Thursday, February 11, 2016

CLYBOURNE PARK Opens Tonight at Heartland Theatre

Bruce Norris's Pulitzer Prize winner Clybourne Park opens tonight at Heartland Theatre with a 7:30 pm pay-what-you-can preview. Performances continue tomorrow through Saturday, February 27, with a panel "response" scheduled for after the matinee on Sunday the 21st. Check out all the dates and times of performances here.

Heartland Artistic Director Rhys Lovell directs Clybourne Park, a 2010 play that spins off from Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, a groundbreaking play from 1959. In the earlier play, we meet members of the Younger family, struggling to make ends meet and dreaming of something better than where they live on Chicago's South Side. The Younger matriarch decides to spend a $10,000 inheritance on a house in the fictional Clybourne Park area, an all-white neighborhood where the Youngers are not really welcome. The action of A Raisin in the Sun shows us the conflict inside a black family where different people see their place in society and how to challenge that in very different ways.

Norris looks at the other side of the equation, focusing on the house Mama Younger wants to buy and the couple selling it. In 1959, Bev and Russ Stoller are still grieving the loss of their son and they see selling the house as a way to make a fresh start. Their neighbors try to convince them not to sell, with Karl, the only crossover character from Raisin in the Sun, and a local pastor named Jim arguing that property values will decline as soon as the Youngers move in. The Stollers' domestic help, Francine and Albert, are caught in the middle of the tension, along with Betsy, Karl's wife.

When we flip the script to 2009, Clybourne Park is an all-black neighborhood, but white people are moving back in and gentrifying the place. The actors who played Karl and Betsy are now would-be home buyers Steve and Lindsey, who want to remodel the modest house into something a lot bigger and spiffier. Their plans would mean razing the house, which doesn't sit well with Lena and Kevin, African-Americans who grew up here and want to preserve the history and character of the neighborhood.

Clybourne Park's spark as well as its challenge is that 50-year leap in time between Act I and Act II. Lovell's cast includes Tim Wyman and Kristi Zimmerman-Weiher as Russ and Bev in Act I and Dan, a worker on the renovation project, and Kathy, a lawyer trying to stave off legal objections to it, in Act II. John Fischer and Michelle Woody are Karl and Betsy and then Steve and Lindsey, flipping from the white preservation side to eager renovators; Anastasia Ferguson and Elante Richardson are Francine and Albert, who just want to do their jobs and not get involved in the dispute in 1959, but stand completely on the side of hanging on to their culture and their neighborhood as Lena and Kevin in 2009; and John Bowen plays Jim, the clergyman asked to try to convince the Stollers not to sell to black people, and then Tom, a lawyer hired by Lena and Kevin to stop the gentrification. Joshua McCauley plays Kenneth, a young man who functions as a blast from the past.

If that seems complicated, it really isn't the way it all plays out. Norris's script is especially insightful when it comes to the shifting alliances that unite its characters and the growing tensions that divide them. The humor in the piece is also a strength, making everybody seem that much more real.

After tonight's pay-what-you-can preview, Clybourne Park is scheduled for evening performances at 7:30 pm on February 12 and 13, 18, 19 and 20, and 25, 26 and 27, with a Sunday matinee at 2:30 pm on the 21st.

For more information on all things Clybourne Park at Heartland, follow this link. Rehearsal pictures and more current info have been posted on Heartland's Facebook page here.

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