Clybourne Park Review - Powerful, Insightful and Thought Provoking

Bruce NorrisClybourne Park opens Steppenwolf’s 2011-12 season “Dispatches from the Homefront”, a season explores how everyday lives are touched by war.  The play, a 2011 Pulitzer Prize Winner for drama, comes “ home” to Steppenwolf following runs New York and London. The play is minimalist, encapsulating time and place.  Each character was convincingly and powerfully portrayed, the performances electric.

This is a Chicago play, in Chicago and about Chicago. It is directed by ensemble member Amy Morton, and features ensemble member James Vincent Meredith with Karen Aldridge, Cliff Chamberlain, Stephanie Childers, Kirsten Fitzgerald, John Judd and Brendan Marshall-Rashid.

Clybourne Park was written in response to Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun a play which was inspired by her family's legal battle against racially segregated housing laws in the Washington Park Subdivision, 3-city block by 8-city block subdivision in the northwest corner of the Woodlawn community area, on the South Side of Chicago. In fact after a prolonged legal battle, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Carl Hansberry (Lorraine’s father) In the Hansberry vs Lee decision that allowed the family to purchase a home on the South side, leading the way to the disbandment of restrictive covenants based on race.  The Hansberry house was declared a national landmark in February 2010.

The first of two acts, both set in a modest bungalow in Chicago’s fictitious Clybourne Park, begins in 1959, the year that Raisin in the Sun opened. Watching, I was transported back in time watching Russ and Bev as they prepared to move. Everything about this scene was, as my companion said, spot on”; language, clothing, the house, and the topics. I was mesmerized. As the story unfolds, it turns out that their realtor has sold the house to a black family, the first in the neighborhood. Mr. Lindner is a character from Raisin in the Sun who asks the family not to sell. I remember those times when neighborhoods were changing and how people reacted.  But this is story is far more complex, and while race is a strong part of it, there is a hidden issue, war.

The second act takes place in September 2009 in the same house, same neighborhood, which is now being gentrified. The house’s new owners are a young white couple who are expecting a baby. Their plans for demolition meet with disapproval of the black community that wants to preserve the community’s look. The young white couple’s knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time results in some hilarious moments.

Double casting in the second act, using the actors from the first act as well as characters with ties to the people in the first act provide continuity and heightened interest. There was balance in the juxtapositions of characters and plot in the two acts.  We experience the 50-year time change in topic and vocabulary and a description of the neighborhood grocery store.  There is talk of travel among both blacks and whites.  The cell phone eats up time.  There is a greater ethnic mix and sensibility regarding ethnic and racial issues.  These changes seem to show great progress toward racial understanding, but do they really?  The impact of war is strongly felt, even after 50 years.  This is a wonderful play, superbly performed, complex and thought provoking and should not be missed.

The production team for Clybourne Park includes: Todd Rosenthal (scenic design), Nan Cibula-Jenkins (costume design), Pat Collins (lighting design) and Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen (sound design).  Additional credits include: Erica Daniels (casting), Deb Styer (stage manager) and Michelle Medvin (assistant stage manager).

Regular Run: $20-$75, 20 for $20: Twenty $20 tickets are available at Audience Services beginning at 11 am on the day of each performance (1 pm for Sunday performances). 

Rush Tickets: Half-price rush tickets are available one hour before each show.  Student Discounts: $15 student tickets are available online using promo code: “PARK15.”(Limit 2 tickets. Must present a valid student ID for each ticket). For additional student discounts, visit  

1650 N. Halsted St., 312-335-1650, Online ticketing available at

Accessible Performances:

Open captioned performance:  Saturday, October 22 at 3 pm

terpreted performance: Sunday, October 16 at 7:30 pm

Audio-described performance plus touch tour: Sunday, October 30 at 1:30 pm (3 pm performance)

Free post-show discussions are offered after every performance.

Photos by Michael Brosilow 


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