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Clybourne Park
Asolo Repertory Theatre


David Breitbarth, Tyla Abercrumbie, Christopher Wynn and Douglas Jones
This season's hot new play making the rounds amongst regional theaters is Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park, and Asolo Rep is presenting the Southwest Florida regional premiere. Michael Donald Edwards, artistic director of Asolo Rep directs this production, and it crackles with electricity for the most part. The play, winner of a 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama is not without some problems, notably that both acts take a while to really take off dramatically, the expository set ups seem overly long. But once the action begins in earnest, this is a play that is not afraid to tackle a thorny subject—race relations over a 50 year period—although some of what is offered is a bit simplistic. With all that said, the play is still provocative enough to have caused several walk outs at intermission on opening night.

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)
Russ/Dan: Douglas Jones*
Bev/Kathy: Annabel Armour*
Francine/Lena: Tyla Abercrumbie*
Jim/Tom: Jesse Dornan*
Albert/Kevin: Christopher Wynn
Karl/Steve: David Breitbarth*
Betsy/Lindsey: Sarah Brown
Kenneth: Jacob Cooper
*Members of Actors' Equity Association

Direction: Michael Donald Edwards
Set & Costume Design: Dane Laffrey
Lighting Design: Jennifer Schriever
Sound Design Design: Matthew Parker
Projection Design: Dan Scully
Resident Hair/Wig & Make Up Design: Michelle Hart
Stage Manager: Patrick Lanczki*
Sign Language Consultant: Bethaney Hall


Photo: Barbara Banks, supplied by Asolo Rep

--William S. Oser



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