Clybourne Park at Yellow Tree Theatre

Clybourne Park

Dan Hopman, Laura Esping, Ricardo Beird and Joetta Wright in Clybourne Park. Photo by Jessica Peterson.

Ever dream of listening to voices that spoke through the years in one of the stately houses in our inner-city neighborhoods? Yellow Tree’s production of the Pulitzer Prize winning Clybourne Park (at Yellow Tree Theatre, in Osseo, playing through March 6) by Bruce Norris fulfills this desire. The “if these walls could talk” comic drama unfolds in two time periods, 1959 and 2009. And what stimulating talk it is, as Norris’ dialogue moves from gentle puppy humor, through warm sentiment and on to biting sarcasm. The cast, excellently directed by Craig Johnson, plays every word perfectly.

On preview night, the first ten minutes of the show seemed slow as director Johnson sets the notion that all is well in this 50’s household with “Bev” in her shirtwaist dress flitting about and her husband “Russ” lounging in his pajama top, eating ice cream from the carton. Once that notion is wound up the play ticks along. All is not well. Their son, returned from the Korean war, could not handle his post-war stress and they feel they must move because the whole neighborhood knows their troubles. This sparks the narrative of white flight, allowing black development of the area.

The second act is situated in contemporary times with the re-gentrification, i.e. white ownership, well underway in the Clybourne Park neighborhood. This sounds heavy but there are so many ah-hah moments that the audience is kept laughing through out.

All the performances of this able cast are worth noting. What follows are just a few: Joetta Wright, with her tight smile in the first act as the Black maid and her freer expression but increasing frustration in the second; Patrick Coyle, as the father in the first act, especially when he plays the beat as he realizes that their minister has come to visit not as a courtesy, but as counselor. Laura Esping as housewife/lawyer has great comic timing with her lines. Her simple gesture of placing a tissue in her purse and revealing years of resignation in her voice at the end act one is a fine moment.

The set by Eli Schlatter avoids the obvious 50’s clichés often found in set designs for that era. The same is true of the costumes by Carolann Winther. Especially worth noting are the very different maternity outfits worn by talented Ashley Rose Montondo, who as “Betsy” in the first act, wears stomach hiding, tent-like maternity clothes and as “Lindsey” in act two, wears a belly-hugging baby-bump top demonstrating how much some things have changed since the 1950’s. The contrast in our attitudes towards feminism, gay rights, and disabilities points up the entrenched, and often tragic, racial divide we still find our nation stuck in today.

Norris’ script piggybacks on Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 award winning A Raisin in the Sun, a play that features a black family preparing to move into a home in the fictional Clybourne Park’s all-white neighborhood. The award-winning A Raisin in the Sun is a great play in its own right but you don’t need familiarity with Hansberry’s play to enjoy Clybourne Park.

It’s no secret that some of our finest theatre takes place in the smaller venues of the Metro area. YTT’s production of Clybourne Park is a gem. The approximately 150-seat theatre has some huge advantages over the big-as-a-barn stages and this play is a perfect match for the space.

You may be interested to read HWTS’s review of the Guthrie production of Clybourne Park, here.

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