There’s a terrific night of theatre in the Clybourne Park neighborhood, courtesy of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre.
Clybourne Park, written by Bruce Norris and directed by Howard Shalwitz, takes a look at the play, A Raisin in the Sun, and spins it on its ear. The first act of Clybourne Park takes place in 1959. With the help of their black maid, a white couple with serious family issues is packing up their belongings so they’ll be ready for their move to a new town the following week. The couple used a broker to sell their house and until brought to their attention at the last moment, don’t know they’ve sold their home to a black family, the neighborhood’s first such family. In A Raisin in the Sun we get the black family’s perspective about moving into a white neighborhood. In Clybourne Park, we have the white neighborhood’s perspective and it’s not a pleasant one.
After intermission we fast-forward 50 years to the same, yet not-so-same neighborhood. As the neighbors in 1959 feared, Clybourne Park became black, as one white resident after another left. However, “gentrificiation” has begun in this neighborhood…in the very home that was sold in 1959…and we now get the black perspective on this chain of events.
Clybourne Park features Woolly Mammoth actors at their best, with all performing double duty in this play. Mitchell Hébert and Jennifer Mendenhall must be singled out for special praise, most especially for their work in the first act. Dawn Ursula, another Woolly regular, can do more than most with the raise of an eyebrow or the intonation in her voice and is outstanding as both the maid and one of the neighbors in the newly gentrified neighborhood in 2009.
Thrust seating is used for viewing Clybourne Park. In addition, there is seating behind the actors which, in an interesting twist, gives the impression of people peeking into one another’s lives.
Clybourne Park is full of great humor, albeit some of it very uncomfortable. You’ll leave the theatre thinking about how far…or not…race relations have come in this country. Whatever your point of view, you’ll find time in Clybourne Park, time well spent.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
641 D St NW, Washington, DC 20004