Best Play That’s Actually a Non-Boring, Non-Didactic Discussion of Race and Gentrification

Clybourne Park
Woolly Mammoth, 641 D Street NW
Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park had barely finished its world premiere run at Playwrights Horizons in New York City when Woolly Mammoth opened its hit homegrown staging last March. A Royal Court production that opened in August has transferred to London’s West End, and subsequent productions have been staged or are planned in at least a dozen cities in the U.S. and Canada. As people of means continue to move back into cities, Norris’ gentrification dramedy—a companion piece set in the same fictional Chicago ’hood as Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 classic A Raisin in the Sun—feels timely everywhere it goes. “You could feel that resonance with the community, a lot of days, in the theater,” says Woolly honcho Howard Shalwitz, who directed the production. When he asked the cast to return for Woolly’s July 21–Aug. 14 revival, everyone said yes. The first act, set in 1959, observes the fallout when a white family decides to sell its home to an African-American family, breaking the neighborhood’s race barrier. Act Two jumps to 2009, when an expectant white couple wants to move into that same house, with expansion blueprints that don’t sit well with an African-American couple representing the neighborhood association. “I wanted to make sure the second act didn’t feel, by comparison, like a brittle, easy satire,” says Shalwitz, putting his finger on the very thing that makes the piece so remarkable. Like Norris’ previous play at Woolly, 2007’s The Unmentionables, the show brings a hilarious and refreshing candor to its discussion of race, resisting any liberal urge to depict anyone as too noble. “As director or as actors, you can’t editorialize on top of the text,” Shalwitz says. “Because then you end up simplifying it.”
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