Clybourne Park

Having won a slew of awards (2012 Tony Award, 2011, Pulitizer award, 2011 Olivier Award), this play by US playwright and actor Bruce Norris was always going to be a sell out in the Ensemble season. For a play set in downtown Chicago, its universality is extraordinary and that comes down to its excellent writing. The exploration, the savouring of words and expressions by characters is quite glorious – the celebration of the semantic. In the late 1950’s, Russ (Richard Sydenham) and his wife Bev (Wendy Strehlow) are packing up and moving out of their family home after many years. Their son hung himself after the Korean war in an upstairs room and they have never gotten over it. They want out of that house and are happy to sell it to an African American family – not welcome in the neighbourhood – as many of the neighbours will attest who visit Russ and Bev to voice their concerns. Karl (Nathan Lovejoy) and his deaf wife Betsy (Briallen Clarke) try to persuade Russ, in a very falsely polite and clearly racist way, that such occupants will bring the tone of the neighbourhood down as well as the house prices. The local minister Jim (Thomas Campbell) is even in on the attempt to cajole Russ out of this clearly hasty and unwise decision. A NIMBY attempt in the late 50’s. No one caring how obvious and obnoxious their behavior is, especially to the “coloured” housekeeper Francine (Paula Arundell) and her husband Albert (Cleave Williams). Fifty years later, the same lounge room of Russ and Bev’s house (now owned by Steve (Nathan Lovejoy) and Lindsey (Briallen Clarke) is the setting for an interminably long and overly politically correct meeting where the nimbyism arises again – this time the tables have been turned. Russ and Bev’s decision 50 years ago to sell their house to a “coloured” family triggered a sale of other houses in the area and the once white middle class neighbourhood became a close knit African American community handy to the down town area of Chicago with affordable houses. Now, decades later, the yuppies are moving in, wanting to be close to town and gentrifying the neighbourhood, with its lovely heritage homes and potentially kicking out the black community to replace it with a white middle class neighbourhood. The community consultation is held to discuss the objections to Steve and Lindsey’s DA for the house they have bought – Russ and Bev’s house, and from an African American family. Everyone is keen to hear the other’s viewpoint but no one really wants to change position. This is an invasion of the whites into the African American community even though half a century earlier the opposite arguments were being used to block the African American’s purchasing the houses in the white middle class neighbourhood. The room is thick with irony at how racism, political correctness and property values intersect decades later- in exactly the same way. Directed by Tanya Goldberg, this play requires concentration and is a fascinating exploration of the characters that make up the two communities in both acts. Stick with it and enjoy how the full circle turned in this neighbourhood. Ensemble Theatre. ( Extra performances scheduled for The Concourse Chatswood)

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