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Theatre Review: Clybourne Park


“Clybourne Park” opens in 1959, in a comfy home in a white middle class neighborhood of Chicago. The house has just been sold, but the head of the neighborhood homeowners association comes knocking at the door to express his considerable concern.

Carl: “I have met personally with the family.”

Bev: What family?

Russ: He claims that this family, the family to whom Ted has sold the house…

Carl: It’s a colored family.

Jim: Sorry, don’t we say Negro now?

And there we are, dealing with a very touchy subject. “Clybourne Park” is ultimately a comedy that tackles serious themes, so the conversation soon takes a turn.

Bev: Wait Carl, are you sure?

Carl: I was sitting with them two hours ago.

Bev: I mean, isn’t it possible that they are, I don’t know, Mediterranean…?

The play’s second half is set 50 years later in 2009 – in the same living room. Clybourne Park is now a black neighborhood, and a white suburban couple has bought the old house. They want to tear it down, and build a new home that would be fancier than the existing older homes.

Lindsay: We talked about renovation, we discussed it, because these houses are so charming. And I know it’s a shame. But when you figure in the crack in the subfloor and the cost of the lead abatement and in a market like this one, it made more sense to start from scratch.

That sounds like gentrification to the black homeowners. And soon, we’re back in an awkward conversation about neighborhood integrity and property values – a scene with eerie and hilarious parallels to the 1959 conversation in the first act. You even hear the same phrases, but in a modern context, they become more jabbing and funny.

“Clybourne Park” is a script that picked up the Pulitzer Prize, and the Tony Award, and it’s easy to see why. The play also generated controversy – some people didn’t like the use of humor in dialog about racial stereotypes.

But “Clybourne Park” is a powerful and important play. This Capital Stage production, the play’s local premiere, features vivid ensemble acting and handles sensitive subjects stylishly.

Simply put, “Clybourne Park” is one terrific show.



Jeff Hudson

Contributing Arts Reporter and Theatre Critic

Jeff Hudson has been contributing arts-related stories to Capital Public Radio since 1995, with an emphasis on theater and classical music. He attends over 100 performances annually, ranging from modern musicals to medieval masses.   Read Full Bio 

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