The roots of racism run deep in the American housing market. Playwright Lorraine Hansberry addressed the issue in 1959 with A Raisin in the Sun, the first play written by an African-American woman performed on Broadway and the first to have an African-American director.
Playwright Bruce Norris took Hansberry’s story and in 2010 wrote a “spinoff” of sorts with Clybourne Park. He took home a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award for Best Play for his efforts. Healdsburg’s Raven Players has a production running through November 20.
Hansberry’s original told the story of the Youngers, an African-American family looking to improve their lot in life. The purchase of a home in an all-white neighborhood is the catalyst for family drama and neighborhood strife.
Norris continues the story from the perspective of the white family selling their home to the Youngers, and then jumps 50 years into the future when the neighborhood that once struggled with the issue of integration now struggles with the issue of gentrification.
Russ (Craig Peoples) and Bev (Elizabeth Henry) are packing up their home when their clergyman Jim (Matt Farrell), neighbor Karl (Christopher Johnston) and Karl’s hearing-impaired wife Betsy (Kate Edery) arrive. Karl has discovered the house is to be sold to a Black family and wants Russ to back out of the deal. As the argument over what’s “best” for everyone escalates, Russ and Bev’s maid Francine (Jeanette Seisdedos) and her husband Albert (Nicholas Augusta) are dragged into the fray.
The cast returns for the second act as different characters and modern-day residents of Clybourne Park. It’s been a Black neighborhood for years and now a white couple is looking to move in.
Director Steven David Martin and a cast of north-County regulars (with a few new additions) tell the tale well. The cast does a good job of playing multiple roles in different eras. Particularly strong moments come from Peoples and Henry in the first act while the entire ensemble shines in the second.
The first act lacks a clear sense of period that stronger costuming and prop choices might have supported. The second act is more potent as it turns darkly and uncomfortably comedic.
The live performance is preceded by a screening of the documentary Segregated by Design, an exploration of how federal, state, and municipal laws and policies fostered segregation. Don’t believe it?
Check the deed to your home.
‘Clybourne Park’ runs through Nov 20 at the Raven Performing Arts Theater, 115 North St., Healdsburg. Thursday–Saturday, 7:30 pm; Sunday, 2 pm. $10–$25. 707.433.6335. raventheater.org
Photos by Ray Mabry