Reviewed by Judy Richter
Playwright Bruce Norris uses Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun" as a kind of launching pad for his "Clybourne Park," being given its West Coast premiere by American Conservatory Theater. The two-act play opens in 1959 as a white couple, Bev (René Augesen) and Russ (Anthony Fusco) are preparing to move from their home in Clybourne Park, a middle-class, white neighborhood in Chicago. They don't seem to know that a black family is buying their house, but they soon find out from a neighbor, Karl (Richard Thieriot), who tries to dissuade them. Russ angrily refuses to change their plans.
Act 2 is set in the same house 50 years later, 2009 when the neighborhood has become black. A white couple, Lindsey (Emily Kitchens) and Steve (Thieriot), are buying the house, which has become rundown (set by Ralph Funicello with lighting by Alexander V. Nichols), and want to remodel and enlarge it. A black couple, Lena (Omozé Idehenre) and Kevin (Gregory Wallace) object on the ostensible grounds that the proposed changes are out of character with the neighborhood.
The racism in Act 1 is quite obvious. There's also the question of why Bev and Russ would sell their house in the first place, but gradually the audience learns of the tragedy underlying the decision. Racism is initially varnished over in Act 2, but it soon emerges in tasteless jokes and sometimes virulent language. Norris makes things more interesting by revealing some relationships between characters in the two acts.
Jonathan Moscone, artistic director of California Shakespeare Theater, makes his ACT directoral debut in fine fashion, pacing the ensemble cast well and allowing each member to delve into his or her character. In addition to those already mentioned, the cast features Manoel Felciano as a minister in Act 1 and the black couple's attorney in Act 2. Everyone excels, but special note must be made of Kitchens, who has mastered the speaking patterns of a deaf woman in Act 1.
Besides Funicello and Nichols, the design team includes Jeff Mockus for sound and Katherine Roth for costumes. Jonathan Rider is fight director.
Often hilarious and sometimes scathing, "Clybourne Park" reveals that for all the progress that has been made in the past half-century, racism still permeates some aspects of our society.