Theater Review

Fine pairing explores race, gender and class over generations

CorrespondentFebruary 4, 2013 

  • More information What: “Raisin in the Sun” and “Clybourne Park,” presented by PlayMakers Repertory Company Where: Paul Green Theatre, UNC-CH When: “Raisin” - 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5-9, 13, 15-16, 19, 27; 2 p.m. Feb. 9, 17, 23 and Mar. 2 “Clybourne” – 7:30 p.m., Feb. 12, 14, 20-23, 26, 28 and Mar. 1-2; 2 p.m. Feb. 10, 16, 24 and Mar. 3 Tickets: $15-$40 Contact: 919-962-7529; playmakersrep.org

For its annual doubleheader, PlayMakers Repertory Company pairs interrelated hits written 50 years apart. Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 “A Raisin in the Sun” has characters and situations that Bruce Norris uses as a springboard for his 2010 “Clybourne Park.” Both take on issues of race, gender and class. These productions offer talented casts and dynamic directors who bring out universal truths with pathos and humor.

“Raisin” follows the struggles of an African-American family in Chicago’s south side. Walter (Mikaal Sulaiman), a chauffeur, and wife Ruth (Dee Dee Batteast), who takes in laundry, share a small apartment with their son Travis (Victor Waddell), Walter’s younger sister Beneatha (Miriam A. Hyman) and Walter’s mother Lena (Kathryn Hunter-Williams). A $10,000 insurance check for Lena stirs up a rift because Walter wants to start a business. But Lena opts for a down payment on an inexpensive home in all-white Clybourne Park. A representative of that neighborhood tries to buy back the house, causing further family tensions.

Director Raelle Myrick-Hodges keeps the pace tight, emphasizing comedic elements but never slighting the gripping emotional content. Voice-overs of Hansberry being interviewed add a jarring note between scenes but don’t diminish this classic’s power.

“Clybourne Park” begins in 1959 in the house being sold to Lena. Russ (Jay O’Berski) and his wife, Bev (Constance Macy), decide to sell because their neighbors disdained their troubled son, who later committed suicide. When the Clybourne Park representative announces the plan to buy out Lena, it merely spurs on the grieving couple’s decision to leave the close-minded neighborhood.

In the second act, 50 years later, a white couple (Matt Garner and Kelsey Didion) attend a meeting about purchasing the house in the now all-black neighborhood. Their attempts to politely deflect the concerns of a resident black couple (Rasool Jahan and Nilan Johnson) soon devolve into bickering and name-calling, revealing deep-rooted prejudices.

Playwright Norris cleverly couches ugly truths in hysterically funny characters, pulling the audience in before driving home his points. Director Tracy Young masterfully controls the satire and doesn’t shrink from the raw punches (their strong language and sexual references may be too much for some viewers).

Kudos to Playmakers for this fine pairing, especially as it is the first company in the U.S. to schedule them in rotating repertory.

Dicks: music_theater@lycos.com

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