Race "Issues" Take Center Stage in Clybourne Park

Issues surrounding race are typically slumped into a list of "things not to talk about" in most circles. Also on that list tend to be religion and politics, and other subjects that might make you uneasy around people who you do not know too well, or who you know have the opposite opinion than you about the "issue." Well. I think that great phenomenal theater is the kind that just puts it out there. And that is exactly what Clybourne Park, going on now through May 19th at the Pittsburgh Public Theater, is doing.

Clybourne Park, which was written by Bruce Norris, is the 2012 Tony Award winner for Best Play and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. If you see it, which I am highly encouraging you to do so, you will instantly understand why it has claimed these two prestigious awards, as well as various others. Clybourne Park takes place in one house in a suburb of Chicago, Act 1 is set in 1959 and Act 2 in 2009. This show could be put on a total black stage and be flawless, but of course that's not the Public's style and the interior of the house fills the stage and is pretty elaborate. Every actor/actress is perfect for their roles (you'll see, they play multiple parts) and during intermission, the music playing guides you through the decades, which I think is a clever touch, especially since Michael Jackson plays during that time.

Act I, when Karl is trying to prove a point (or twenty) to Russ and Bev. Photos from Post-Gazette.

Let's get right into this. The first Act is centered around a middle-aged couple, suffering the loss of their son, preparing to move out of the house on the 100% white, nose-in-the-air, Clybourne Street. This couple, Russ (Brad Bellamy) and Bev (Lynne Wintersteller), have two very different views on how to deal with the death of their only child, Kenneth (Jared McGuire). As you learn more about Kenneth's death, you see the guts of Clybourne Street, the seemingly happy and perfect neighborhood, actually houses a lot of betrayal and judgement. And as Bev and Russ get closer and closer to moving, their neighborhood makes it easier for them to leave without any qualms. Although Karl (Tim McGeever), Jim (Jared McGuire), and Betsy (Megan Hill), all mean well, they make the transition easy by indirectly insulting Russ and Bev about their son's death, the way they are mourning, and the family they sold the house to. Mostly, the family they sold the house to, because that family is black and as Karl so eloquently puts it, "they'll bring down the property values of the neighborhood and it's just one house at a time from there." Obviously these statements upset Bev and begin a huge fight between her and Russ against Karl, all while their maid, Francine (Chandra Thomas) and her husband, Albert (Bjorn DuPaty) are basically forced to sit there silently as their race is discriminated by Karl and not so gracefully saved by Bev.

Act 2 picks up in the house fifty years later. Where Steve (Tim McGeever) and Lindsey (Megan Hill) are trying to get their renovation plans approved by the neighborhood's planning committee. These two new comers tip-toe around issues, trying to make friends with everyone. While Tom (Jared McGuire) tries, unsuccessfully, to run the meeting and Lena (Chandra Thomas), Kevin (Bjorn DuPaty), and Kathy (Lynne Wintersteller) all recount their memories of the neighborhood "back in the day" and their memories within and around that very house. Again, race becomes an issue because of those memories, Steve's inability to be a rational human being, Lindsey's obvious tip-toeing and Lena's will to pick a fight. Basically, everyone has something to prove and defend about their own race, gender, beliefs and sexual orientation and everyone offends everyone else at some point.

The whole cast in Act II, right after contractor, Dan (Brad Bellamy) finds an old Army trunk in the backyard.

Although I just made this show sound like the most serious business of all, trust me, I laughed the entire time. Bruce Norris has created the piece needed in every life in today's culture. It is presented in a serious context, has multiple undertones that develop a passionate piece, but it is the humor that gives this show life. Clybourne Park is a must see on any stage, but it just happens to be on the Public's stage right now. It brings to light the issues of differences, mostly race related, and how we think those differences change our surroundings for the good or the bad. Thank you, Public Theater, for bringing these issues to center stage. Thank you, Bruce Norris, for having the guts to even write this.

To me, race is only a big thing, because we make it out to be this huge barrier between us. I'm also in a long-term biracial relationship and living with roommates from different countries, so I might be biased in saying that race is not a big deal. And at this present time, I feel like only MJ and Bruce Norris understand my humor around this "issue" because they share it. Everyone always looks at MJ and I awkwardly when we blantantly point out and joke about the ridiculousness in separating us by race. This is also coming from a man who hates being called African-American and would rather you call him black because he "ain't never been to Africa."

I love him. I love this show. And I'd love you if you went to go see it and thought that it was more than just thought provoking. I'd love you the most if you're a white girl and you belly laugh the loudest in the theater, during the show, when the joke about "what's similar about white girls and tampons" comes up....you know, like I did. Not because you think it's particularly funny but because you know it's true for about 70% of the white women you know. This show is crude. This show is relevant. This show is needed. It is a necessity for today's stuck up society. We are not different races, we are one. Human. The quicker we learn that, the better. Maybe Clybourne Park can help us do so just a bit little quicker and help use to laugh about it along the way.


  1. Your town does really cool stuff. I'm also so jealous!

    1. very true! & not toooo far from akron - you can always skip over here haha

  2. super!!
    hope u like my purposes as i loved your blog

    Sergio, xx


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