Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun is one of the beatiful standards from the theatrical canon, but did you ever consider what was going on on the OTHER side of the story? Clybourne Park, where the family in Hansberry's classic planned to purchase their house, is a predominantly white neighborhood that is not sure how to deal with the idea of a "colored" family moving in next door. Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park, now in production at Seattle Rep, is a provocative drama that spans generations in this one controversial house.
The actors take the stage in Act I of the show as characters in a traditional, all-white-except-for-servants 1950s neighborhood. They return as an expectant couple purchasing the house in the 2000s, a realtor, a lawyer, and a couple whose family has lived in the neighborhood for generations and is sensitive to its history.
The problem with producing awkward plays that deal with racism is that your audience has to sit and watch an awkward play about racism. It is uncomfortable more than enjoyable, and while it can be incredible and life-changing and powerful, as in cases such as August Wilson's work or Raisin In the Sun, Clybourne Park tends too much to the prolonged periods of aimless dialogue that eventually brings out conflict, but certainly takes its meandering time to get there. Although it won a Pulitzer, I found that the dialogue was just fine at best. The characters held promise, but the dialogue, indeed the very heart of live theater, simply did not land with much impact.
Without exception I appreciated the performances more in Act II. The performers seemed to come alive much more in these characters, but the writing was infinitely sharper and connected to the audience to a greater degree in Act I. However, the dialogue never veered much above mediocre, and no matter how solid of performers you have, your show can never be better than the writing. The performances themselves seemed unfocused, and perhaps so realistic as to be boring.
This show simply had no "umph" behind it. There was some heart, but it was brought to the stage almost exclusively by Suzanne Bouchard, who plays a convincing 1950s housewife who cares deeply about everyone around her, but is battling her own memories of tragedy. In general, Clybourne Park was not terribly insightful or powerful, which was a great disappointment since the premise seems so promising.
Runs now through May 13.