‘Clybourne Park’ and ‘The Mountaintop’
by Donalevan Maines
A fella bites off a chunk when he decides to write what is essentially a bookend to a classic. However, playwright Bruce Norris, borrowing a plot line from Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, succeeded beyond all expectations with Clybourne Park, which is playing this month at the Alley Theatre. It won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and practically every other award besides the Heisman Trophy.
Act One is set in 1969 as empty-nesters Russ and Bev are selling their lovely two-bedroom house on the whites-only Clybourne Street in Chicago. The Community Association is aghast when its members find out that the buyers are “colored,” and they try to stop the sale.
In Act Two, set fifty years later, the same actors portray different characters, the same property—now shabby and unkempt—is being bought by a young white couple who plan to raze the house and start again. Their plan is met with an equal amount of disapproval by the black residents of the soon-to-be-gentrified neighborhood.
In 1959, A Raisin in the Sun became the first play produced on Broadway by a black woman. Sidney Poitier starred in the drama about the Younger family’s move from a dilapidated two-bedroom apartment on Chicago’s south side to an all-white neighborhood. Clybourne Park depicts the white couple who sold the Youngers their new home.
Clybourne Park is directed by James Black, and the cast features Jeffrey Bean, Elizabeth Bunch, Emily Neves, David Rainey, and Jay Sullivan, along with Alley veteran Philip Lehl and newcomer Libya V. Pugh.
What: Clybourne Park
When: Through Sunday, February 17
Where: Alley Theatre’s Neuhaus Stage, 615 Texas Avenue
Tickets: Start at $26
Info: Alleytheatre.org or 713/220-5700.
Meanwhile, Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop continues through February 3 on the Alley Theatre’s Hubbard Stage. Taking place on April 3, 1968, The Mountaintop re-imagines events the night before the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. After delivering one of his most memorable speeches, an exhausted Dr. King retires to his room at the Lorraine Motel. A provocative maid arrives to seduce the powerful 39-year-old leader. Their encounter depicts King, the man, as he confronts his fate.
The cast of The Mountaintop features Bowman Wright and Joaquina Kalukango. The director is Robert O’Hara.
Discussing the inspiration for her play, Hall says that “as an historical figure, King has been shrouded in so much myth that it’s intriguing to make him flesh and blood. It is not the ‘I have a dream’ King. It’s a King that is radical. King changed the world, but he was not a deity. He was a man, a human being like me and you. I wanted to depict not only Dr. King’s triumphs but also his struggles. He achieved such great things, but he is grounded in a very human existence.”
Donalevan Maines also writes about the Oscars in this issue of OutSmart magazine.