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The U-M Department of Theatre & Drama presents Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris, an award-winning provocative drama about race and real estate. Directed by John Neville-Andrews, professor of Theatre & Drama, this comic drama plays Feb. 18 at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 19 & 20 at 8 p.m., and Feb. 21 at 2 p.m.in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.
From his writing debut in 1992 with The Actor Retires, Bruce Norris has built a reputation for his provocative work: “There’s nothing better than the feeling of coming into the room and feeling that something dangerous is happening,” he told the London Evening Standard upon winning the paper’s award for Best Play for Clybourne Park. The play debuted Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizon in New York City in 2010, and made its way to London’s West End before returning to Broadway. The comedy is the first play to win the triple crown of playwriting—the Pulitzer Prize and Laurence Olivier Award for Best Play in 2011, followed by the Tony Award for Best Play in 2012. His other plays include Domesticated (which just closed at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago where he is an ensemble member), The Infidel (2000), Purple Heart (2002), We All Went Down to Amsterdam (2003), The Pain and the Itch (2004), The Unmentionables (2006) and A Parallelogram (2010).
A spin-off of Lorraine Hansberry’s seminal 1959 work A Raisin in the Sun, Norris’s Clybourne Park portrays the families that reside at 406 Clybourne Park before and after the Younger family. Unable to convince the Youngers to sell (which is dramatized in Hansberry’s play), neighborhood-association chair Karl Linder comes to try to convince homeowners Russ and Bev to pull out of the deal in order to preserve their all-white neighborhood. But Russ and Bev have their own reasons for wanting to move, not the least of which is the lack of the so-called “community” that Karl is trying so hard to evoke. Five decades later, the descendants of the Youngers fight their own battle against gentrification when the new white owners of the house declare their plan to tear the house down and to build a much larger house. Filled with sharp comedy and provocative interplay, Clybourne Park examines through the prism of property how far the country has come and how far we need to go when faced with talking about race.
“Norris’s play about race, racism, and real estate is artfully written and extremely funny,” states director Neville-Andrews. “Many Americans live in a predicament concerning racial issues: desperate to be straightforward and inclusive on one hand, but panicky about expressing a thoughtless or offensive perspective on the other. And so it is with the characters in Clybourne Park. As the tension rises in the play, the characters adopt ‘code speak’ to camouflage their true feelings. The two acts of the work have been categorized respectively as a tragedy and a comedy. The comedy of Act II is somewhat dark and offensive, which is good. Any play that can make the audience laugh and realize ‘why am I laughing at this—I shouldn’t be laughing’ deserves to be seen. The way you see each act might rely on your own race, your own ‘politically correct’ way of thinking, and your own ‘code speak’ when it comes to racial issues.”
Joining Neville-Andrews on the artistic team for Clybourne Park is scenic designer Gary Decker (Henry IV, Part 1) an Asst. Professor of Theatre & Drama in the Department of Theatre & Drama. Junior BFA Design & Production major Janak Jha (American Idiot) serves as lighting designer. The costume design is by Asst. Professor of Theatre & Drama Christianne Meyers (How to Deceive Your Family), with a sound design by Associate Professor of Theatre & Drama Henry Reynolds (Henry IV, Part 1).
Following the Friday performance of Clybourne Park will be Curtain Calls, a post-performance discussion moderated by Neville-Andrews. The discussion also features members of the cast and artistic staff. Curtain Calls for Clybourne Park offers an opportunity for audience members to talk with the artists about the play. The discussion is free and open to all.
Ticket prices for performances of Clybourne Park are $28 and $22 reserved seating. Student tickets are $12 with ID. Tickets are available in person at the League Ticket Office, located within the Michigan League. The Ticket Office is open from 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Monday through Friday and 10 a.m.–1 p.m. on Saturday. Order by phone at (734) 764-2538. All major credit cards are accepted. Tickets may also be ordered online at tickets.music.umich.edu. The Mendelssohn Theatre, located at 911 N. University Ave., is wheelchair accessible and equipped with an infrared listening system for hearing enhancement. This play contains strong language and themes, and is recommended for mature audiences.
By Jeff Bleiler