Acclaimed Clybourne Park A Must See

Play a superb choice to cap Centaur’s 48th season

By Byron Toben

Thank you Ellen David, director of Clybourne Park, for urging Centaur’s Roy Surette to produce this multi-award winning play as he leaves the theatre to return to his native Vancouver after a successful ten-year run.

This play, by Chicagoan Bruce Norris, has won a dramatic trifecta by being awarded an Olivier, a Tony and a Pulitzer. It is inspired by Lorraine Hansberry’s classic, Raisin In The Sun, about black Americans moving into white neighbourhoods. A production of that play by the Black Theatre Workshop guested at the Centaur in 2010.

Mr. Norris, who has twelve plays to his credit, is a mainstay of Chicago’s famed Steppenwolf Theatre group, based in the North side near the corner of Clybourne and North. Ms. Hansberry’s play is inspired by her own family’s obstacles in the Southside Washington Park section of Woodlawn. I surmise that the title is based on the combination of the two names. Besides, some characters in Raisin also appear in Act One of Clybourne.

Clybourne Park

This play, by Chicagoan Bruce Norris, has won a dramatic trifecta by being awarded an Olivier, a Tony and a Pulitzer.

In addition to the need for housing in nicer neighbourhoods, white-black tensions were exacerbated in a number of cities, particularly Chicago, by greedy real estate investors and brokers in the reprehensible practices of ‘blockbusting’ and ‘redlining’. In the former, white profiteers went so far as to hire poor blacks to stage disturbances in transition areas so as to scare the lower middle class owners in selling to them, all cash, at cheap but quick prices and then resell to blacks at inflated prices. As few black families could afford the higher prices without a mortgage, which they could not get from institutions who had often secretly ‘redlined’ such areas, the r-sales were often sold on a contract basis from the seller, allowing easier reclaiming if payments became delinquent.

All the above further background detail is not discussed in either play, for valid theatrical reasons, which focuses on racial tensions, obvious or hidden, which are plentiful enough.

What a cast Ms. David, herself a fine actor, has assembled!

In Act One, set in 1959, Gruff Harry Standjofski is Russ, the husband of sometimes ditsy Bev (Lisa Bronwyn Moore) owners of a house in the fictional Clybourne Park area, who are packing to move to another location to be nearer his work upon the successful sale to an unknown buyer. Their polite black maid, Francine (Liana Montoro) aids in the background but is largely ignored as if she isn’t there as is her later arriving husband Albert (Kwasi Songui).

Clybourne Park

The plot thickens when neighbour Karl (Marcel Jennin) arrives with his deaf wife, Betsy (Eleanor Noble) to inform them that the unknown buyers are people of colour who may not fit into the neighbourhood and to offer a plan to rescind the sale. All of this being ‘practical’ even though they are ‘progressive’ people over all. Youthful local Pastor Jim (Matthew Gagnon) agrees.

Russ and Bev refuse to rescind. Much is also made of a mysterious trunk in the attic and the couple’s still mourning their son Kenneth’s death after returning from the Korean War, with post traumatic syndrome disorder.

Act Two – fast forwards 50 years to 2009, where the seven amazing talents above reappear, some as relatives or contacts of the characters above, in the same house. The neighbourhood is now mostly black, but being invaded by gentrifying whites who wish to tear down or substantially modify the buildings. Tensions again escalate. Some foul mouthed but funny expressions result in a ghostly finale with a long lost letter.

Don’t miss this Quebec premiere ! Great set, lighting and stage managing people further enhance the show.

In the Audience at its press opening were Maurice Podbrey and Elsa Bolam, who founded the Centaur in 1969. Mr Podbrey was its director until 1997.

Clybourne Park continues at the Centaur until April 30.
Information and tickets at 514 288-3161 or

Images: Andrée Lanthier

Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club.

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