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'Clybourne Park' on Broadway: What did critics think?

April 20, 2012|By Jamie Wetherbe
  • Jeremy Shamos and Christina Kirk in "Clybourne Park."
Jeremy Shamos and Christina Kirk in "Clybourne Park." (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

Bruce Norris’ “Clybourne Park” mixes the oil-and-water topics of real estate and race, and so far, has seen with positive results. The play won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for drama and is seen as a certain contender for this season's Tony Award for best play.

Despite a fallout between Norris and producer Scott Rudin, which earlier this year muddied Broadway plans, “Clybourne Park” opened Thursday night at the Walter Kerr Theater.

The play had a winter run in Los Angeles at the Mark Taper Forum with the same cast before heading to Broadway. Times theater critic Charles McNulty wrote that “Clybourne Park” was “smart, abrasively funny and fiendishly provocative” and a "superb" and "sensationally acted" production.

The dark comedy is a riff on Lorraine Hansberry’s classic "A Raisin in the Sun,” and picks up where the 1959 drama left off, with an African American family planning to move to a home in  Chicago's suburbs.

The first half of "Clybourne Park" is set in the same time period, and centers on the same home's white sellers and the pressures brought to bear on them by a community who fear what the arrival of a black family to the neighborhood will mean. The play's second half vaults ahead 50 years later as a white family attempts to redesign the same house, and faces opposition from the racially-mixed neighborhood that again worries about what change would mean.

The New York critics are sharing McNulty’s sentiments.

Ben Brantley of the New York Times called "Clybourne Park" a "strong, ferociously smart play." He added that the drama's uneasy themes will be "topical for many years to come," proving the play "more vital and relevant than ever on a big Broadway stage."

Entertainment Weekly's Melissa Rose Bernardo wrote that the unpublishable jokes and one-liners made "Clybourne" "riveting." She added that the drama "is indisputably, uproariously funny, and a quietly evocative mediation on the by-no-means-obsolete stereotypes that pervade millennial melting-pot America."

Howard Shapiro of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote the play "is the fiercest, frankest, funniest discussion of race I have seen on a stage." He added that as a playwright Norris "is a skillful manipulator who mines an audience’s willingness to self-indict, provoking theatergoers with mouth-dropping lines and making them laugh at the same time."

The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney praised Pam MacKinnon’s "expert staging" that added to the "provocative entertainment that generates as much uneasiness as laughter." He wrote that while a "slow-starter," the play builds momentum in the "more savagely funny second act."

Newsday's Linda Winer wrote that while the drama was a "bit tidy" compared with Norris' "The Pain and the Itch," she praised MacKinnon's "original impeccable production" and cast, writing that "seven terrific actors morph into 14 very different characters -- especially the quietly phenomenal Frank Wood as men of quiet despondence and obtuse rage."

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