Clybourne Park — Adaptation Supreme

| June 10, 2012 | 0 Comments

Beneatha: An end to misery! To stupidity!  Don’t you see there isn’t any real progress, Asagai, there is only one large circle that we march in, around and around, each of us with our own little picture in front of us — our own little mirage that we think is the future.

Asagai: That is a mistake. . . . It isn’t a circle — it is simply a long line — as in geometry, you know, one that reaches into infinity.                                                                         A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry

The Cast of Claybourne Park, directed by Pam MacKinnon

Levels of adaptation abound in Clybourne Park, the much-venerated play, exquisitely written by Bruce Norris and divinely directed by Pam McKinnon,  now playing (and about to close!)  at the Walter Kerr Theater.

The play begins with an adaptive look at Mr. Asagai’s proposition that misery reaches in a line into infinity, a riff off one defining moment in A Raisin in the Sun,  when Walter Lee Younger tells Mr. Lindner, “We have all thought about your offer, and we have decided to move into our house because my father — my father — he earned it for us brick by brick.  We don’t want to make no trouble for nobody or fight no causes and we will try to be good neighbors.  We don’t want your money.”

In Act I of Norris’ play, which opens in 1959,  Mr. Lindner stumbles into a moment of high misery in the lives of a couple named Jim and Bev, who are packing up, preparing to move somewhere closer to Jim’s work, somewhere new, without the ghost that haunts them where they are.  Lindner brings Jim and Bev the news that the “colored, er, Negro” family to whom they have sold the house has refused his generous offer to buy their resolve to interlope into this community, the all-White Clybourne Park, and he begs them to renege on their agreement to sell.  Jim refuses, and Act I ends with all the characters onstage bracing themselves for an onslaught of permutations.

Sounds serious, doesn’t it?  But in this play, in the hands of this writer, this director, these actors, it’s deadly funny; the first act bristles with a constant underpinning of tragedy, but the dialogue is almost banal in its silliness, and the way in which each of the characters has adapted to his/her pain keeps it from being anything short of brilliant in the way it echoes back the a mirror image of how we humans interact, deal with sorrow, talk about race, bury ourselves in polite discourse  rather than engage honestly with one another.

The second act fast forwards to 2009.  The process of white flight that has turned Clybourne Park into a less valued Black neighborhood is in the process of reversing itself, and three white and two black characters sit in the now dilapidated house — the one that belonged to Jim and Bev and then to the Youngers — to discuss the plans that Lindsey and her husband Steve have to gut the place and build anew.  Their blueprint for the renovation does not meet community standards for preservation of the historical integrity of the neighborhood, and the dialogue that ensues over details degenerates from politically correct euphemisms into a stinging, biting exchange of racial/social/personal insults.  Each of the characters, enslaved by the restrictions of good intentions, sheds his/her mask and lets fly with what is really the point, and the point is that there is no genteel way to negate the fact that everyone there is both right and wrong, self-righteous and selfless, condescending and conciliatory, bigoted and open-minded.  A workman enters abruptly from an excavation project outside and lays at their feet the physical embodiment of Asagai’s hypothesis. 

None of the characters remains onstage to look at what’s been dragged in; they exeunt,  and the audience is left to inhale all the noxious fumes of its existence without the buffer of their alter egos onstage.

It’s a powerfully emotional moment, with none of the manipulative hyperbole you might expect.  It’s clean.  It comes from the soul.  And it sets your heart racing.  


Bev/Kathy Christina Kirk
Russ/Dan Frank Wood
Francine/Lena Crystal A. Dickinson
Jim/Tom/Kenneth Brendan Griffin
Albert/Kevin Damon Gupton
Karl/Steve Jeremy Shamos
Betsy/Lindsey Sarah Goldberg

Creative Team

Written by Bruce Norris
Director Pam MacKinnon
Set Designer Dan Ostling
Costume Designer Ilona Somogyi
Lighting Designer Allen Lee Hughes
Sound Designer John Gromada

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Category: Features