April 22, 2013

Clybourne Park


Sometimes you see a show that just makes your mind hum for days. Clybourne Park, on stage now at the Phoenix Theatre, is one of those rare shows. The Pulitzer-Prize-winning play is a continuation of Lorraine Hansberry's classic “A Raisin in the Sun.” Her play tells the story of an African-American family that has the opportunity to move into all-white neighborhood in a nicer part of town. It was ground-breaking and controversial when it was first published and performed in 1959.

Clybourne Park continues that story; its first act introduces us to Bev and Russ, the white family in the process of selling their home to the family featured in Raisin in the Sun. Bev is a ‘50s housewife overflowing with false cheerfulness. Her husband finds himself withdrawing from society after they tragically lose their son. Their neighbors are in a tizzy when they discover a “colored” family will be moving in and everyone’s true feelings on the subject come out.


The second act picks up 50 years later when the face of the neighborhood is about to change once more. A young white couple is moving into the same house and race takes center stage again. The racism in the first act is horrifying to us now, but the second act asks how much has truly changed? Do people feel differently about racial integration or do many individuals just keep their thoughts to themselves because it’s no longer socially acceptable to voice them? The question is not whether or not there is prejudice; it is how do we deal with the prejudice that surrounds us?

The play, written by Bruce Norris, tackles the tough issue head on. Norris also widened the net of those facing prejudice to include a woman with a disability, a boy with Down Syndrome, a disgraced veteran, a gay man, a temperamental Spaniard, etc. While that may sound heavy-handed it never feels that way. Instead the issue feels universal and is brought up in much the same way it might be around your own dinner table. Racism is not the only bias in our society. The heartbreaking thing is that people often have such ingrained prejudices that they don’t even realize it until they are confronted by someone with a different point of view. Individuals are often alienated from communities instead of being incorporated in purely because they might make someone uncomfortable.


Everyone in the seven-person cast pulls double duty, playing a different character in the first and second act. Ben Tebbe actually takes on three roles. The excellent performances are crucial to the success of the show. In less talented hands the plot could feel preachy instead of relatable. The cast includes Lisa Ermel, Constance Macy, Eric J. Olson, Ben Rose, Bill Simmons, Ben Tebbe, and Dena Toler; not a weak link in the whole group, though Simmons turn as a heartbroken father was my particular favorite.

The set, designed by Bernie Killian, is wonderfully done. During the intermission it is easily transformed from a lovely family home into a run down abandoned house with only a few simple adjustments. The transformation is striking and very smooth.  

The play garnered a visceral reaction from the audience. There were audible gasps and murmurs throughout the show and yet despite its serious subject matter, it provides moments of levity. This is a play that shouldn’t be missed. See the show, join the conversation, be part of the change in your own community.

Don't Miss the Show 
For more information about the Phoenix Theatre, visit www.phoenixtheatre.org. The theater is located at 749 N. Park Ave., Indianapolis, just off Massachusetts Ave.

Performances: The show runs until May 5 and offers five performances a week. Wednesday and Thursday shows begin at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturdays begin at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.

Tickets: To purchase tickets, call (317) 635-PLAY (7529). Prices range from $28. The play has one intermission and includes adult language and issues.

Photos Courtesy of the Phoenix Theatre

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