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Clybourne Park

a Drama
by Bruce Norris

COMPANY : Act 3 Productions [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Act 3 Playhouse [WEBSITE]
ID# 5138

SHOWING : September 15, 2017 - September 30, 2017



Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize and the 2012 Tony Award, "Clybourne Park" explodes in two outrageous acts set fifty years apart. Act One takes place in 1959, as nervous community leaders anxiously try to stop the sale of a home to a black family. Act Two is set in the same house in the present day, as the now predominantly African-American neighborhood battles to hold its ground in the face of gentrification.

Director Liane Lemaster
Jim/Tom William Brooks
Kenneth (Sept. 28-30) Blake Buhler
Bev/Kathy Mary Gagliardi
Albert/Kevin Nat Martin
Russ/Dan Joel Rose
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Slipping Out of Park into Drive
by playgoer
Monday, October 2, 2017
Let’s start with the set. Will Brooks’ design takes up the full width of the Act3 stage, with a basement door far right, a kitchen door left, a staircase with landing up right, and an outside door up left center, flanked by two windows. All we see through the windows is blue fabric, with a little foliage visible when the door is open. The walls are painted a mottled green and gold, with reddish trim and doors that seem intended to match the cherry telephone table on the set in the first act. It’s not a very good match. Even with faux wood grain painting that looks very authentic in shape, the entire look is very artificial in terms of color. The painted floor with parallel black lines leading to the lip of the stage also seems a bit "off," since there are no perpendicular lines to mimic floorboards of typical lengths.

In the first act, the room is set up with paintings and furnishings that might be at home in 1959, with boxes and a rolled-up rug against a couple of the walls, suggesting that a move is in progress. For the second act, 50 years later, the paintings, rug, boxes, and most of the furniture are removed, revealing graffiti painted on the walls and a section of missing drywall. The kitchen door is also replaced with hanging plastic, and the basement door is covered with plywood. In concept, this is a fine set for the requirements of the script. If only that reddish trim were more lifelike, this would be a thoroughly acceptable set.

Bradley Rudy’s lighting design, Meghan B. Zern’s sound design, and Julianne Whitehead’s costumes do their jobs, and Julian Verner’s props impress. Director Liane LeMaster adds nice business with props at the start of the show, with Russ (Joel W. Rose) entering with a very lifelike 1959 carton of ice cream and searching to find a spoon through silverware prepped for the household’s imminent displacement.

The first act essentially belongs to Mr. Rose. While others fill their roles with energy and/or clarity, Mr. Rose adds levels and nuances to his performance that really flesh out the character of Russ. He’s dismissive with his wife, brightens when talking about things that really interest him, and builds slowly to an explosion that powers the dramatics of the act. It’s a marvelous performance, marred only at the show I saw by him calling one character by the actor’s act two name.

Act two puts Mr. Rose into a minor role. This act belongs to Dionna D. Davis, as Lena, and Madelayne Shammas, as Lindsey. Ms. Davis transitions from an overly polite and accommodating black neighbor to a force to be reckoned with. Ms. Shammas garners laughs throughout with just the tiniest changes of expression or bits of business. Mary Gagliardi does perhaps the best job of differentiating her characters in the two acts (although her first act character doesn’t quite feel natural), and all others in dual roles do well enough while playing essentially the same characters in the two acts.

The final scene introduces an actor who here is not double cast. At the performance I saw, Blake Buhler played Kenneth, a troubled Korean War veteran. This scene should be the emotional conclusion of the play, but it falls completely flat in this staging, in strong contrast to Raleigh Wade’s powerful turn in the role of Kenneth in the recent production of "Clybourne Park" at Lionheart Theatre.

Liane LeMaster does a good job of blocking the show and getting the emotional dynamics right (other than in the last scene). One other directorial misstep is having a stagehand curl up in a hoodie on a loveseat at the start of the second act after she has rearranged the stage. She is dismissed in dim light at the start of the second act, as characters enter to take their positions onstage. This isn’t a bad concept, since the room certainly has the look of a place vandals and squatters have frequented, but the director hasn’t committed to it. Either have the squatter dismissed as part of the action of the scene, or have her complete an intermission dumb show and exit before lights go down.

Act3’s production certainly gets the points of "Clybourne Park" across, and in an entertaining way. This may not be my favorite play, but there’s a freshness in Ms. LeMaster’s approach that makes it engaging, particularly in light of Joel Rose’s standout performance as Russ. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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