Posted on 16 March 2011

An American import, Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park, a provocative comedy about race relations and property prices in Chicago took the honor for Best New Play. Originally produced at New York City's Playwrights Horizons, it is currently running in a different production at the West End's Wyndham's Theatre after premiering at the Royal Court last year.

Bruce Norris picked up the Olivier for the strongly contested Best Play Award at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, where the star-studded awards ceremony took place. In his acceptance speech he said: “I want to thank every single actor who is in the cast... and mostly I want to thank Dominic Cooke, who is a remarkable, meticulous, precise and very, very tolerant director.."

Clybourne Park, portraying fictional events set before and after the play and loosely based on real life events was written as a modernized response to Lorraine Hansberry’s classic, A Raisin in the Sun  whose parents bought a house in the white neighborhood of Washington Park, an action that resulted in a legal case (Hansberry v Lee  311 U.S. 32 (1940)).   The Hansberry family home, a red brick three-floor at 6140 S. Rhodes which they bought in 1937, is up for landmark status before the Chicago City Council's Committee on Historical Landmarks Preservation. 

Act I opens in 1959, as a white couple sells their home to a black family, causing uproar in their middle-class Chicago neighborhood. Act II transports us to the same house in 2009, when the stakes are different, but the debate is strikingly familiar. Amid lightning-quick repartee, the characters scramble for control of the situation, revealing how we can and can’t distance ourselves from the stories that linger in our houses.

Norris’s point is that though his 21st-century characters spout PC platitudes, racial prejudice still lurks just beneath the surface in modern America among both blacks and whites. This is encapsulated in a scene in which the white property buyer and a black woman on the residents’ association trade increasingly outrageous racist jokes as if fighting a duel. It sets the audience on a roar of laughter and disbelief and is one of the most astonishing scenes in recent theatre.

Review of the play:
The West End transfer of this Royal Court hit is every bit as intelligent, funny and provocative on second viewing. Rating: * * * * *

[posted by Louise 16/03/2011]