Edelman: Make Tracks to Clybourne Park at The Unicorn

inquisition-1Smart, funny, thought-provoking— you can’t spend a better night (or matinee) in Midtown than at that mythic neighborhood known as CLYBOURNE PARK (now thru December  29 at the Unicorn, 3820 Main)…

The Unicorn Theatre does itself proud with its first class production of this wonderful play about race and real estate. Leave the egg nog and tinsel to A CHRISTMAS CAROL or NUTCRACKER. If you want meat and potatoes on your entertainment plate, this is the feast for you.

Bruce Norris‘s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning Best Play starts with a  nifty conceit. In Act One, it’s 1959. We meet the white folks who’ve sold their house to the “colored” family in Lorraine Hansberry‘s classic play (and later the movie starring Sidney Poitier) A RAISIN IN THE SUN. The family has a secret, but the nosy neighbors don’t care– these folks are too afraid of what’s going to happen to Clybourne Park when “their kind” move in.

Jump 50 years to Act Two. It’s 2009 and guess who’s coming to dinner?

Clybourne Park is a trendy upper income enclave just minutes from Downtown (probably with its own Whole Foods), and now it’s the white folks who want in– in their case to build a McMansion in the historic neighborhood. All of the actors in Act One return in Two to play new characters, some of them tied to the old ones. Norris is out to show us that things haven’t changed all that much in 50 years– and this is a very smart way to do it.

j and m in windowThe marvelous moral middle of these proceedings is occupied most nobly by David Fritts, who plays homeowner Russ in Act One. As he tries to hold his temper in the face of Brian Paulette‘s racist hectoring, Fritts delivers one of the strongest, most adroitly layered Unicorn performances in recent memory. Norris did a great job writing this piece– but Fritts makes it come alive.

Jessalyn Kincaid has two fine turns, first as Karl Lindner’s long suffering wife Betsy and later as the real estate agent you just know Betsy would have been in the next life. Jennifer Mays joins Brian Paulette as the intruding couple in both acts. It’s their juxtaposition in the proceedings that makes CLYBOURNE such a roller coaster ride. Paulette does a marvelous job, particularly in Act Two, when his efforts to be the nice guy wear everybody down to their nerve endings.

Mykel HIll and Janae Mitchell play the put-upon black couple– the maid and her helpful husband in Act One, the neighbors trying to maintain Clybourne Park’s height and set back restrictions in Act Two. They bring a measure of dignity to the storytelling that anchors the antics of the rest of the group. Michael Pauley has a nice turn as the gay community activist in Act Two.

Of course, you need someone to pick a terrific cast like this and guide them through a very well-written play. Director Joseph Price obviously knows his stuff, which is on ample display on the Unicorn’s Mainstage.

interruptionCreative and tech credits are all first rate, which is the more impressive because most of this team matriculates at UMKC, whose Theater Department co-produced with the Unicorn. Brett Engle‘s sets look just right; Devorah Kengmana and Adam Raine light the proceedings effectively. Nihan Yesil and Jonathan Robertson provide an aural setting worthy of this fine production. And Marc Vital‘s costumes and Matt Mott‘s props score equally high marks.

Our big budget theater company KC Rep could take a page from the Unicorn and this terrific production. I’m glad they finally stopped using their old tag line, because–unlike the Unicorn– there’s nothing fearless about some of the stuff the Rep has been producing lately (haven’t I seen THE FOREIGNER at the Heartland and New Theatre Restaurant a few times — and didn’t CAROUSEL work better the first time, down at the Living Room?)

No, Eric Rosen and company should check out what the Unicorn has wrought with probably 1/5 the budget. This is great theater, brilliantly acted and well produced. Holidays or not, that’s the gift you hope to get when you buy a theater ticket. It’s the season of giving at 38th and Main and CLYBOURNE PARK.

This entry was posted in Mark Edelman. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Edelman: Make Tracks to Clybourne Park at The Unicorn

  1. chuck says:

    Sounds really good. The “noble’ and “dignified” black folks, who stay together as a family, raise the kids and are a credit to their community, are set upon by racist white predators who want to destroy the neighborhood.

    The time line sounds spot on. 1959, the nation’s agenda turns irretrievably towards the “The Struggle” (We have come a long way, but have a long way to go.) and untold trillions and trillions are spent to “Level The Playing Field” (Which we can, at this point, safely assume is on the North Side of K2.). All for naught, we as a nation failed to cut enough checks to counter the evil that is white racism.

    Black racism, thankfully, is as hard to find as a black criminal on a TV crime drama. Whew!!

    This play is right out of the “Playbook” and I can’t wait to see it!

    Come on!!! “Meat and potatoes”???? This is the ethnomasochistic gruel we deserve in the anarcho gulag!! Yum, Yum!!

    • Stomper says:

      With all due respect here, Chuck, you’re sounding like a one trick pony. Can’t you save your reverse racist rants for the the offerings by Wilson or Sutherland. Mark isn’t bringing politics to the table here, why do you feel the need to?

      • chuck says:

        With all due respect Stomper, the rant, is in fact, the play. To blithley ignore the politics of the play while pillorying me for acknowledging the agenda of same, would seem to exculpate my pony by proxy.

        The American public has been racially waterboarded with white guilt movies and now a white guilt play. Any negative reference to these endeavors will in no way, by virtue of the subject, be considered criticism or sarcasm, that chutzpah is RACISM and that commentary a “racist rant”.

        Perhaps our liberal leaders, covered in a beaujolis like skin, will countanance no challenge to authority and I stand guilty of crime think and crime commentary?

        Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa.

  2. Orphan of the Road says:

    Kinda worn out ground to base a play on.

    Maybe make the locale the Poconos where the haves buy their vacation lots, the swells from NYC take the 3-hr train ride to work, look at the natives who can no longer afford to buy a house or live in the area they have called home forever.

    Or the beautiful people on Long Island who resent the Shinnecock for having the audacity to have lived in The Hamptons forever. And to have the nerve to place a junk car on blocks to annoy the hoity-toity folk.

    I might go see that one.

  3. Mark says:

    Stop the screed. See the play. Norris doesn’t play politics here — he just sets up the combatants and let’s the shit fly. And did I mention it’s very funny shit, too?

  4. admin says:

    Since this was written in like 1959 (?), I’m not sure it constitutes worn out ground.

    It’s being revisited here and I trust Mark Edelman’s keen ability to recognize something that is well written, well acted and well staged.

    Understandably some people are more sensitive than others to topics such as this, but that’s what makes the world go round. To some people watching Fox New “news” is like fingernails on a chalk board.

    It is what it is, is my take.

    • Orphan of the Road says:

      Updating classic anything is risky and mostly unrewarding for the audience. Trying to use the black experience of 1959 is insulting.

      The white man telling the colored races story is trite and demeans the real suffering they experienced.

      Maybe it is knowing The Secret Life of Walter Mitty will hence forth be known as a Ben Stiller Action Movie.

  5. Mark says:

    The play won the Pulitzer in 2011! It was written in the last 3 years. It’s ABOUT a neighborhood in 1959 and how things changed (or just got rearranged) in 2009. Sorry if that wasn’t clear in the notice.

    • Paul says:

      Thanks for the review Mark. My wife and I moved to KC two years ago and hadn’t heard of the Unicorn. After reading your review we purchased tickets for next Tuesday night.

  6. admin says:

    I’m still with Mark on this; if you enjoy live theater and want to see something that is of the calibre Mark describes it, go check it out.

    Then go home and kick the dog or whatever

  7. Stomper says:

    Mark; You are well respected in your area of expertise and Hearne ( and the KCC readers) are very fortunate to have your opinions posted here. Not real sure why you typically don’t have a lot of comments on your work; maybe it’s because we are a confrontational cadre and you generally operate in a friendly, arts driven milieu. Not the case today. I went back in the archives and it looks like your record is 14. Maybe we can set a new standard for you.

    Anyway, thanks for standing tall in the face of some heavy verbal abuse.

    • Orphan of the Road says:

      I normally don’t comment on his work because of his standing. But this play, regardless of the delivery or awards or stars, says nothing new.

      If I was seen shooting the messenger, mea culpa.

      In a field where you are striving to say the grass is green without saying the grass is green, you go ahead and say the grass is green anyway.

      Will offer that the most culture the commentators get is when they eat yogurt or french onion dip.

  8. Jimmy Cliff says:

    Chuck is right. This is more stuff to convince us that we are bad and should feel badley.

    I am that it goes to far.

  9. admin says:

    I dunno…

    Seems to me Mark is just saying this is a kickass, entertaining, funny production.

    The review made me want to see it…white guilt or whatever aside.

    And the Stomper is right, people don’t typically go after movie and theater reviews in the comments section.

  10. Steph says:

    Correction: Jen Mays plays Bev (Russ’s wife) and Kathy; Jessalyn Kincaid plays Betsy (Karl Lindner’s wife) and Lindsey.

  11. Mark says:

    Oops. Sorry and thanks for pointing that out. All did a great job.

Comments are closed.