Wednesday, October 12, 2011

'Raisin' Some Dramatic Questions, 'Clybourne Park' Shines at Steppenwolf -- Theatre Review

Photo credit: Michael Brosilow,
Theatre Review

Clybourne Park
a new play by Bruce Norris
Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago
Thru November 6, 2011

I don't mean for this to sound preachy, as though I'm really telling you what you should do. After all, despite beautiful weather in Chicago over the weekend, suggestions that I take a bike ride along the lake, watch the marathon or even (with proper training) run the marathon wouldn't have been heeded. Not my thing, and perhaps going to live theater isn't yours. No harm, no foul. Free to be you and me.

But should you be someone interested in exploring thought-provoking entertainment, you would be amiss not to see Bruce Norris' Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Clybourne Park, at Steppenwolf Theatre. Especially when, as I did, you should readily be able to get a ticket for just $20 (+ a small handling fee) by availing yourself of Steppenwolf's generous 20 for $20 daily discount ticket program. Steppenwolf also offers half-price rush tickets and student discounts, and the show has also been discounted on HotTix.

So although patrons who paid the full $70 price for the same Sunday matinee I attended for $20 saw an excellent, contemplative, often humorous drama, I got a bargain of such tremendous value that I urge others to take advantage as well. You won't see theater any better for any less.

Norris, whose 6 previous plays all originated at Steppenwolf, debuted Clybourne Park in New York before it played London, where it won the 2011 Pulitzer for Drama as well as the Olivier Award for Best New Play.  Given his history with Steppenwolf and the fact that Clybourne Park is based in Chicago, it's a bit ironic that Norris' most decorated work premiered elsewhere, but the cast here certainly delivers an excellent rendition.

The new play plays off Lorraine Hansberry's classic 1959 drama, A Raisin in the Sun, which I've yet to see or read, but Clybourne Park clearly stands on its own. From what I've discerned, 'Raisin' is about the Youngers, an African-American family in Chicago that has an opportunity to move to a better neighborhood called Clybourne Park after receiving a life insurance payout. Along with debates within the family, the story involves a bigot named Karl Lindner who tries to pay off the Youngers to keep them away for racist reasons.

Set in 1959, the first act of Clybourne Park revolves around a white couple that lives in the house the Youngers wind up buying in A Raisin in the Sun. Norris depicts why the couple wants to leave their neighborhood, shrewdly showing how intolerance isn't only across racial lines. But largely through the inclusion of Karl Lindner, Norris also reveals the ugliness that pervades the neighborhood after it is learned who will be buying the home. (A question for dramatic afficionados: Besides Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, can you think of any other plays derived from characters/plotlines of a different play?)

Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow,
Act 2 is set 50 years later, in the same house, now being purchased by a white couple that plans to knock it down to build a McMansion. Their black neighbors, descendants of the Youngers, oppose their plans. I found this act to be a bit confusing and not quite as slyly tension-packed as Act 1. But as I mentioned, along with being quite commentative about the past and present, Clybourne Park is infused with a good deal of humor, so even if a bit top-heavy, the show is never less than richly entertaining.

With Red now playing at the Goodman, two of the best, most highly acclaimed plays of recent years are currently making their regional debuts in Chicago, with world-class productions. If you can't get to both, do yourself a favor and find a few hours to catch either Red (Goodman also has discount programs) or Clybourne Park. I promise you'll be better off for doing something so rewardingly dramatic.

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