Life isn’t so sunny after Raisin

 Race relations
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  October 11, 2013

theater_clybourne_main
TRYING TO GET IN Flipping the script in Clybourne Park. 

Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun remains a watershed work of drama. Its story, of a black working-class family’s attempt to move into the white Chicago neighborhood of Clybourne Park, was written by a black woman, and it treats not just an African-American family’s dream to join the middle-class, but also complexities of racial identity and women’s roles. Film versions have starred Sidney Poitier and P. Diddy, a Broadway revival this spring will feature Denzel Washington, and a few years back, Hansberry’s classic also inspired a new theatrical riffing: Bruce Norris’s 2010 Clybourne Park, which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize, and which is on stage now at Good Theater, under the direction of Brian P. Allen.

The two acts of Norris’s script span 50 years in the same house bought by the family in Raisin. Act One is set in 1959, just as the current owners of the home, Bev (Amy Roche) and Russ (Stephen Underwood), a white middle-aged couple who have suffered a tragedy, are moving out. As they sit among their boxes, neighbors show up: Neighborhood-association representative Karl (Mark Rubin), wants to keep the new owners out of the neighborhood, while young pastor Jim (Lucas O’Neil) wants Russ to emote. Meanwhile, black maid Francine (Noelle LuSane) just wants to end her day and drive away with her husband Albert (Bari Robinson). But before this day ends, varieties of strife will ensue in Bev and Russ’s emptied, beige-on-beige living room.

Bev and Russ begin the act with banter that feels a little sitcom-y, but the dynamics between characters grow more interestingly nuanced. LuSane is superb as she walks Francine’s line between carefully cordial professionalism and her own watchful intelligence and judgments. O’Neil tempers Jim’s smiley meddling with true concern, while Rubin, handling the jackassiest of the character work in both acts, deftly raises Karl’s awkward pomposity into full-blown virulence. In Roche’s hands, Bev’s sincerity cuts sympathetically through her attempts to keep up appearances, while Underwood does a fine job of containing his anger in tight-lipped “Yup”s, before exploding. And in the later moments of the act, in the aftermath of myriad shit hitting the fan, Underwood has never been more understated or affecting.

Act Two flips forward to 2009 in the same house, now marred with water damage and graffiti (the set design transforms the place impressively). Tensions are latent as the new owners of the home, Steve (Rubin) and his wife Lindsey (Sally Wood) want into the neighborhood on their own terms, and they sit down with Kathy (Roche), Tom (O’Neil), and Lena (LaSane) and her husband Kevin (Robinson), from the neighborhood association, to hash it out. In some senses, the tables are turned from Act One, and housing codes, racism, and gentrification become topics of heated, often juvenile arguments. In Wood’s hands, Lindsey, who’s given some damnably self-righteous and politically correct lines, isn’t held up to ridicule; she comes across as a woman genuinely trying to do right, even if she overlooks her own privilege and selfishness. On the other hand, as Steve — a 13-year-old man in shorts and a baseball cap and the purest object of contempt in the show — Rubin pulls out the stops to make him a grade-A caricatured jerk.

1  |  2  |   next >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY MEGAN GRUMBLING
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   THE DREAM LIVES ON  |  July 31, 2014
    The Deertrees experience is not just theater shows, and not just its program of concerts. Deertrees is also a certain ethos of small-town summertime in Maine.
  •   STEEL POPPIES  |  July 18, 2014
    Linda Sturdivant directs a spirited and attractively appointed production of the musical The Full Monty , the Americanized version of the 1997 British film, at the historic City Theater, in Biddeford.
  •   THE MOST BRUTAL SPORT  |  July 11, 2014
    Ballet is not for pussies.
  •   DISTILLED PORTRAIT  |  July 10, 2014
    The greatest love of the show’s title—for both Chamberlain and its audience—remains the war itself.
  •   MAKE/BELIEVE  |  June 25, 2014
    Portland is already in the thick of the PortFringe 2014, the city’s third annual festival of eclectic, wide-ranging theater from here and afar. This year’s festival of 50 shows runs June 24-29 at six venues — Empire, Geno’s, Mayo Street Arts, SPACE Gallery, and the Portland Stage Studio Theater and Storefront — and includes a first-ever Family Fringe program.

 See all articles by: MEGAN GRUMBLING