The No. 1 rule of real estate is: location, location, location. As such, it had to be a certainty that eventually a playwright would create a drama surrounding real estate and race.
Bruce Norris wrote such a play, Clybourne Park, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2011 and the Tony Award for Best Play in 2012. Norris took as his setting historical events in Chicago at the time of Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun, loosely basing his own play on events in 1959. Then he set Act II in 2009, when another series of events showed, in essence, that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
In Act I, a black family encounters resistance while attempting to buy a house in a white, middle-class neighborhood. In Act II, the same actors reappear, playing different characters half a century later as a white couple attempt to buy a house in what has become an all-black neighborhood that is undergoing gentrification. And that couple also encounter resistance.
Cliff Fannin Baker, founder of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, directs Clybourne Park, and he takes great delight in taking on a serious play that’s packed with humor despite the serious issues examined.
“The laughter comes, perhaps at inappropriate moments, at what you might call ‘politically incorrect’ statements,” Baker says. “There’s definitely adult language, totally. And it hits close to home for those who have lived in Little Rock and seen the same events unfold over the years.
“I live downtown in the historic Quapaw Quarter neighborhood, and the same things happened there, where blocks were ‘busted,’ as in once-black neighborhoods saw people selling out and moving on as the white yuppie crowd came in. Every city goes through that. You can even go back to the days when we pushed Native American populations into reservation areas we were not yet interested in.”
The cast consists of Shaleah Adkisson as Francine/Lena, Ryan Barry as Jim/Tom, Katie Cunningham as Lindsey/Betsy, Lawrence Evans as Albert/Kevin, LeeAnne Hutchison as Bev/Kathy, Robert Ierardi as Russ/Dan, Jason O’Connell as Karl/Steve and David Tennal as Kenneth.
As an example of the various degrees of separation at play in the world, Baker realized that he had first met Norris, the playwright, years ago. Norris got his Actors Equity card when Baker went to Houston to direct a production of Crimes of the Heart at the Alley Theater.
Baker says, “I figured he wouldn’t remember that, but when we were doing auditions in New York for Clybourne Park, one of the actors said that Bruce had told him to tell me ‘hello,’ so that was something of a surprise.”
Four members of the cast have performed at the Rep before: Adkisson as Gary Coleman in Avenue Q; Evansin A Soldier’s Play and Fences; O’Connell in All My Sons, Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure and Frost/Nixon; and Tennal in the SMTI production of If You Sing It, They Will Come.
There will be a panel discussion at noon today in Sturgis Hall at the Clinton Presidential Center with the Rep’s producing artistic director, Bob Hupp; Baker; and Jess Porter and John Kirk, both of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock History Department. Visit therep.org or clintonschool.uasys.edu for more information.
At 7 p.m. Tuesday, The Design Group and special guests will host an evening at The Rep, including a post-show discussion in Foster’s lounge.
At 11:30 a.m. Feb. 4, the play’s cast and members of the Ninth Street community will gather at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, Broadway at West Ninth Street, for a lunchtime panel discussion on the play. Visit therep.org or mosaictemplarscenter.com for more information.
Clybourne Park7 p.m. today, 8 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, with performances at 7 p.m.
Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; through Feb. 9, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Sixth and Main streets, Little Rock (Preview performance at 7 p.m. today with pre-show director’s talk from 6:15 to 6:45 p.m.) Tickets: $25-$40 ($5 off advance purchases through today) Sign-interpreted performance for the hearing impaired on Wednesday, Jan. 29 only (501) 378-0405 therep.org/attend
Weekend, Pages 32 on 01/23/2014
Print Headline: Clybourne flips ‘there goes neighborhood’ on head