Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
One of the strengths of the play is that the author is able to connect two sets of characters 50 years apart and make a unified whole of two separate parts. The jumping off point is a look at what happens in and around the house that the Younger family purchases in Lorraine Hansbury's masterpiece play A Raisin in the Sun. The first act pairs off Russ and Bev, selling their home to the Youngers, and Karl Lindner and his wife who are trying to "protect the neighborhood." In Raisin Karl makes an attempt to buy the house back from the Youngers and is refused. The action of act one takes place right after that confrontation. This play takes a more focused look at racial fears and relations at the time. In act two a white family has purchased the now run-down home to level it and plan to build a McMansion in its place, without regard for the character of the now predominantly black neighborhood. This time it is black homeowners, descendants of the Youngers, who are trying to "protect the neighborhood."
Director Edwards has drawn excellent performances from his actors. David Breitbarth is typically cast as the character with a dark side, sometimes an out and out villain. He gives a rich performance; in the first act he is a product of the times, racist within allowable parameters, in the second act clueless that he is lagging behind in political correctness. In the second act he tells jokes that should be revolting in polite company without even the slightest realization of how uncomfortable everyone else is. This is one of the best performances I have seen from Mr. Breitbarth, who is always strong. Douglas Jones also gives one of his best performances in a long time, thoroughly moving as a father who has suffered an unspeakable tragedy. At the end of the first act when showing Karl Lindner the door he is completely at the end of his emotional rope in many ways.
Annabel Armour, making her Asolo debut, gives a superb performance as Bev, Russ' wife who faces the tragedy with an entirely different set of emotions. Tyla Abercrumbie and Christopher Wynn are effective as a domestic and her husband in the first act and the defenders of the neighborhood in the second. They show clearly the difference that 50 years has made to the social strength of the black family. Sarah Brown as Karl's wife is most effective portraying a deaf woman, complete with compromised speech patterns. In the second act she plays the younger wife of the couple trying to build the large new house, a role that is a bit weakly written. Jesse Dorman as the family priest in act one and a neighborhood allie in act two completes the cast.
What is best about the acting is the chemistry between everyone; this is a very strong ensemble performance. Jones and Breitbarth have worked together for years, Abercrumbie and Wynn are working with them in You Can't Take it With You finishing up its run with a few more performances, but everyone becomes part of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. This is in a large part due to Michael Donald Edwards' strong directorial hand.
As usual, the technical elements of the production all combined to enhance the effectiveness of the production. Excellent projections by Dan Scully are a help to the audience's understanding of time and place. The Asolo Rep. continues to stimulate audiences with this challenging play.
Clybourne Park at Asolo Rep through May 2, 2013. For more information, visit www.asolorep.org.
Cast (in order of appearance)
Direction: Michael Donald Edwards