Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Clybourne Park
Cleveland Play House


Roya Shanks as Bev and Remi Sandri
Bruce Norris created his prize-winning Clybourne Park with an intriguing structure. This excellent play is now being offered in the Allen Theatre, Cleveland Play House. The first act takes place in 1959 and the second act in 2009. In the first act an African-American family has bought a house in the all-white Clybourne Park. In the second act, a white family wants to buy that same house in an almost all-black Clybourne Park. But, the story isn't as simple as race relations.

Norris has made the house the same one that was bought by the Younger family in A Raisin in the Sun.

Bev (Roya Shanks) and Russ (Remi Sandri) own the house and want to leave because their son Kenneth (Bernard Bygott) killed himself in the house. Their son returned from a military tour of duty and was attacked by neighbors for the deeds he committed while in the service. He could not find a job and finally killed himself.

As they pack to leave, Bev is helped by her African-American housekeeper Francine (Kristen Adele). Francine and her husband Albert (Daniel Morgan Shelly) seem to have stepped out of the 1950s in their style and demeanor.

Karl (Christian Pedersen) and his wife Betsy (Jessica Kitchens) stop by to visit on a special mission. Karl reports the housing association wants to stop the sale of the house. Note that Karl Lindner is the white character in A Raisin in the Sun who attempts to buy the house back from the Younger family.

The playwright has created one of the most interesting characters in recent American theater in Betsy, Karl's wife. She's pregnant and deaf. It's been said that blindness separates people from things; deafness separates people from other people. Norris has a character who doesn't know what's going on unless someone signs to her or stands directly in front of her so that she can read lips. She is protected by her deafness from knowing what her husband is doing. This is stunning symbolism.

In the second act, 50 years later, the actors return as different characters. But, the subject is the same—race and real estate in Clybourne Park. In this act Adele and Shelly play sophisticated self-aware African Americans. They have good jobs, money and three children. But, some of the racist issues present in the first act roll over into the second act.

Steve (Christian Pedersen) tells a racist joke and then attempts to explain it. Lena (Kristen Adele) remarks that no one laughed at the joke because it wasn't funny. (Note that Lena is a character in A Raisin in the Sun.) In an effort to relieve the tension about a racist joke, Tom (Jim Poulos) announces he's gay. However, the group of people is so involved with buying and remodeling the house they don't respond to his announcement.

Mark Cuddy (director) keeps the action moving at a bright, clipped pace. He mines the humor from the lines and keeps the audience laughing. This satirical treatment of serious topics makes for an interesting evening in the theater.

G. W. Mercier (scenic designer) has worked magic with this set. In the first act, the set is a typical living room in 1950s suburbia. In the second act, the walls have been destroyed and everything is a mess as the new owners attempt to renovate the house.

The cast is excellent. However, Kristen Adele and Daniel Morgan Shelley must be cited for the great change in their characters from the first act to the second act.

Remi Sandri as the grieving father in the first act finds himself with nowhere to turn for comfort at the suicide of his son. Sandri prowls the stage looking for some answers or, simply, for an answer and finds nothing from his wife, his minister or his friends.

Norris has created an excellent script, which has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize (2012) and the Tony Award (2012) for Best Play. Norris deals with more than gentrification, real estate and race relations. He touches audience members at their core.

I was fortunate to see Clybourne Park on Broadway and find the Cleveland production equally strong.

Clybourne Park will play through April 13, 2014, in the Cleveland Play House's Allen Theatre. For ticket information, telephone 216-241-6000 or visit www.clevelandplayhouse.com.

Clybourne Park
By Bruce Norris
Bev/Kathy: Roya Shanks
Russ/Dan: Remi Sandri
Francine/Lena: Kristen Adele
Jim/Tom: Jim Poulos
Albert/Kevin: Daniel Morgan Shelley
Karl/Steve: Christian Pedersen
Betsy Lindsay: Jessica Kitchens
Kenneth: Bernard Bygott
Director: Mark Cuddy
Scenic and Costume Designer: G. W. Mercier
Lighting Designer: Ann G. Wrightson
Sound Designer: Lindsay Jones


Photo: Taylor Crichton

- David Ritchey


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