Review by Danny Gaisin
As a collegiate freshman in 1960; I drove to NYC to see ‘A Raisin in the Sun’. It starred unknowns Ruby Dee; Lou Gossett; and Ossie Davis – who had just taken over from another novice Sydney Poitier! The story dealt with a black family in Chicago and dealt with desired upward mobility. Playwright Lorraine Hansberry’s family had actually been involved with the legalities of Blacks wanting to live in an all-white neighbourhood, fought under the U.S. Constitution’s famous 14th Amendment.
Eight years ago, playwright Bruce Norris wrote a follow-up to ‘Raisin‘ titled CLYBOURNE PARK and this two-Act comedy/drama is a powerhouse tour-de-force. * Photo (& stage design) by Jim Smagata
Theatre Erindale’s artistic director David Matheson took the helm for this challenging effort and the result is spectacular. The set is highly detailed and upscale from the usual truncated UTM norm. The costumes are reflective of both the ‘fifties and today’; the seven +1 cast members are faultless in their individual portrayals; and the direction is immaculate; elaborate and incredibly focused. He’s also created a perfect balance between the comedic moments and the uncomfortable moments of political correctness and innate bigotry. Disquiet (audience & actors) only mildly describes the emotional roller-coaster that the play evokes. I’m old enough to remember ‘block-busting’ by disreputable real estate agents in our part of Montreal.
The first act takes place in the immediate post-war era. A family are about to move away due to a personal tragedy that occurred in their home. Russ & Bev (Jackson Watt-Bowers & Emily Clarke) with the help of their Negro maid and her husband, are almost completely packed up. The local pastor and the couple next-door come by to at first subtly, then more dynamically, attempt to convince them NOT to sell to the coloured purchasers. Watt-Bowers displays the manifestations of some hinted traumatic event and quickly acquires audience empathy. Clarke, through her interaction with hubby and especially with KhaRa Martin, as Francine; seems to epitomize the supra-sensitivity endemic to post-Reconstruction Southern female aristocracy. I somehow felt as though I actually knew her. Martin is a thespian dynamo. Her range of facial expression; body language and reined-in tension is visceral. She’s only slightly outdone by an amazing Cameron Grant. Editor’s note:- BIAS – we are still enamoured with his work witnessed last summer at Shaw. His & her character portrayals in both acts one & two are of Tony® levels!
The pastor is Peter Moceri and his persona’s most notable aspect is lack of sincerity. He prevaricates; shows ambiguity and seems to have no innate Christian charity. We’ve occasionally met him in some of our real-life contexts…thus – a super portrayal. The major bigot of Act I is Michael Ruhs. His wife is Jennifer Francis. Her character is pregnant and she is a deaf/mute. Both are able to display highly challenging enactments credibly but appearing natural and spontaneous. Their depictions are pure and easily identifiable.
Act II takes place five decades later, and now the same venue is part of a condominium complex. The Board executive are meeting and debating renovations. The player’s names may be different but the same prejudices albeit more politically correct still are just under the surface. It’s here that the audience will have it’s moments of discomfort and involuntary ‘cringe’s’ at some of the dialogue. Most can handle the scatology, but the minutely disguised prejudicial humour will resonate embarrassingly…it did for us last night!.
CLYBOURNE PARK is an important play. Watching it is much more than entertainment. It’s a mirror for most of us supposed liberals. It’s also an education; but most of all, it’s an example of the apogee that thespian talent & exquisite direction can achieve. This one’s definitely an O.A.R. TOP TEN contender and highly recommended as ‘Not to be missed’. The run is until Feb. 11th.
***Editor’s Note: – the banner-line is a plagiarized quote from post-curtain audience-member Yanick Landry