The Brunton, Musselburgh
September 20th, 2019
Since inception, Rapture Theatre have tunnelled a catacomb of fine memories into the minds of the Scottish theatre-goers. Their latest cave of delights is called Clybourne Park, a spin-off from Lorraine Hansberry’s ever-enduring 1959 Broadway play, A Raisin in the Sun. The latter play tells of a black family’s real estate experiences in “Clybourne Park”, a fictionalized Subdivision of Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood. The New York Drama Critics’ Circle named it the best play of 1959. A half-century later, a spin-off was penned by New Yorker, Bruce Norris, & just like its mother-ship won hierarchical awards such as the Pulitzer for Drama & the Olivier for Best Play. Side-by-side, the two plays have morphed into a soap opera, & there is no reason why the Raisin mythomeme could be a standard locale for future dramatical socio-dissections of 1950s America.
Clybourne Park is divided into two halves; the first telling the story of the house purchase from that of its owners & the busybodying locals trying to keep the neighbourhood white. So this is racism, of course, but its comedy racism, looked at with a kinda sympathetic pity thro’ mileusean eyeglasses. After a sophisticaed screwdrill-whirring session in the interval, we find ourselves transported to an assimilationistic Noughties, when its all a little bit more grating, with a dash of false-flattery. Are we moderns really like these people on the stage reduced to fencing dodgy jokes like weapons of prejudice. Luckily, the play was saved by the cast-inflating reintroduction of the house-buying back-story, & in essence Clybourne Park flows thro’ 4 quarters – plus an astonishingly well done ending – the first half is all good, the second half starts slow & becomes excellent. The whole, I must add, is held togther by leibmotifs which bounce from half to half & also into Raisin with subtle but enlightening alacrity.
The play exposes the hypocrisy, particularly of educated, middle-class people who will happily uphold the principles of fairness & equality – unless & until those principles impinge on their own ideas & interests.
Michael Emans (Director)
Watching Clybourne Park’s “progressive community” in 2019 is a curious, indemnified affair. The racism which Norris remoulds in the second half is that of an American people trying to redefine its attitudes as they dwell among social landscapes very much shaped by centuries of racial subjegation & oppression – all while living under the tacitly legislated safety of father Obama. Clybourne also shows how people shun the pursuits of deeper understanding by the donning of fake armour – ‘how can I be racist when I’m gay.‘ A soreiety of the minorities. Although attitudes are similar in 2019, ten years is a long time in world progress & things are changing / have changed – Clybourne Park is already on its way to becoming the time capsule that is A Raisin in the Sun.
I can only heap as much praise as I’ve got to heap upon the acting – extremely realistic, their accents were impeccable & they teleported me without (visible) effort into 1950’s suburban Chicago. Having such a deliciously drab set helped inestimably. In the second half the troupe takes on new roles; instigating & ensuring a dipping of my suspension of disbelief. The joy I felt toward the end when the 1950s actors returned to the stage, beyielding my spirit unto a child-like joy, made me realise that as entertainment Norris would have been better off staying in the 50s, but to win awards he needed to make it contemporary as well. The awards were won, yes, but the piece then becomes imperfect as timeless drama. Still, if you have a good company involved, then Clybourne Park gives its actors a chance for something meaty, something pleasantly performable, & Rapture were simply superb at it.
Damian Beeson Bullen