Sunday, January 9, 2011

Caldwell Theatre: Clybourne Park (7 reviews)

The Caldwell Theatre Company's production of Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park went into previews on January 2, 2011, and opened on January 7.
Home is where the heart—and history—is in Clybourne Park, a "buzz-saw sharp new comedy" (The Washington Post) that cleverly spins the events of A Raisin in the Sun to tell an unforgettable new story about race and real estate in America. Act I opens in 1959, as a white couple sells their home to a black family, causing uproar in their middle-class Chicago neighborhood. Act II transports us to the same house in 2009, when the stakes are different, but the debate is strikingly familiar. Adamant provocateur Bruce Norris launches his characters into lightning-quick repartee as they scramble for control of the situation, revealing how we can—and can't—distance ourselves from the stories that linger in our houses.
Clive Cholerton directed a cast that included GregWeiner, Karen Stephens, Brian D. Coats, Kenneth Kay, Patti Gardner, Cliff Burgess, and Margery Lowe.

Erica K. Landau wrote for the Broward/Palm Beach New Times; let's see how she does:
Caldwell Theatre's adaptation of Clybourne Park is refreshing in its biting and direct exposition of the dumbed-down dialogue, latent racism, and recycled talking points that dominate discussions about race in America today. It rightfully points out the culpability in everyone, especially moneyed PC liberals, who, in all their obsession with sensitivity, are really just as clueless as the bigots they disdain.
So far, so good.
Kenneth Kay offers up a great performance as Russ, who, though he refuses to rethink the sale, does so out of spite, not a sense of idealism or fairness. Bev (Patti Gardner) is a Suzy Homemaker type who blithely condescends to Francine. Gregg Weiner puts in an appropriately grating performance as Karl, but his wife, Betsy, is given a comic and cartoony performance by Margery Lowe. The priest, Jim (Cliff Burgess), is exasperatingly superficial in his attempts to help Russ deal with a personal tragedy.
Very nice; she's given a cogent summary of the play, and skipped over the dreary "so and so played such and such" to tell us about each actor's performance. 
The second act is where the casting really shines. Each actor plays a new and unrelated character. Kay seamlessly shifts from a grieving wiseass to Dan, a gum-chewing construction worker. Lowe is no longer a deaf Lucille Ball, instead becoming the nervous PC liberal Lindsey. Weiner is still a racist jerk, albeit a totally different type. And Stephens' comedic delivery in her role as Francine carries right over to Lena. Clive Cholerton's direction shines here as well, as the time difference and its new plot lines fail to be jarring. Under Cholerton, the staging often communicates as much as the script: Knowing looks and side conversations come forward and melt seamlessly into the background, comedic side plots offer surprising appearances, smooth disappearances, and fresh reappearances.
...Caldwell's production adequately captures the discomfort and nuance of a highly charged script. And it does so by being uncomfortable but amazingly funny.
Skip Sheffield reviewed for The Boca Tribune:
Clybourne Park is billed as a comedy, and director Clive Cholerton and his cast do their best to delineate the laughs.

It is a comedy with bite however, rooted in a tragedy that is reveled toward the end of Act One. There are hidden meanings to the increasingly heated conversations, culminating in an explosive finale.
Clybourne Park was still finding its sea legs on opening night. The laughs were sometimes uneasy and a bit confused, but two powerful performances were already quite polished: Kenneth Kay’s smoldering, grieving father, and Karen Stephen’s dual performance as ironically-knowing servant and a proud preserver of family history.
Hap Erstein reviewed for Palm Beach Gardens and Jupiter Weekly:
Director Cholerton has a versatile eight-member ensemble, each doubling as different characters in each act. Kay excels as emotionally deadened Russ, bearing a heavy burden, in contrast to Gardner’s Bev, a Donna Reed-like housewife who masks her sorrow with an irrepressible perkiness. Weiner handles a couple of showy, black-hat — hey, is that term racist? — roles, as venal Linder and materialistic Steve, the would-be home buyer.

Stephens plays servile Francine without irony, but she gets to rant in the second act as Lena, a self-assured woman who knows how to wield her power and deliver a punch line. And Lowe mines a lot of laughs as deaf Betsy, the butt of some cruel humor.

The Caldwell’s reliable resident scenic designer Tim Bennett contributes an aptly plain house interior, then distresses it during intermission to convey the passage of time. Alberto Arroyo’s costumes also cleverly delineate the two eras and the relative social stations of the characters.
John LaRiviere reviewed for Talkin' Broadway:
Set design by Tim Bennett brilliantly transforms from the tidy, 1950s home in the first act to the 2009 dilapidated interior of a home in need of repair in the second act. Nice attention has been paid to details such as faded and ripped wallpaper, damaged and distressed woodwork, and small holes in walls where someone has tried to make electrical repairs.
Though the script perhaps doesn't give enough emotional connection between husband and wife Russ and Bev, Kenneth Kay and Patti Gardner manage to lay down the basic structure of their relationship fairly well. It seems clear enough that they dance on the surface of everyday things to avoid the grief of the loss of their son. Kay's role as Dan in the second act is negligible, though he seems to be chomping at the bit to establish his character.
Gregg Weiner, as Karl and Steve, is in both instances the man you love to hate. Karl is more small minded and intrusive, while Steve is more the guy who just doesn't know any better than to stick his foot in his mouth. Weiner seems to specialize in these roles as an actor—and rightfully so, as he does them well.
Margery Lowe finds her comedy moments as both Betsy and Lindsey. There is an endearing quality about her portrayal of the hearing-impaired Betsy, and we don't get many moments in the play to find anyone endearing.
Karen Stephens and Brian D. Coates skillfully master the art of subtlety in their performances, especially in the first act. As Francine and Albert, there is an underlying tension and restraint in their relationship with each other, and their mostly silent observation of what is happening around them that is beautifully acted. Their performances, though not the largest roles in the show, are memorable ones, leaving us wanting more of their characters.
While the staging and direction of this show is especially strong in the second act, it falls flat at the end. Our brief visit with the specter of the deceased son weakens the issues of racial tension without elevating the issue of personal loss. It leaves us wondering which is more important to the author, director and cast. While this ending needs to be cleaned, Clybourne Park is otherwise a cleanly acted show.
Roger Martin reviewed for MiamiArtzine:
Actors Kenneth Kay and Gregg Weiner discussing the declining grass growth rate in East Podunk or the saturation factor in a cocktail napkin would be a fascinating experience for anyone privileged to watch. Imagine then what happens when you toss them the inflammatory script of Clybourne Park now playing at Boca Raton's Caldwell Theatre. Simply good theatre.
This first act drives hard to its finish. There's nothing PC here as the master/servant, block busting, racist fears whistle around the stage. But it's not all black and white. Margery Lowe's acerbic turn as the deaf wife with the speech difficulties is hilarious. And Weiner's attempts to stop the home sale are repulsively funny. But it is Kay, desperately worn out by past events, who anchors the act.
Act Two and it's 2009. Lena and Kevin (Stephens and Coats, both formidably quiet actors) have now just sold the home previously owned by Bev and Russ... Once again the act starts slowly... Andrew Wind as Kenneth... is well worth the wait.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
The conversation about and among people of different races has changed over the half century since Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun had its groundbreaking Broadway premiere. Yet as Bruce Norris makes clear in his absorbing, insightful play Clybourne Park, that conversation remains loaded with altered but very real minefields.
On Tim Bennett's period-perfect set, which undergoes a transformation into complete shabbiness during intermission, director Clive Cholerton guides his cast to strong performances, with each actor (other than Wind) getting the chance to impress by playing two totally different characters. The clear standouts are Kay as the grieving father; Stephens, as two no-nonsense women; and Weiner, who makes both of his racist characters magnetically watchable.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for South Florida Theater Review:
Director Clive Cholerton’s production needs a little more stage time to master the extremely problematic and morphing tones that playwright Bruce Norris requires in his incisive script.

But Cholerton and a solid cast deliver a commendable job creating all too recognizable suburbanites flailing about in ham-handed attempts to politely cope with the economic and social friction as the racial makeup of their neighborhood evolves.
Among Norris’ conceits, perfectly carried out by this company, is that the increasingly racist argument is blithely held in front of Francine and Albert as if they aren’t there. When Stephens and Coats slip the mask of subservience for a few seconds at a time to reveal tightly banked anger, we squirm in shame.
...all of the actors do fine work in challenging assignments and they’ll likely improve as the run continues. Kay is especially effective as the damaged Russ with haunted eyes; Stephens’ wise eyes always show something is happening inside that her outward appearance is hiding, and Gardner does well with an especially difficult role creating a credible, sympathetic figure out of a seemingly shallow, even grating housewife. Note how she has a completely different voice when she plays the self-assured lawyer in the second act. Weiner is completely believable in his self-justified bigotry in the first act and his hapless everyman trying to break out of the correctness straitjacket in the second. Lowe is not only convincing as a deaf woman in the first act, but as the victim of raging hormones in the second.
Clybourne Park is about America not coming as far as we’d hoped, about humanity’s territorial instincts, about the difficulty of communication, of how groups of people are similar even as they are blinded by their differences and about the baggage of history. Even with flaws, the Caldwell produces an evening worth talking about over drinks after the show.
Clybourne Park plays at The Caldwell Theatre through February 6, 2011.

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