Act One of Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park, which is currently playing at Trinity Rep through November 20th, is one of the most lush, multi-layered pieces of theater that I have experienced in recent memory.
Brian Mertes directs this homage to Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. Norris' multi-award winning play consists of two stand-alone acts that bookend Hansberry's 1959 drama about an African-American family's scramble to achieve middle-class security by owning a home that happens to be in the lily-white community of Clybourne Park.
Norris sets his satire in the very same house.
The play opens innocently enough with a middle-aged man (Timothy Crowe) finishing off all of the ice cream in the house while his wife (Anne Scurria) and their maid (Mia Ellis) scramble to do some last minute packing. Norris metes out information; slowly adjusting the audience to the current owners' tragic decision to move out of their home - and the reason for exacting a very special revenge on their neighbors by selling the house to a black family.
Timothy Crowe gives a staggering performance as the quiet, unassuming, yet intensely angry, homeowner, Russ. Crowe conveys an incredible journey of emotion with just the slightest tilt of the head or raising of his chin. Rarely have I seen a performance during which I can really, truly, believe that the actor is speaking words for the very first time. This is one of those incredible feats; a master-class in acting for the price of a theater ticket.
Act Two is set 50 years later in the same house, as the now-historically black neighborhood resists the first white family to move into the neighborhood. A complete change in tone, this act is satirical and bawdy. Norris makes us look at ourselves present-day; as we try to convince ourselves the we live in a post-racial world.
The seven-member cast, Timothy Crowe, Mauro Hantman, Anne Scurria, Rachael Warren, Tommy Dickie, and Joe Wilson, Jr., each turn in nuanced performances as they play completely dissimilar characters in each act.
Crowe is the fulcrum of Act One, supported by strong performances, particularly from Anne Scurria, and Brown/Trinity Rep MFA student Mia Ellis ('12).
The bulk of Act Two is a true ensemble dark comedy, with witty word-play and non-politically-correct jokes. There can be no weak link, and there isn't. As Act Two ends, playwright Norris exhibits a gorgeous restraint, which I admire.
Dan Scully's lighting design is so beautifully intergrated that it is near-invisible.
I enjoyed Trinity Rep's production of Clybourne Park so much that I plan to see it at least once more during its run.
Tickets for Clybourne Park, which plays through November 20, 2011, range from $22 - $66 and can be purchased at the Trinity Rep Box Office, which is located at 201 Washington St., Providence, RI; by phone at (401) 351-4242; and online at www.trinityrep.com.