Playhouse gets provocative with 'Clybourne Park'

Examination of race prompts conversations

Jeramie L. Simmons and Claire Kolheim star in 'Clybourne Park.'

Photo by John Moore

Jeramie L. Simmons and Claire Kolheim star in "Clybourne Park."

Stage productions about race tend to work best when they make somebody squirm.

David Mamet’s “Race,” staged last year at TheatreWorks, did it. The notorious “No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs” at Circuit Playhouse in 2004 certainly did it.

Now there’s the regional premiere of “Clybourne Park,” Bruce Norris’ biting look at race, racism and the associated symptoms of miscommunication, tribalism and hypocrisy. The play won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play.

Meredith Julian and John Maness star in 'Clybourne Park.'

Photo by John Moore

Meredith Julian and John Maness star in "Clybourne Park."

“Norris likes to be a provocateur,” says director Stephen Hancock. “He likes to do outrageous things so the audience is laughing, and then you catch yourself and say, ‘Oh, my God, why did I just laugh?’”

The previously staged plays sparked discussions in the community, and the savagely witty “Clybourne Park” will likely do the same.

“Even after five weeks of rehearsal, we have had hilarious nonstop laughter,” Hancock says. “And we’ve had some good, pointed discussions about our feelings about race.”

One of the roles is played by Claire Kolheim, who recently won an Ostrander award for Leading Actress in a Musical in “The Color Purple.”

“Claire has talked about her experiences with discrimination in Memphis,” Hancock says. “The powerful discussions with the cast about race have been wonderful.”

The first act of the play is tied to events dramatized in Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.” “Raisin” tells the story of a black family buying a house in an all-white middle-class neighborhood in 1959. The community responds by trying to discourage the family from moving in.

In “Clybourne,” the second act occurs 50 years later in the same house in a neighborhood that is still middle class, but now solidly black. A young professional white couple want to take the property, part of a wave of gentrification that the current neighbors find appalling.

“It’s about community and tribalism,” Hancock says. “It’s how people react to the ‘other’ and who we are as a culture and people.”

And it’ll make you squirm.

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"Clybourne Park"

Through Oct. 13 at Playhouse on the Square, 66 S. Cooper St.

Showtimes: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays.

Tickets: $22 this weekend (Sept. 27, 28, 29), $30 Thursdays and Sundays, $35 Fridays and Saturdays. $22 Seniors/Students/Military. $10 Children under 18.

Info: 901-726-4656 and playhouseonthesquare.org

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