Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
A.C.T. is currently hosting the West Coast Premiere of CLYBOURNE PARK by Bruce Norris.
Directed by Jonathan Moscone, this play unfurls longitudinally through time, stretching from the post Korean War Era i.e. 1959 to the post Housing Bubble Era i.e. 2009.
At its surface, the play seems to be symmetrically constructed: in 1959 whites were trying to protect their property values in a fictional setting known as Clybourne Park, Chicago, by keeping African Americans out; in 2009 African Americans are trying to protect their neighborhood from white gentrification by placing restrictions on what up-grades could be made on the battered, existing homes.
The same clutch of houses is caught in a tug-of-war between whites and blacks and the same tap dances are performed while trying to rationalize what is going down.
While the struggle has been nearly reduced to tedium, a brilliant script by Norris, livens up the debate with banter as picante as Cajun cooking.
The usual antebellum race cards—which trump all the namby-pamby, transparent, defensive, hollow white rhetoric and platitudes—are played, but the exchanges have a crispness to them that is largely attributable to the stunning performance of Omoze Idehenre.
Ethnic jokes targeting whites, seemingly unrepresented in the real world, are launched in a retributive fusillade by Lena (Idehenre's character).
The audience may find themselves self-reflectively cringing in parts but the net effect is a humor rooted in self-awareness rather than denial.
This is a provoking play that entertains as well as it informs.
For a stimulating evening call the box office at 415-749-2228 or surf over to www.act-sf.org.