Dallas Theater Center
Director – Joel Ferrell
Scenic Design: Bob Lavalle
Costume Design: Karen Perry
Lighting Design: Seth Reiser
Sound Design: John Flores
Wig and Hair Design: Valerie Gladstone
Stage Manager: Megan Winters
Albert/Kevin – Hassan El-Amin
Francine/Lena – Tiffany Hobbs
Russ/Dan – Chamblee Ferguson
Betsy/Lindsey – Allison Pistorius
Jim/Tom/Kenneth – Jacob Stewart
Bev/Kathy – Sally Nystuen Vahle
Karl Lindner/Steve – Steven Michael Walters
Reviewed Performance 10/11/2013
Reviewed by Jeremy William Osborne, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Clybourne Park, presented by the Dallas Theater Center at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theater, is the powerful examination of how Americans, five decades apart, are still having the same arguments without truly saying what they mean. Using A Raisin in the Sun as a springboard and examples of institutional racism, Bruce Norris holds up a mirror to society and asks why can't we have an honest discussion on race relations. The play has pulled in many awards available to dramatic literature: the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play (2011), the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (2011), and the Tony Award for Best New Play (2012). The Pulitzer Prize committee citation described the play as "a powerful work whose memorable characters speak in witty and perceptive ways to America's sometimes toxic struggle with race and class consciousness."
Clybourne Park begins after the infamous Karl Lindner, from A Raisin in the Sun, leaves the Younger family in A Raisin in the Sun. He quickly makes his way to the home the Youngers recently purchased to discuss a way to protect the neighborhood with Russ, played by Chamblee Ferguson, who sold his home to the Youngers. After an epic and exquisitely written argument, involving all the six characters in the act, all are exhausted but nothing is truly resolved or changed. The audience is left with the view of Russ and Bev dealing with the lingering sense of change about to come to their lives and the lives of those around them.
During the intermission, I must say, is when Bob Lavalle's and John Flores' work as Set Designer and Sound Designer, respectively, shines the brightest. In Act 1 Russ and Bev are preparing to move into their new home in the suburbs. At intermission the stage crew appears, dressed as movers in jumpsuits and caps bearing the name Woodlawn Moving Service. They clear the stage of Russ and Bev's boxes and furniture while simultaneously turning the house into a rundown shell of its former glory, replacing doors, walls and windows with damaged and graffitied versions and decorating the living space on the perfectly laid out thrust stage with various refuse including paint buckets, milk crates, a dirty old shopping cart, a lawn chair and a tattered green easy chair, which takes the place of Russ' green chair and provides a good reflection into the past. All of this happens quickly and easily before the audience’s eyes; meanwhile the intermission music takes the audience fifty years into the future with songs played in progression from the mid-60s all the way through the first decade of the 21st century. By the end of intermission the stage crew deserves its own round of applause for the amazing work.
Another note about John Flores' sound design, beyond the superb music choices, is the use of a hidden speaker and audio editing to make the music sound like it's coming from a prop radio on the center-stage end table. It is an incredible feat that Flores pulls off expertly.
The lighting by Seth Reiser is equally top notch. Realistic sunlight streams through windows, well-placed filters over lights give shadows of window blinds across the floor, and the different mood and feel of the living room between Act 1 and Act 2 all add up to one of the best lighting designs in Dallas of 2013.
Act 2 sees a very similar argument erupt, except this time it's 2009, Clybourne Park has been a predominantly African-American neighborhood for decades, and this time a Caucasian couple wishes to move in, as it is an affordable neighborhood on the verge of gentrification. However, instead of attempting to prevent the people from buying the house, they are attempting to prevent the buyers from tearing down the house and building a larger one in its place, symbolically removing the heritage and tradition the community has instilled in the neighborhood. Many well-written parallels surface in the arguments, except this argument is less civil without becoming violent, including the poignant repetition of “You can't live in a principle.”
It's appropriate Hassan El-Amin and Sally Nystuen Vahle appear together in Clybourne Park, given their previous work in DTC's God of Carnage and the similarities of the two plays, with their themes on racial prejudice, over-the-top irrational arguments and touches of humor to provide moments of relief from the heaviness of the topic at hand. Both actors bring masterful skill to their roles.
As Bev, Vahle is the proper 1950s housewife, always attempting to put her best face to the world, no matter how deeply wounded she is on the inside. Vahle's portrayal allows the audience to marvel at her quaintness while sympathizing with her pain. In the second act she becomes a lawyer named Kathy, hired to mediate the differences in the house planning to be built and the communities housing standards. She's much more laid back but assertive, a more confident character. The switch is so dramatic it's hard to imagine both characters are being played by the same actress. However, this is true for most characters and actors in this production.
El-Amin is the good intentioned Albert in Act 1 who arrives to pick his wife up from work but gets swept up in the action, as the argument heats up before him. Fast forward fifty years and now El-Amin is Kevin, the well-meaning husband of Lena. He's more outspoken when offended than Albert but still tries to keep a level head. El-Amin has a beautiful moment in background during Act 2, after he attempts to prevent his wife from telling a crude and offensive joke. Keep your eyes on him for an even greater laugh from the situation.
Albert and Kevin's wives in each act, Francine and Lena, are both played by Tiffany Hobbs who is incredible as Lena. Lena, the fiery woman, dedicated to the preservation of her family's neighborhood. Francine is a headstrong woman who wishes to avoid rocking the boat as much as possible and doesn't have much to add to the conversation. However, as Lena, Hobbs is allowed to show off her acting chops and be outspoken in the character's objections. Her true power comes from the glares she puts on for both characters. They are piercing and terrifying.
Chamblee Ferguson once again is a delight to watch. He is incredible as the reserved Russ, a man who desires to be undisturbed at all odds, while he silently dealing with a personal tragedy that has befallen his family. Ferguson is splendid in this heart-wrenching role, where he dances between mono-syllabic, a-tonal responses and vicious fits of anger. Then, in Act 2, he's an incidental character, a contractor working in the backyard stumbling in to provide some levity to the situation inside. It's an amazing transformation that should be seen.
Allison Pistorius and Steven Michael Walters, like Hassan El-Amin and Tiffany Hobbs, play different people, both couples play husband and wife in both acts of Clybourne Park. However, Pistorius and Walters present greater differences in their relationships than El-Amin and Hobbs' characters. In Act 1 Pistorius is sympathetic and funny as a confused, deaf woman dominated by her husband, Karl Lindner. By Act 2 the couple shares a much more equal footing with Walters being a bumbling fool who feels oppressed by society. Both, like every other member of the cast, are astounding in their roles.
Finally, Jacob Stewart plays a pair of supporting characters who both attempt to keep the peace in each situation. Act 1 he's a reverend, Jim. In Act 2 he's a lawyer, Tom. The two characters have their moments in each scene but neither is truly instrumental. Also, Stewart has a surprising appearance in the final moments of the play as Kenneth. This appearance is possibly the most impactful moment of the show.
Clybourne Park is amazingly written and deserving of all the accolades bestowed upon it. It's intense, humorous, and hauntingly stirring for someone who spent the morning prior to seeing the play house hunting in neighborhoods around Dallas almost exactly like Clybourne Park. The actors play their roles naturally and with amazing passion deserving of recognition. I strongly suggest seeing both productions, A Raisin in the Sun and Clybourne Park, while you have a chance.
Dallas Theater Center
Dee and Charles Wyly Theater
2400 Flora St.
Dallas, TX 75201
Runs through October 27th
Clybourne Park is being presented in repertory rotation with A Raisin in the Sun. Special same-day performances of both plays occur on October 19th, 26th and 27th.
Tuesday – Thursday, October 15th, 16th, 17th, 22nd, 23rd, 24th at 7:30 pm
Friday, October 25th at 8:00 pm
Saturdays, October 19th at 8:00 pm and October 26th at 2:00 pm
Sundays, October 20th at 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm, and October 27th at 7:30 pm
Tickets range from $15.00 to $85.00. You can also receive $10.00 off tickets in Level 3 and 3A by using the Promotion Code CLYB10 online.
For tickets and information, go to www.dallastheatercenter.org or call the AT&T Performing Arts box office at 214-880-0202.