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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Clybourne Park (Encore Run)

Also see Susan's revisiting of Oklahoma!

Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company received such a strong audience response to its 2010 production of Clybourne Park that it brought back the entire eight-member cast, and James Kronzer's awe-inspiring set, for an additional three-week run this summer. In the interim, Bruce Norris' play about racial dynamics and what constitutes a community won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Woolly's production, directed by Howard Shalwitz, received the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Resident Play.

The performances and direction are as good as ever, and—with the current uncertainty about the federal debt ceiling and the economic future—the play has taken on an even greater relevance. Woolly has scheduled talk-backs with various community speakers following each performance.

Clybourne Park is a rejoinder to Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 drama A Raisin in the Sun, looking at the events of that play from the opposite point of view. While the Younger family of Hansberry's play aims to move out of its crowded Chicago South Side apartment and into a house in the all-white Clybourne Park neighborhood, Norris' first act shows Russ (Mitchell Hébert) and Bev (Jennifer Mendenhall), the departing owners of the house, as they prepare to move to the suburbs. Russ is cynical and occupies his mind with trivia, Bev seems always on the edge of emotional upset, and they no longer feel comfortable in the community.

In Hansberry's play, a Clybourne Park resident named Karl Lindner (Cody Nickell) tries to discourage the Youngers from moving into the neighborhood. Russ and Bev have little patience with Karl and his intrusion into their lives, but he would say he isn't a bigot; he simply believes that African Americans are not comfortable in largely white communities (they don't go skiing, they eat different food from white people). The issue of class also comes up, in that Bev believes that her relationship with her cleaning woman Francine (Dawn Ursula) is a friendship, but it's clear how little the two women have in common.

The second act returns to the neighborhood in 2009, after Clybourne Park has long since become an African-American enclave and a young white couple (Nickell and Kimberly Gilbert) want to buy the now-dilapidated house, to the concern of the head of the homeowners' association (Ursula). Several people have personal connections to the house, and while everyone is trying to stay polite and above pettiness, resentments and unexamined prejudices bubble just underneath the surface.

Shalwitz has engineered the members of the case into a unit, although some performers stand out: Mendenhall and Hébert in the first act; Ursula and Jefferson A. Russell in the second.

Audience members who stay in their seats during intermission will get an additional treat as they watch stagehands peel away the tidy outer trimmings of Kronzer's two-story set in preparation for its decrepitude in the second act.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Clybourne Park
July 21st - August 14th
By Bruce Norris
Act I: September 1959
Russ: Mitchell Hébert
Bev: Jennifer Mendenhall
Francine: Dawn Ursula
Albert: Jefferson A. Russell
Jim: Michael Glenn
Karl: Cody Nickell
Betsy: Kimberly Gilbert
Act II: September 2009
Tom: Michael Glenn
Lindsey: Kimberly Gilbert
Steve: Cody Nickell
Kathy: Jennifer Mendenhall
Kevin: Jefferson A. Russell
Lena: Dawn Ursula
Dan: Mitchell Hébert
Kenneth: Chris Dinolfo
Directed by Howard Shalwitz
641 D St. N.W., Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-393-3939 or www.woollymammoth.net


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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