I vividly remember a couple of short years ago having a discussion with some folks about the Black Lives Matter protests that were popping up across the country in response to the killing of George Floyd. “But we’ve come so far – it’s not like it was before the Civil War,” an acquaintance said to me. True, white people can no longer own people of color, but using that as the bar tends to give a lot of leeway. The truth is, we haven’t come as far as we could – or should.
Bruce Norris puts how far we have and haven’t come at the center of his Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play, “Clybourne Park.”
The story revolves around a house in the fictional Clybourne Park neighborhood of Chicago – and what happens to that house and its various occupants over the span of 50 years. In both acts – 1959 and 2009 – property ownership, upward mobility, and bigotry are the focus. The cast follows all of those threads with zeal.
Ron Dritz is good as Russ, the owner of the house in 1959. There is discomfort as he jokes with his wife in the beginning. We soon find out why. Mr. Dritz is required to go through multiple and intense emotions in a relatively short period of time, which he handles with great aplomb.
His wife Bev, (capably played by Mary Lou Torre) tries mightily to keep things together. AnJu Hyppolite has a lovely, quiet grace as their housekeeper, Francine, and Ron Chapman is terrific as her husband Albert.
Jim, their neighbor and pastor, is played well by Steve Allhoff. Scott Reardon is terrific as neighbor Karl, who does not like to whom Russ and Bev have sold their house, and Caitlin Gjerdrum does a funny turn as Karl’s deaf wife, Betsy.
Fast forward to 2009: Hyppolite and Chapman play a different married couple (Kevin and Lena, this time), who are now selling the house that’s been in their family for 50 years. These actors work incredibly well off of each other. Allhoff does very well as Kenneth, the head of the homeowners association who just wants to get through the damn contract by 4 o’clock. Reardon and Gjerdrum are together again as Steve and Lindsey, the couple trying to buy the house so they can tear it down. Ms. Torre is hilarious as Kathy the real estate attorney, as is Dritz playing construction guy Don.
Director Phaedra Tillery-Boughton leads her ensemble through the intricate material with a lovely, steady hand. Eric Olson’s set works well in both the 1959 and 2009 versions. Lighting designer Ed Hunter sets excellent moods, and sound designer Jules Indelicato’s sound works well. There was terrific work by costume consultant Pam Lampkin and wig and hair person Jenny Maupin to create wonderful looks for both periods.
Good theatre not only entertains, but also enlightens and provokes thought and discussion.
“Clybourne Park” at Hillbarn Theatre is good theatre.
“Clybourne Park” continues at the Hillbarn Theatre through October 30. For more information,
Rating: *** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)
“Clybourne Park” by Bruce Norris. Produced by Hillbarn Theatre. Director: Phaedra Tillery-
Boughton. Scenic Design: Eric Olson. Lighting Designer: Ed Hunter. Sound Designer: Jules
Indelicato. Costume Consultant: Pam Lampkin. Wigs/Hair: Jenny Maupin
Jim/Kenneth/Tom: Steve Allhoff. Albert/Kevin: Ron Chapman. Russ/Don: Ron Dritz.
Betsy/Lindsey: Caitlin Gjerdrum. Francine/Lena: AnJu Hyppolite. Karl/Steve: Scott Reardon.
Bev/Kathy: Mary Lou Torre