Clybourne Park, at its most basic level, is the story of a house. Bruce Norris’ play, which closed out PURE Theatre’s 10th season and will have an extended run during Piccolo Spoleto, charts the changes that occur in a neighborhood over 50 years, with Act 1 set in 1959 and Act II set in 2009.
In Act 1, we meet a middle-aged couple in a prosperous, white suburban neighborhood who are selling their house to a black family (incidentally, this family is the Youngers, the protagonists of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun). The couple, Russ and Bev, are still reeling from the death of their adult son, and this is presumably a large part of why they’ve decided to move. An angry neighbor, who does not want a black family living in the neighborhood, visits to try to convince Russ and Bev to back out of the sale.
Act II takes place in 2009, in the same neighborhood. The community is undergoing gentrification, and an affluent white couple is meeting with black representatives of the neighborhood association to hash out some legal issues. The white couple wants to bulldoze the house and build a new, larger one, while the black couple wants to make sure that the historical significance of the community is maintained.
This brief synopsis, however, does little to explain how relevant, timely, and powerful this Pulitzer Prize-winning play really is. Through the course of what are two very small stories, the characters attack issues of race, compassion, equality, and the failures of political correctness. It’s one of the best plays PURE’s done in recent history — and that’s saying a lot. Part of Piccolo Spoleto.