered the loss of their son and wish to escape their judgmental community. Keiman’s performance is an emotional one. When his character becomes fed up with the pushy neighbors, his rage is heard and felt. His vocals are loud and his expression reads a man pushed to the limit.
The characters in this half of the play are a bit more intriguing than in act two. They are developed with more depth, and their nostalgic costumes and behavior make it a pleasure to watch.
That said, act two does succeed in keeping the pace of entertaining events going. It picks up 50 years later when the racial divide is now silent, but indeed still present. This time it is a white family who wishes to move into the same neighborhood, however the demographic has changed.
The conflict in act two is based on the desire of the white family to build their dream home. But Lena (LaVon Hardison), a Black woman, holds a certain sentiment for the historic value of the home that is to be renovated. Hardison successfully exudes the energy of a woman who fights to hold back her inner rage at systemic inequality. With teeth gritted, she creates a veneer of forced politeness.
Perhaps the most entertaining scene of act two is when racially charged jokes are exchanged between the characters while discussing the home. The awkward tension and the visible struggle to remain politically correct, can be felt in the air. This makes it almost hard to watch, but definitely entertaining.
All of the actors fall seamlessly into their roles. The realness of the set also helps to suck the audience into the play.
Overall, “Clybourne Park” is a realistic and highly entertaining portrayal of attitudes toward race. Yet, it is also thought provoking in its deeper discussion of racial exclusivity and how neighborhoods take shape over time.
A timeless and well executed performance, I give “Clybourne Park” 4 out of 5 stars.
Harlequin Productions is located in the large State Theater in downtown Olympia, at 202 Fourth Avenue E. The venue is a pleasure to visit, and worth the drive. It has an old-fashioned and classy style with a relaxed formal atmosphere.
The show runs through Oct 25, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online through Harlequin Productions for $31 for general admission, $20 for students and youth under age 25, and $28 for seniors and military personnel.