This has been a pretty exciting year for some of our smaller theater companies- many doing things they have never done before and some taking larger productions and shrinking them in size to fit their venues, while never giving up any portion of the story or settling for lesser talents than the larger theaters used. Chicago is the “greatest” theater city because of this. redtwist theatre, that little black box that does red-hot drama with a little red twist located on Bryn Mawr Avenue on the North Side is now doing the Pulitzer Prize winning “Clybourne Park” written by Bruce Norris. It is the follow-up story that Lorraine Hansbury never wrote after “A Raisin In The Sun” ( now playing at Timeline Theatre in Chicago). While that is a story about an African American family , living in a Ghetto, who due to an insurance settlement can move into a housing development where they would be the first Black family, this goes much further.
Directed by Steve Scott in this very intimate space, I found this production to be far less fancy than the recent production at Steppenwolf- redtwist is a storefront with no real stage- the action takes place in the center of the room with the audience members lining the walls of the “house”, talk about being a “fly on the wall” and while this is a down to earth production with very little in the way of fringes, the superb cast of players makes this a play that should be seen by anyone who is concerned about American race relations , past and present ( perhaps future as well).
The first act of this play,takes place in a home in a subdivision in Chicago ( very close to the Loop) called Clybourne Park, an all-white community. The year is 1959 and Russ ( the always reliable Brian Parry) and his wife, Bev ( another solid performance by Jan Ellen Graves) are getting ready to move from their home to the burbs. They have sold their house but as yet have not met the buyers . They have had a tragedy in this home and Russ is still having mental problems with what took place. They are informed by their neighbor Karl ( Pat Whalen) that the buyers are in fact, Black and that they should reconsider as the property values will go down and they will be harming all their “friends”.
Act Two is 50 years later- same house, same actors, but now they are playing different roles and the situation is different. Clybourne Park has been an African American community and it’s proximity to the business district is causing its “gentrification” as the “yuppie” whites want to buy the houses, gut and tear down so that they can have the city life that they want. What we still see is the racial differences that we felt in the first act, but now it is somewhat reversed. The Blacks do not want the Whites moving into their neighborhood, just as the Whites didn’t want 50 years prior, but the reasons are not the same. The African American community, due to the history of the development want it to remain a sit was, not rebuilt and as we witness the Black members of the homeowners association in a meeting with the buyers of this particular home as well as the realtor and the lawyer, we see that it is still “all bout discrimination”.
I will not take away some of the great twists and turns and the strong ending, but will tell you that this is a solid production where each member of the cast takes on two roles and does so with a flourish. They are different in all ways from the characters they play in the first act- each one does a masterful job:
In addition to Ms Graves ( who also plays Kathy in the second act),Mr. Parry ( who also plays Dan the construction worker) and Mr. Whalen, we also have the adorable Carley Mosley ( who plays two unique personalities, both pregnant, and a descendant of the other),Kelly Owens ( deftly handling Francine and Lena), Frank Pete and Michael Sherwin. Kaelan Strouse does the role of Kenneth who only appears in the second act- a beautiful moment on any stage.
What makes the theatrical experience just that , an experience is the overall production an dall the tech parts that make the whole:
Tamar Daskin ( lighting),Jeff Shiels ( props),Christopher Kriz ( sound and original music), Olivia Leah Baker ( costumes) and set (Ross G. Hoppe, who built a stairway on the set for ths show). Under Steve Scott’s skilfull direction this story becomes very real to the audience and will, if nothing else, make you think about what is happening and has happened in our country when it comes to race relations and integration.
This sterling production will continue at redtwist located at 1044 West Bryn Mawr ( just west of Sheridan Road) through November 10th with performances as follows:
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 7:30 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
Tickets range from $25-$30 depending on performance with a $5 discount for students and seniors. This is open seating and it is, as I said, an intimate space, so please call and reserve your tickets as soon as possible- you do not want to miss this one.
call 773-728-7529 or visit www.redtwist.org
There is street parking in the area, some metered, some not and of course the Red Line station ( Bryn Mawr) is just a block from the theater. Bryn Mawr also has some dining spots where valet parking is available for about $10
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Clybourne Park”