Clybourne Park: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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Michael Kaye, Thomas Derrah, Marvelyn McFarlane, DeLance Minefee, Paula Plum, and Tim Spears in a scene from SpeakEasy Stage’s production of Clybourne Park, running March 1-30 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts. Tickets/info at speakeasystage.com or 617.933.8600. Photo by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo.

By Bruce Norris

Directed by M. Bevin O’Gara

Presented by Speakeasy Stage Company

March 1 – March 30

Nancy & Edward Roberts Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts Boston, MA

Speakeasy Stage Co Facebook Page

Review by Becca Kidwell

A strong script elevates a performance or points out the flaws of the company.  Speakeasy Stage’s production of Clybourne Park demonstrates its mastery through a strong ensemble, innovative set, and smart direction.  After seeing Clybourne Park, there is no question why this clever, dark play won at the Tony Awards in 2012.  When Boston sees Speakeasy Stage’s production, they will be talking about it for the rest of 2013 (Norton and IRNE awards in its future?).  The ensemble, comprised of Paula Plum, Thomas Derrah, Marvelyn McFarlane, Tim Spears, DeLance Minefee, Michael Kaye, and Philana Mia, pulls the audience into a dynamic confrontation between politics and politeness that never apologizes.  

Inspired from the classic play, A Raisin In The Sun, Bruce Norris took the Younger’s house and neighborhood to create a history and future of the Clybourne Park neighborhood.  In the first act, we see a couple dealing with the loss of their son, in 1959, while their neighbors are furious to find out that the Younger’s bought the house in their “perfect” neighborhood.  The second act becomes a variation of the main theme as a new couple wants to move into the house and destroy the neighborhood’s “historical” integrity.  Race starts a war of words that leaves few if any political or social group innocent.  Knives are drawn with words and actions and no one gets out without blood on their hands.

Thomas Derrah and Paula Plum are a strong foundation as the parents of a Korean War vet;  Derrah plays the strong, yet fragile Russ who moves from a unaffected posture to a highly enraged state and back again.  Paula Plum’s Bev continually works to keep up appearances even when vulgar accusations are thrown across the living room.  While appearing to be model wife and mother, Plum deftly allows the facade to fold under the weight of the afternoon’s altercation.  One of the exciting parts of this play is getting to see the actors become the different characters in 2009.  The transformation between Bev and Kathy gives the audience a double-take that the person onstage is the same actress.

She is not the only one who transforms radically.  Both of the other women, Philana Mia and Marvelyn McFarlane, go from being demur women of the fifties to outspoken women of the millenium.  This symbolic transformation takes literal shape as Philana Mia is the deaf neighbor Betsy to the very verbose Lindsey in the present.  Marvelyn McFarlane does give Francine undertones of sass but all within the “proper” lines of a fifties maid.  As Lena, McFarlane lets everything loose adding a firecracker to an already raging fire.

Bruce Norris wrote the play with the Younger’s house as an additional character in the play.  In response to this Christina Todesco’s set.  This house ages fifty years in the course of ten minutes!  The intermission could be looked at as a mini-play within this play.

Bruce Norris’ hopes that his play will leave audiences speechless and Speakeasy’s production does that.  It leaves people with more questions than answers. With the powerful cast and intricate set, Clybourne Park is the play to see this season.

 

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