‘It’s … it’s race. Isn’t it? You’re trying to tell me that, that… That implicit in what you said – That this entire conversation … isn’t at least partly informed – am I right? By the issue of … of racism?’
So bumbles Steve (Nicholas Pauling), outraged. Lena (Lesoko Seabe) is peeved that her great aunt’s house is being razed and rebuilt by Steve and his wife, Lindsey. This white couple’s relocation to the neighbourhood of Clybourne Park would catalyse a gentrification process to the detriment of its predominantly black population.
Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park focuses on race in two distinct eras. Its first act is set in 1959, its second in 2009. The same cast members appear in both acts as different characters. It opened at The Fugard Theatre on Wednesday 24 August 2016.
Clybourne Park is a spin-off of Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun. In the first act, Karl Linder (Nicholas), a minor character in Raisin, informs the Stollers (Susan Danford and Andrew Buckland) that the family they are selling their house to is ‘coloured’. This family is the Youngers, the protagonists of Raisin, who Karl tries to buy out.
But the Stollers know something about ostracism. Their son Kenneth (Scott Sparrow) came back from Korea, only to be branded a war criminal by their neighbours, leading to tragedy. Also featured are the Stollers’ housekeeper Francine (Lesoko) and her husband Albert (Pope Jerrod); local clergyman Jim (Scott); and Karl’s pregnant wife Betsy (Claire-Louis Worby), whose congenital deafness emphasises the play’s focus on failures in communication. All the characters typify 1950s American suburbia.
A row ensues regarding the appropriateness of the Youngers moving in, and pleasantness quickly dissolves into disharmony. Such a shift is felt in Act Two, taking on a distinct 21st-century nature.
What I loved about the play were the various connections between the two acts. Claire plays Lindsey, also pregnant, while lawyer Kathy (Susan) and Lena are descendants of Betsy and Lena Younger from Raisin, respectively.
Various issues from earlier crop up once again, such as discrimination and otherness (in different forms), ignorance regarding foreign culture and geography, and defective communication. What eventually occurs is a hilarious standoff between Lena, her husband Kevin (Pope), Steve and Lindsey. Inappropriate jokes are told, the first of which offends gay lawyer Tom (Scott, again), and the old caveat “it’s only a joke” is interrogated.
The play comes full circle when Dan (Andrew), a construction worker, unearths a mysterious trunk from the house’s garden.
Clybourne Park is simple but powerful. The cast carries it incredibly well, moving from 1950s modesty and affectation to 21st-century outspokenness with great ease. The set design is also astonishing, changing from nauseating pink floral wallpaper in Act One to run-down graffiti-coated walls in Act Two. The entire crew of this production has done wonders bringing this play to life in an accessible and potent way. Clybourne Park is as relevant as it is hysterical.
When Friday 26 August at 8.00 pm (until Saturday 1 October at 8.00 pm)
Where The Fugard Theatre, Corner of Caledon and Lower Buitenkant streets, District Six
Cost Full price R240
Contact +27 21 461 4554, www.thefugard.com
Photography courtesy The Fugard Theatre