Theater Review: Tennessee Rep’s Clybourne Park (Sept. 8 – 22)

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Tennessee Repertory Theatre presents:
Clybourne Park (Ages 14 and older)
TPAC’s Jackson Hall
505 Deaderick St., Nashville
782-4040 • tennesseerep.org
Show times: Tue – Thu 6:30 p.m., Fri 7:30 p.m., Sat 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $45

Tennessee Repertory Theatre launches its 28th season with a stellar production of an intensely dynamic, dramatic and comedic play — Bruce Norris’ Tony Award-winning show, Clybourne Park.

The crux of the show itself is a satirical sitcom on race, but satire in and of itself has roots firmly planted in reality, and Clybourne Park’s script showcases that fact in Norris’ expert writing.

The two-act play begins in 1959 in the fictional all-white Chicago suburb Clybourne Park, and Norris’ script brings a crossover element referencing the black Younger family from A Raisin in the Sun, the first black family to move into that white neighborhood. The selling homeowners, Russ (Derek Whittaker) and Bev (Shelean Newman), have good reason to want to sell their home, move on and escape from the nightmare that exists under their roof that would forever plague them otherwise. Although Act I is slow moving at first, the drama finally winds up when neighbor Karl (Nate Eppler) shows up in hopes of undoing the sale of the home to a black couple and what “would happen” to the neighborhood should they move in.

The more savagely funny Act II fast forwards 50 years to 2009, and the tables have overtly turned. Clybourne Park is now a black neighborhood, and a white couple attempt to purchase the same house seen in the first act, potentially buying it from Lena (Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva), a descendent of the first black family to move into the neighborhood.

The brilliance of Norris’ script is how it addresses both pre- and post-political correct mindsets. In Act I, Karl is quite overt in his disdain of a black family wrecking the neighborhood. In Act II, all the players on both sides start out dancing around the elephant in the room. Tensions flare and eventually the truth in everyone explodes, for better or worse, and ultimately every character in the house finds reason to be offended. The poignant element to me about that aspect is that it really truly is a reflection of the majority mindset these days. Everyone seems to be offended by anything and everything that is said. But in all honesty, isn’t there also something to be said about someone being honest and speaking their mind, even if it’s ugly and hateful? The truth is better than a mask.

Rene Copeland masterfully directs this production — it is hands down one of the best Tennessee Rep shows I’ve seen! The impeccable cast delivers wholeheartedly all the way. Particular nods are in order for Whittaker and Whitcomb-Oliva for their great timing and their embrace of their characters. In my opinion, Shannon Hoppe is the big star of the show, playing dual roles as Karl’s deaf wife Betsy in Act I, which brings much-needed comic relief during tense moments, but her star shines brightest in Act II as Lindsey. She succinctly portrays the emotional evocation of her character.

Gary C. Hoff’s set design, as usual, is top notch and sets the perfect stage for all that unfolds upon it.

While this show is most likely a better bet for a parents’ night out jaunt, if you do take your teenage kids, it will behoove you to educate them a bit about the history of race relations and attitudes in our country … if you haven’t already … and if you do take them, you’ll have a lot to talk about afterward.

 

Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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