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Theatrical Brilliance | Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris | Ensemble Theatre until April 19


Theatre Review by Ron Lee

Yeah, so it won a Tony Award, a Pulitzer Prize, an Olivier Award and an Evening Standard Award.

The uninspiring name, Clybourne Park, didn’t really give a sense of the compelling story that was about to be played out..

The play opens in 1959 Chicago, with The Fleetwoods playing in a suburban house owned by an ordinary couple, Russ and Bev. Seemingly, the only negative in their world is a big one; their son returned from the Korean War and committed suicide in an upstairs room.

Neighbour, Karl, is a white supremacist who fears that the “coloureds” who bought Russ and Bev’s house will bring down the neighbourhood, just as any “negroes” would. Add to the mix a clergyman who tries hard to be funny, a black couple and a pregnant, Scandinavian, deaf woman (sounds like the beginning of a joke), and you have some lively dialogue in which tempers and frustrations quickly come to the surface.

In a way, it’s a nostalgic look at pre-Martin Luther King America in which our definition of “racism” was widespread, a bit like some parts of Australia today.

The first act is compelling, entertaining and thought-provoking and the second half accelerates the action even further. After the intermission, we are fast-forwarded to 2009, and a young couple, Steve and Lindsey, have bought the house and are about to rebuild.

The cycle has inevitably turned 180 degrees, with the black couple being concerned about the status of the white family in the neighbourhood. The relationships between the 2009 people and a previous generation are gradually revealed. The connections keep the audience enthralled and we eagerly wait for the next round of revelations. We are brought to the realisation that things contemporaneously change and somehow remain the same.

The surprising, touching ending caps off Bruce Norris’ superbly written and constructed script, and Tanya Goldberg’s tight direction gives the well-balanced cast, which consists of Wendy Strehlow, Nathan Lovejoy, Paula Arundel, Cleave Williams, Briallen Clarke, Thomas Campbell, and Richard Sydenham, a solid platform for exhibiting their substantial skills.

Clybourne Park is a must see production at the Ensemble Theatre, and the fact that the season had sold out before the opening night, ensures its box office success. Fortunately for you, the season will be extended to play at The Concourse, Chatswood, but only on April 23 and 24.

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