Penn State Centre Stage to present ‘Clybourne Park’ this month

UNIVERSITY PARK — Two sales of the same simple bungalow in “Clybourne Park” turns the Chicago neighborhood into a battleground on race relations.

After a preview one week from tonight, Penn State Centre Stage’s production of “Clybourne Park” opens with 7:30 p.m. performances on Nov. 9 and Nov. 12-5, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Nov. 11 at The Playhouse Theater.

The winner of both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2012 Tony Award for “Best Play,” Bruce Norris’s “Claybourne Park” is an uniquely structured play, with its acts loosely bookending Lorraine Hansberry’s acclaimed work “A Raisin In the Sun.”

A house in Northwest Chicago is the focal point in this razor sharp satire. In Act I the bungalow is first sold in 1959, and in Act II sold again, but now the year is 2009.

But with more than 50 years passing between sales, the race of both the sellers and buyers changes — as does the composition of the fictional Chicago neighborhood.

“Clybourne Park” opens in 1959 with a white, grieving couple are ready to move to the suburbs following the tragic death of their son. So eager to move, the couple sells their home at a knock-down price to a black couple, which triggers volatile emotions.

Act II finds the roles reversed 50 years later, when the black owners sell their home to a white couple, causing more debate and tension, since the neighborhood has now become predominately black.

This Penn State Centre Stage production is directed by Steve H. Broadnax III.

“For me, ‘Clybourne Park’ highlights the importance of community and how essential it is to our well being,” says Broadnax. “It is community that gives a sense of belonging. It is our survival.”

“However, there is a possible danger. A community that is safe, comfortable and trusting can be so inducing that individuals forget about the world of their own or regard other communities with prejudices.”

Although there is often yelling with characters talking over each other at the same time in the most dramatic scenes, playwright Norris displays a wicked sense of humor, especially in Act II. The parties resort to ethnic and sexist jokes as they confront each other without realizing they are unmasking their own racial bigotry.

When seen at the Open Stage of Harrisburg, a few years ago, “Clybourne Park” made an impact by tackling both relevant and topical issues — and so likely will this Penn State Centre Stage production.

“Clybourne Park” is a smart, cleverly crafted play that drives home a basic theme: “When our houses become our homes, and our neighborhood become our identity, what will we do to protect them — and at what cost?”

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