Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Hillbarn stages prize-winning study of racism, "Clybourne Park"


Featured in Act 2 are (from left) Mary Lou Torre, Steve Allhoff, Caitlin Gjerdrum, Ron Chapman and Anju Hyppolite. (Photo by Mark and Tracy Photography)

Racism permeates both acts of “Clybourne Park” by Bruce Norris, presented by Hillbarn Theatre.

In both acts, the sale of a home in the fictional Clybourne Park neighborhood of Chicago is at issue.

Set in 1959, the first act is regarded as a successor to Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” which ends with a Black family’s decision to move into a white neighborhood.

In “Clybourne Park,” the home is owned by a white couple, Russ (Ron Dritz) and Bev (Mary Lou Torre). They don’t know that they have sold it to a Black family until a friend, Karl (Scott Reardon), joined by his deaf wife, Betsy (Caitlin Gjerdrum), tells them.

Karl tries to dissuade them, hinting around at first, then becoming more direct. He’s backed by another friend, Jim (Steve Allhoff), a minister.

Most of this is silently witnessed by the couple’s maid, Francine (Anju Hyppolite), and her husband, Albert (Ron Chapman).

Still mourning the tragic death of his and Bev’s son, a Korean War vet, Russ is undeterred in his determination to sell the house and impolitely tells the visitors to leave.

Act 2 takes place 50 years later in 2009. By then the house is a fixer-upper in what has become a Black neighborhood.

A white couple, Steve (Reardon) and Lindsey (Gjerdrum), want to tear it down and build a much larger one. These plans are opposed by a neighborhood group led by Lena (Hyppolite) and Kevin (Chapman). They say the big new house would alter the neighborhood’s charm. In essence, they fear gentrification.

The two sides, each represented by an attorney (Torre and Allhoff), meet at the house to try to resolve their differences. A contractor (Dritz) occasionally barges in.

Although laced with humor, Act 1 contains some crude language, but Act 2 goes further with tasteless, offensive jokes. Hence, this play is recommended for mature audiences only.

Directed by Phaedra Tillery-Boughton, the seven actors do an outstanding job of creating characters with distinctive ways of speaking, acting and reacting that can be natural, likable or annoying, depending on the circumstances.

Eric Olson’s set makes a more modest transition between the two acts than the transition seen in other local productions, which depicted the house totally trashed in Act 2.

The theater lobby has some small posters with l959 prices such as 25 cents a gallon for gas and $3,000 for a Pontiac.

Lighting by Ed Hunter and sound by Jules Indelicato are both effective. Costumes by consultant Pam Lampkin and wig and hair styles by Jenny Maupin accurately depict the changes over five decades.

Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2012 Tony Best Play Award, this thought-provoking play shows that despite changes in outward appearances, racism and class differences are still with us.

Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, “Clybourne Park” will continue through Oct. 30 at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City.

For tickets and information, call (650) 349-6411 or visit www.hillbarntheatre.org.