Clybourne Park at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles Review - Antic Nihilism

The Mark Taper Forum kicks off 2012 with a sparkling production of the Pulitzer Prize winning play, Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris featuring the original New York cast reunited for the Los Angeles premiere.  The quality of the writing and the acting carry you effortlessly from start to finish.  Bruce Norris' script is razor sharp and air tight, with not one extraneous word or indulgent moment of writing. The actors have the dangerous task of playing characters wearing imperfect masks, which we must see as flawed personae and not poor acting, which they played brilliantly.  And Pam MacKinnon's direction had precisely the same degree of stylization and theatricality to match the play that the whole is a gestalt of great entertainment.  Nevertheless, this is a play I would only go to see once, and while I think everyone who goes will enjoy it, I would not buy a ticket for a second round.  This goes to the core of what the play says, its "take-away message" to quote someone I spoke with afterward, which is that nothing has changed and we can't talk about race, or even each other. In the words of the character Russ, "What's the point?"

My issue with this nihilistic idea at the core of a play is that writing a play is a monumental effort.  You could not write one believing that there is no point.  We laugh at Russ for his obstinate return to this idea until we understand the pain that brought him to believe it, and then we are uncomfortable wanting him to get beyond it. Bruce Norris masterfully exposes our discomfort with other people's grand sufferings, a middle-class "make nice."  Yet, a writer who believes that there is no point in our efforts to communicate wouldn't waste effort writing, since writing's only purpose is communicating.  Writing there is no possibility of communication is a lie.  Or at least a cop out.  There may be truth on the page, but not the whole truth the writer is able to give us. In Clybourne Park, I do not ask for a happy Hollywood ending, nor do I expect to be given a philosophy.  I would hope to see through the heart of the writer, Bruce Norris, to the true unfolding of his or her vision. We share stories to see the world that is more clearly - which this play does flawlessly - but also to make meaning of our lives so that we can move though the world that is with more grace - and here I felt let down.  There were luminous moments such as the look on Betsy's face (Annie Parisse) as Karl (Jeremy Shamos) and Russ (Frank Wood) rage at each other. That whole scene alone is worth the price of a ticket and a trip to the theater. Nevertheless, I wouldn't go back to see it again, much as I enjoyed it.  What's the point?

Clybourne Park
The Mark Taper Forum
January 11-February 26, 2012
written by Bruce Norris
directed by Pam MacKinnon
cast (in alphabetical order)
Crystal A. Dickinson
Brendan Griffin
Damon Gupton
Christina Kirk
Annie Parisse
Jeremy Shamos
Frank Wood

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