While most of the theaters in Kansas City are enjoying runs of a holiday nature, the Unicorn Theatre stepped away from the norm to bring audiences Clybourne Park. Written by Bruce Norris and directed by Joseph Price the show opened Saturday on the main stage. Co-produced by the UMKC Theatre Department and utilizes students from UMKC behind the scenes and on stage. The work by Norris won the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play, the Pulitzer Prize and Olivier Award for Best New Play is a comedic look at race, prejudice, and perceived loyalty.
Price put together a cast of powerful actors on the stage, each playing at least two roles in the two-act production. Taking place in 1959, this is the story of prejudice as Russ and Bev have sold their home in the all-white community of Clybourne Park to a black family. The humor erupts on the stage, as does the dramatic conclusion of the first act. Act 2 unfolds with reverse discrimination being the catalyst that draws huge laughs from the audience.
Russ and Bev are the homeowners who, Russ more than Bev, continue to grieve the death of their son two-years earlier. David Fritts plays Russ and Dan, performing superbly in the main role of Act 1 with a dominating performance as he takes his character into a rage. The pain of losing a son shows in his face and body language as the production continues.
Bev played by Jennifer Mays is the glue that is trying to keep her marriage together, and not add to the intense drama unfolding with Russ and the others. Mays does a very good job in her role as Bev and in the second act as Kathy.
Brian Paulette is dynamic in his role as Karl, a neighbor who confronts Russ and Bev about selling their house to the Youngers. As Karl, Paulette, is powerful as a character full of bias towards the people buying the house. In Act 2, he plays Steve, the husband of Lindsey, who wants to tear down the house, in the now all-black neighborhood, and re-build with a style that is unacceptable to the homes association.
Jessalyn Kincaid plays Betsy, the deaf wife of Karl in Act 1 and Lindsey, the wife of politically incorrect Steve in Act 2. Kincaid is marvelous in Act 1 depicting the handicapped wife and again demonstrates her excellent comedic skill in the supporting role. In Act 2, her role is more dynamic and she shows great versatility in playing both parts.
Mykel Hill portrays Albert in Act 1 and Kevin in Act 2. The antics of Kevin in Act 2 draws colossal laughs from the audience. Hill proves his outstanding comedic timing with the tone of his voice and body language. Though more of a supporting role in Act 1, he really shines through in the second act, which takes place 50 years later.
Clybourne Park runs through December 29 at the Unicorn Theatre.