'Clybourne Park': An edgy look at race

Damon Gupton, Annie Parisse, Crystal A. Dickinson and

Damon Gupton, Annie Parisse, Crystal A. Dickinson and Jeremy Shamos in a scene from "Clybourne Park." (Credit: Nathan Johnson)

If the walls in the modest bungalow in this ever-changing Chicago neighborhood could talk, they would be crabby. And why not?

In the 50 years delineated with such deft brutality and merciless amusement in Bruce Norris' Pulitzer-winning "Clybourne Park," these walls have provided thin shelter and silent witness for generations of fury, fragile dreams and, most of all, recriminations both petty and profound.

The play -- which opened Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in 2010 before regional stagings, an Olivier from London and the Pulitzer -- has finally gotten to Broadway with director Pam MacKinnon's original impeccable production and cast. While the tragicomedy struck me two years ago as a bit tidy compared with Norris' earlier and more dangerously messy "The Pain and the Itch," I'm now appreciating "Clybourne Park" on its own important and enjoyable terms.

And what terms they are. Norris places us in the house in the white neighborhood where, in 1959, the black family in Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun" was preparing to move. Only this time, we are privy to the dramas roiling the white family moving out. In the second act, we jump a half-century to a meeting in the decaying house between black middle-class neighbors and the white yuppies planning to build a big new house on the lot -- with a koi pond, no less.

It is a sly juxtaposition, ripe for tribal claims and narcissistic real-estate lawyers, not to mention wrath and wit about racism, gentrification and the lasting effects of war.

Seven terrific actors morph into 14 very different characters -- especially the quietly phenomenal Frank Wood as men of quiet despondence and obtuse rage.

Norris, who memorably said once in an interview that he doesn't "do redemption," has a clear-eyed -- OK, delightfully mean-spirited -- view about the marrow-deep limitations of selfishness and self-regard. Nobody -- not even the pregnant deaf woman -- is safe from his audacious revulsion with what one can either see as political correctness or hopeful civility.

Even with ethnic-joke padding, the drama dares to disturb the placid chemistry of theatergoing with sparky, hilariously unrepentant observations about life -- even life on Broadway -- as we choose to know it.


WHAT "Clybourne Park"

WHERE Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W. 48th St., Manhattan

INFO $50-$127; 212-239- 6200; clybournepark.com

BOTTOM LINE Racism and real estate with a clear eye and a mean, funny spirit

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