When it begins, “Clybourne Parks” is written in a way that if you close your eyes, you think you’re listening to an old-fashioned family radio drama, chatty and politely shallow. It’s 1959 and a couple who are about to move from their northwest Chicago home are discussing everything that needs to be done before they leave, although the husband seems detached and distant about everything.
In short order, a local minister drops by, as well as a neighbor and his deaf wife, and soon there developes a veritable rolling emotional tidal wave of social issues and family pain. It all sets a heartbreaking, confrontational tone that is at the core of this story.
Also appearing in the first act are a house maid and her husband, who inadvertently become part of the emotional melee.
Act I of “Clybourne Park” has a kind of innocent, soulful sadness that is really impactful. Particularly effective is Mark Anderson Phillips at the father, Russ, a man who is hurting in a way that only a parent can really understand.
In Act II, the scene is the same house but the year is 2009 and a group of people are gathered in what remains of the living room to discuss the pending sale of the residence and some zoning issues. It is the same seven cast members from Act I: Phillips, Nancy Bell, Tanesha Gary, Eric Gilde, Chauncy Thomas, Michael Reed and Shanara Gabrielle. The home and the neighborhood have deteriorated significantly over the years, a victim of “white flight,” but now because of its closeness to central Chicago, like many urban neighborhoods it is experiencing a revival and becoming trendy. This all gives rise to topics of racial tensions, prejudice and degrees of poor communications and misunderstanding. The entire play is also full of sharp, biting humor that is delivered with great effect.
I’ve always felt that some of The Rep’s best work is in their Studio Theater, and “Clybourne Park” is yet another example. The small confines of the theater put the audience in the story, and they become participants, not viewers. Directed by Timothy Near, this show is about a lot more than race relations and real estate. It is about matters of the heart and the true test of coming to grips with life and the chaotic world in which we all live. Extra performances for this show have been added to handle the demand for tickets, and I’m not surprised. In a word, this show is brilliant.