Friday, December 21, 2012

Best Shows of 2012: #7

Best of 2012
#7 – Clybourne Park

Proof the white people should never, EVER attempt to "raise the roof."

Clybourne Park’s Broadway transfer almost didn’t happen.  Despite winning both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Olivier Award for Best New Play, its planned Broadway bow was thrown into question when lead producer Scott Rudin withdrew from the production after a dispute with playwright Bruce Norris.  Thankfully producer/theatre owner Jordan Roth swooped in to save the show, as Clybourne Park’s mixture of black comedy and thought-provoking rhetoric made for a fantastically stimulating night at the theatre.

Set in the fictional Chicago neighborhood of Clybourne Park, Act I took place in 1959 and Act II took place in 2009.  The first half of the play concerned the imminent arrival of the neighborhood’s first black family (implied but never explicitly stated to be the Younger family from Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun), while the latter portion dealt with a white family moving into the now all-black neighborhood.  This structure allowed the play to make many fascinating observations about how racism has and hasn’t changed over the past five decades, and if the first act seemed slow the near perfection of the second half not only elevated the evening but proved everything which preceded it was necessary to fully understanding what Norris had to say.

An actor himself, Norris managed to create two equally compelling sets of nuanced characters, making the racially-charged dialogue feel organic rather than didactic.  Norris also expertly avoided the trap of oversimplifying his arguments, letting every character make valid points which challenged the audience’s beliefs.  It was refreshing to see both black and white characters portrayed as equally right (and wrong), and that quality helped make Clybourne Park an especially satisfying encapsulation of the endlessly complex subject of race.  Even better, the play managed to tackle all of these topics while remaining laugh-out-loud funny, providing a welcome respite from the weighty matters being discussed.

The cast of Clybourne, all of whom originated their roles in the play’s world premiere Off-Broadway, was ideal.  Under the razor-sharp direction of Pam MacKinnon, the seven-strong company was a master class in ensemble acting, supporting and playing off one another with delightful ease.  With every actor tasked with portraying two characters (one in the first act, one in the second), the specificity and nuance in their characterizations became all the more impressive.  Their chameleon-like nature allowed the audience to fully immerse itself in the play’s world, and kept the focus squarely on Norris’ crackling dialogue.  The deserved winner of this year’s Best Play Tony, Clybourne Park gave audiences the perfect blend between art and entertainment, and that is why it is one of the Best Shows of 2012.

To read my full review of Clybourne Park, click here.

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