Monday, March 3, 2014

Preview: Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris

Ensemble Theatre, Sydney, directed by Tanya Goldberg.
Season:     Wednesday March 19 – Saturday April 19 (Previews from March 13)
Bookings:     Box Office 02 9929 0644; Online www.ensemble.com.au


by Frank McKone

Perhaps the most famous American play about black-white relations is All God’s Chillun Got Wings, by Eugene O’Neill, first performed in May 1924.  Its first reviewer, Arthur Pollock in the Brooklyn Daily News, thought it was too didactic, and worse – in hindsight from 90 years later – the lead player, Paul Robeson, “was a sad disappointment”.  How things change!

In Clybourne Park Bruce Norris shows that although the issues may not have changed, even by 2010, the approach to dramatising a story of the acceptance of African Americans into a previously white conclave need no longer be didactic.  Reviews describe the play as “Indisputably, uproariously funny”, “A savagely funny and insightful time bomb” and “Ferociously smart...sharp-witted, sharp-toothed comedy” (Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood Reporter and New York Times.)

What’s more, though O’Neill was awarded the Pulitzer Prize three times between 1920 and 1928, but not for his race relations play, Norris’s “wickedly funny, fiercely provocative play about race, real estate and the volatile values of each” and in which “we watch supposedly civilised people behave like territorial savages” has won not only the 2010 Evening Standard Award after its UK premiere at the Royal Court Theatre in London, but also the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play, and the 2011 Olivier Award for Best New Play.

I disagree with Arthur Pollock about All God’s Chillun, which I think is a powerful psychological drama resulting from the 1924 attitudes against mixed marriage and upward social mobility (even if his description of Robeson as “an earnest, hard-working amateur and nothing more, apparently” was accurate), and I especially look forward to writing a compare and contrast for Clybourne Park.

It’s unfortunate, though, that I am unable get to the Ensemble until the very last night of the season.  So either you wait for a post-production review, or you go along to see for yourself.


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