“Clybourne Park” in New Orleans: lagniappe and highlights from Cripple Creek’s production

It’s hard to write a review, if for no other reason than 70% or more of what I think won’t ever make the page. In my previous “Clybourne Park” review, I haven’t even captured the true highlights of the performance. I tried to take on the work as a whole—Cripple Creek’s production, the play as a text, the context of the play and some of the larger discussions that will happen around it. But unless 5,000-word theater reviews become the vogue, it’s impossible to capture the full spectrum of feeling and thought that accompanies a thoughtful, well-acted, professional production.

NOTE: In my previous review, I didn’t spoil any plot points. This post, I will. Read ahead only if you have seen the play or believe that good art can’t be “spoiled.”

In his A.V. Club reviews, Todd VanDerWerff  has a section at the end called “Stray Observations.” Perfect, isn’t it? I would like to steal his feature, title and all, but I won’t. Until I come up with something more clever, we’ll simply follow custom:

Lagniappe:

-Let’s talk performances. There’s quite a bit to admire. Act I’s heart belongs to Russ, the heartbroken father who is selling the home.. The play opens with blue light on Russ, who is sitting in an easy chair in his pajamas, listening to the radio, a box of Neapolitan ice cream at his side. a flurry of scenes that match different personalities for quick, often biting transactions, the central question remains: what is wrong with Russ? He has lost interest in the Rotary, he sulks, and he wears his pajamas until late in the day. His temper flares at mere suggestions of his pain. His climax—a screaming rant that ends with his attempt to read his son’s suicide note aloud—brought tears to my eyes. Jackson Townsend turned in a stellar performance. I was truly moved.

-A quieter tragic figure is Karl, brought to life by Ian Hoch. As Karl talks about the child that he and his wife, Betsy (Emilie Whelan), lost last year—strangled by its own umbilical cord—he diminishes his own pain, calling it “nothing compared to what (Russ) went through.” Karl is arguably the least likable character, conventionally—as he most vociferously tries to hold on to his privilege, but Hoch humanized him into not just an everyman, but a genuine neighbor. Even if we condemn Karl’s attitudes, he is no villain.

-It seems strange to liken a set of tragic climaxes to an ice cream sundae, but Monica R. Harris’ moment to shine—as Francine loses her composure—was most definitely the cherry on top.  In her dramaturg’s note, Rachel Lee writes: “While the actions of the white characters are elaborately justified through backstory, Albert and Francine are left blank in the text. They are foils, canvases upon which the white characters project their anxieties about race.” I read the note before the play, and it made me a bit nervous. But Harris brought magic. The Francine I saw was no blank canvas—she was a woman biting her tongue. There is so much beyond the text, and Harris brought all forces to bear.

-Mary Pauley brought humor and generosity to Bev’s nervous energy, and she was utterly memorable as the gregarious Kathy in Act II. Martin Bradford was utterly believable and natural as both Albert and Kevin, two men who act so differently, largely based on how freely they can talk. Kevin acts as the catalyst for much of the racial dialogue in Act II—as in, his jovial, casual attitude allows Steve (Hoch) the opportunity to say his peace. His outburst at the end of Act II—when Steve insults Lena—was perfect. Emilie Whelan’s graceful performance of Betsy and Lindsey was realistic. In Act II, she was a particularly good audience surrogate—the well-intentioned, friendly one trying to avoid confrontation.

-The sets were truly incredible. We sat in the living room for Act I. Act II’s stripped-down, colorful set was a truly impressive feat for a 15-minute intermission. It also served well for the play’s coda: Kenneth (Dylan Hunter, who also played Jim and Tom) sits in full military dress, writing his suicide note. In many respects, Hunter plays three somewhat blank roles: Jim is the religious man there to comfort, Tom is the lawyer trying to settle issues and roll everyone through the paperwork, and Kenneth just sits, resigned to his fate. Each performance felt natural, but Hunter was unrecognizable as Kenneth. It was like seeing a ghost. Worse, as Kenneth stares into silence, I see the extension cord that has been running through the set since the beginning of Act II. I know he is about to hang himself.

And the lights go out. In just a couple of minutes, Hunter turned in one of the most haunting performances of the play.

GO SEE IT!

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