Sometimes I don't think we in Seattle know how culturally lucky we are. We have amazing theaters that give us new and exciting works sometimes even as tryouts on their way to Broadway. But now the Seattle Rep has pulled off a new one as we are getting Bruce Norris' thrilling new work "Clybourne Park" here even though it just opened on Broadway last week. And if that weren't enough for us to thank our lucky stars, add into that the all around stunning production of this new work with its sublime cast and we may come to realize just how much the theater Gods are smiling down upon us.
Billed as a potential prologue and epilogue to Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun", in Act One we meet Bev and Russ (Suzanne Bouchard and Peter Crook) as they are packing to move out of the 1959 upper middle class neighborhood of Clybourne Park. But even as they are trying to deal with the move and their own personal tragedies that may have prompted the move, they are beset upon by meddling neighbors who are there to warn them that the people who bought their house are (gasp!) a black family. Trying to get Russ and Bev to cancel the sale, the neighbors only manage to dredge up the harsh feelings surrounding the tragedy, which serves as a glaring through line of intolerance throughout the entire story. Then in Act Two we are transported to the same house in 2009 as the neighborhood has fallen onto hard times but is clawing its way back as new businesses are beginning to gentrify the area. Enter a young white couple, Steve and Lindsey (Darragh Kennan and Marya Sea Kaminski) who have bought the property hoping to tear it down and build a grand home of their own. A task that their new neighbors are trying to stop in order to preserve the history and cohesiveness of the area.
Oh and did I mention it's a comedy? It's a dark comedy to be sure but even amidst all the pain and heartache there are laughs galore. This is one of those glorious shows that will have you laughing one minute, crying the next and then right back into a good belly laugh. And Norris' crisp and fresh dialogue and truly engaging and complex characters accomplish all of this. Not to mention brilliant direction from Braden Abraham who wrangles all the craziness together and doles out the perfect bits of story at just the right moments.
And as amazing as the script and direction are, much credit needs to be given to a phenomenal ensemble cast. There's no way to call out one over the other as they were all stellar so we'll just go in alphabetical order. Aaron Blakely as the preacher in Act One and the head of the neighborhood association in Act Two has the unenviable task of handling most of the exposition. His characters being somewhat uninvested in the events of the play; he injects a wonderful sense of flow and draws out the plot and still manages engaging and fun moments. Bouchard turns in one of the most diverse performances of the night as the on The Edge housewife Bev in 1959 and the no nonsense lawyer Kathy in 2009 and she shows with seeming ease why she's one of the most popular actresses in town with a rich and very affecting performance (yes, she made me cry). Teagle F. Bougere has a solid character through line in both acts with subtle differences that separate his 1959 Albert, in a world where he would be just coming into his own, and 2009 Kevin, a man with similar attitudes but who enjoys the freedoms fought for by Albert. Peter Crook is nothing short of amazing with his ticking time bomb of a man as Russ in Act One and then comes back in Act Two with the absolutely hilarious Dan. Ashton Hyman may have the smallest role in the show as Kenneth but takes the few minutes he's on stage and infuses them with tons of heart and meaning. Marya Sea Kaminski turns out much of the comedy of the piece as the somewhat out of touch due to her handicap Betsy followed by her completely in touch Lindsey. Two pregnant women with very different attitudes. I know I said I couldn't single anyone out but Darragh Kennan is outstanding as two men with very unlikable and misguided viewpoints and a sincere problem with knowing when to shut up. But even as distasteful as they are, Kennan makes them sympathetic and completely engaging. And last but certainly not least, Kim Staunton gives a wonderful performance of a woman not wanting to rock the boat contrasted with her subsequent woman willing to rock whatever she needs to retain her history.