This weekend, the School of Music, Theater & Dance presents Bruce Norris’ “Clybourne Park,” a spin-off to the well-known “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry.

This play first appeared Off Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in February 2010. Following its opening, it premiered in the UK, at the Royal Court Theatre in August 2010. “Park” earned multiple awards, including a Pulitzer Prize in 2011 and a Tony in 2012 for Best Play.

The play’s first act begins in 1959, as a Black family decides to move into a dominantly white Chicago neighborhood. Bev and Russ are the owners of the home in the white middle-class area. They are informed that the family trying to move in is Black and advised to get out of the deal for fear that property values will dwindle if it’s carried out.

Neighbors suggest this in an effort to uphold the “community” of the neighborhood and preserve its value. The second act begins 50 years later and presents a reversal of circumstances, when a white couple wants to buy into a predominantly Black residential area, as those living in the neighborhood are fighting against gentrification.

The play’s events are set in a bungalow house that appears well cared for in the first act, and in complete disarray in the second. The same actors reappear in the second act, playing drastically different roles, under entirely different circumstances.

“The house is actually a character in the play, the trophy around which the action and racial conflicts occur,” Director John Neville-Andrews wrote in an e-mail interview with The Michigan Daily.

“The only overlap with ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ is the character, Karl Lindner, who in that play tries to persuade the Black Younger family, unsuccessfully, not to move to Clybourne Park,” Neville-Andrews wrote. “Otherwise ‘Clybourne Park’ stands entirely on it’s own merit and circumstances.”

While discussing the major themes this work aims to communicate, Neville-Andrews notes that the cast has had multiple discussions surrounding this topic. These forums involved an analysis of every possible point of view from which the cast could imagine seeing the play.

“We’ve all done a lot of research and had numerous discussions on racial tension, racism, gentrification, segregation and integration,” Neville-Andrews wrote. “The way these aspects of life affected people in 1959, 2009 and present day.”

“Park” communicates this racial divide satirically, bringing a comedic touch to issues of race and gentrifying communities. 

“The underlying theme is, of course, how racial enmity frequently bubbles under the surface as the characters clumsily scramble to say the most politically correct thing,” Neville-Andrews wrote. “Eventually this ‘code speak’ crumbles and true feelings are expressed.”

The play doesn’t force any conclusions or solutions to the societal problems the work communicates. The work allows for the audience to reflect on what they have seen onstage, and rely on their own observations as a “take away” from the events they witness.

The cast of “Park” was also able to gain useful information from one who knows the play rather well.

“We are fortunate that Bruce Norris, the playwright, came to visit us and he revealed to the cast and me various valuable insights to the characters and their motives in the play,” Neville-Andrews wrote. While discussing his experience directing the production, Neville-Andrews explained that the actors have aimed to make their roles truthful, engaging and dynamic for the audience, all of which has provided a rewarding experience.

“It’s been a delight to work on such a complex, scintillating and extremely funny play. Everyone should see it, for a variety of reasons.”

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