THEATRE REVIEW: “Clybourne Park”

St. Augustine’s Limelight Theatre opened one of the hottest plays now on stage in the USA with “Clybourne Park,” by Bruce Norris. The play won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2012 Tony for Best Play.

Norris has based the framework of the story on “A Raisin In The Sun,” by Lorraine Hansberry. Hansberry’s 1959 classic was made into an 1961 movie. The play was revived in the Jacksonville area last year by Stage Aurora, and on Broadway with Denzel Washington.

In Hansberry’s play, Lena Younger, a widowed African-American, purchases a home for her family in Clybourne Park, a white Chicago neighborhood. Karl Linder, a representative of the Home Owners Association, visits and explains that the association is prepared to offer her a substantial amount of money not to move to their neighborhood, which will be best for all concerned. He is unsuccessful.

Bruce Norris‘ play begins in 1959, as Russ (Steve Harden) and his wife Bev (Evelyn Lynam), who have agreed to sell their home in Clybourne Park to Mrs. Younger, are packing up, intent upon moving, as the home holds unpleasant memories for them related to the tragic death of their son.

Karl (Jan Peter Buksar) appears, accompanied by his wife Betsy (Kristina Garcia), who is deaf and also pregnant. Karl explains that Mrs. Younger has refused to take the money offered by the association and pleads for Russ and Bev to find a way to cancel the sale to preserve the neighborhood and its property values. He further argues that it is bad for everyone when white and black racial mixing occurs. Jim (Matthew Hodges), a local minister, also doesn’t think the sale is a good idea.

The family’s black maid Francine (Rhodie Jackson)and her husband Albert (Patric Robinson) who has come to take her home after work, somewhat unwillingly become involved. The discussion soon erupts into a war of raised tempers and shouting, without a satisfactory solution for the whites-only preservationists.

Act II begins in 2009, in the same house which has been owned by various members of the Younger family for the past fifty years. During the intermission, Stage Manger Margaret Kaler and Assistant Stage Manager Daphne Moore transformed the former neat and upscale home of Russ and Bev into a property that is shabby and obviously needs repairs.

All the actors from the Act I are back, but as different characters. The neighborhood is now predominately black, and the house, which had been owned by Lena (Ms. Jackson) and Kevin (Mr. Robinson) has been sold to Steve (Mr. Buksar) and Lindsey (Ms. Garcia). The new owners have great plans for remodeling and enlarging the home and a heated discussion ensues, which includes Kathy (Ms. Lynam) and Tom (Mr. Hodges), both lawyers.

Lena, who represents the Home Owners Association, is adamantly opposed to the expansive plans of Steve and Lindsey, because she fears gentrification will inflate real estate prices, and many long-term residents will have to move elsewhere. What was a friendly discussion becomes loud and angry shouting, leading to an exchange of attacks in the form of unprintable sexist and racial jokes containing adult language. The play ends with an unexpected discovery by a construction worker (Mr. Harden); we won’t reveal details.

“Clybourne Park”  was directed by Jacksonville actor and director Jason Collins, who has done a remarkable job of casting, with each of the actors playing their dual roles to perfection.

The unique set was designed by Tom Fallon. The Dual Critics declare that the Koger-Gamache stage at the Limelight Theatre is the most intimate of any in North Florida. The seating is configured with three sides, and six chairs for the audience were actually placed on the stage. The blocking by Director Collins was exceptional.

This thought-provoking play has a great deal of humor, some, but not all x-rated. The play is not without some small problems. The first fifteen or so minutes of the first act are slow, with much back and forth about the origins of Neapolitan ice cream. The second act also takes a bit of time to get on track as Lena seems to notice when she asks “Could somebody please explain what we are doing here?”

All in all, it makes for an interesting evening of theatre, one you are almost sure to discuss at length on the way home. The seating is limited in this cozy studio theatre, so reservations are a must. Call (904) 825-1164 or visit for additional information.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.