Clybourne Park (by Bruce Norris; directed by Ellen David) is a play most highly recommended. It has won numerous awards including a Tony and a Pulitzer. David cast well and then directed a nuanced and clever rendition of the work. The first act is all about the narrow views and overt racism of the 1950s. Inhabiting a terrific set designed by fabulous Michael Eagan is a fantastic cast.
Harry Standjofski plays the period with extraordinary skill and gives us a man holding on to his middle-class status and his sanity with an iron determination. Most delightful is that he does this without caricature, and fills out the suffering of his character with an expert’s panache. Eleanor Noble convinces us that she is deaf and pregnant and hugely funny as Betsy, and then she acts brilliantly as the young wife who dreams of living in a gigantic home with no ghosts.
All this happens while she tries to keep her uncouth husband from alienating their new neighbours with his unconscious racism.
Marcel Jeannin manages to make Karl who is much more than a cliché as the head of a committee trying to exclude any race but white from moving into the neighbourhood. Then in the contemporary second act he is a wealthy spouse who wants to construct a monster house for his family and in the process alienating just about everyone as he delivers the most homophobic racist joke. Jeannin carries all this off with incredible timing, delivering an exceptional performance. Mathew Gagnon is a delightful priest in the first act and a realtor in the second, executing both in a believable and subtle manner. Liana Montoro gives a sublime performance, first as the almost invisible maid, and then she morphs into a fighting woman who looks at racism and responds with élan. Kwasi Songui is masterful on stage, and his final breaking in the second act is satisfying. Lisa Bronwyn Moore uses an unfortunate nasal voice in the first act to create a persona of the fifties, and when she lowers this voice for the second act she is very convincing as a lawyer.
The premise of the play, that racism is still part of the weave of the American reality, and that property and community are just weapons in the battles fought, is clever, but not so terribly fascinating as one would expect from this highly-praised play. The characters are well drawn and the dialogue moves at a good pace. I just thought that the ending should have more of a punch after so much build up. Still it is a good piece of work with some remarkable performances from Harry Standjofski and Eleanor Noble.
Clybourne Park is at the Centaur from April 4-30. Tickets and info can be found HERE.