Several years ago I directed a staged reading of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic play A Raisin in the Sun, a fictional portrayal of an African American family’s move into an all-white Chicago neighborhood.
I read the play for the first time in high school and loved it because the subject matter felt real to me. I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago. My family was one of the first black families to move into the area where I grew up, and we weren’t welcomed with open arms. Many, but not all of the whites in the area constantly reminded my family that we were different, and therefore didn’t belong. As I grew older, I noticed that more and more whites had moved out of the neighborhood, and many of the area businesses that used to serve them moved out as well. No one ever really said why they were leaving; I’d go outside my house each day to see fewer white faces, and more African American ones.
When I read Bruce Norris’ play Clybourne Park, I smiled and said to myself, “Aha! That’s what my former neighbors were telling each other behind closed doors!”
Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning, Clybourne Park brilliantly, and with a great deal of humor, shows what happens when pre-judgements collide with neighborhood change. For example, Karl Lindner, the neighbor of Russ and Bev, the home-sellers in all-white Clybourne Park, desperately tries to convince them to void the sale of their home to family of Negroes. Karl predicts that the sale of the home would eventually destabilize the community, because white families would leave, causing property values to decline.
If only I were a fly on the wall during that conversation!
Karl Lindner’s predictions seem to have come to fruition, because Act Two of Clybourne Park opens with a scene of Lindner’s old neighborhood in the year 2009. It is totally African American and appears to be in a state of decline, ripe for gentrification. Pre-judgements again collide with neighborhood change as a white, more affluent couple decides to move into Clybourne Park. This time, the neighbors are African American, with their own concerns. What happens to the old community when the new, more affluent people move in? Will the culture of the old community be respected or ignored? How will it change?
I picked a true winner when I decided to direct Clybourne Park. Playwright Bruce Norris doesn’t beat you over the head with morality; he uses humor to get his points across. His play will make you reflect on the issue of change. Whether or not you’ve been a part of housing integration or gentrification, and whether or not you’ve been a victim of pre-judgments, Clybourne Park will give you a number of ‘Aha moments,’ and it will make you smile.
I want to give a special thank-you to Chris Makel, who was always available when I needed him, to perform whatever roles I needed, including but not limited to standing in for actors during rehearsals, feeding them the correct dialogue, and supplying the cast and crew with delicious snacks, often healthier than the ones I brought!
Many thanks to Thom Maxwell, for teaching sign language to three of the Clybourne Park’s actors. I met Thom at the church we both attend. Every Sunday, he provides sign language interpretation for the hearing impaired. He interprets the pastor’s sermons, choir songs, practically everything, and he does this live. It’s truly impressive. Thom has been a very patient and enthusiastic sign language coach and contributing member of the Clybourne Park team.
I want to acknowledge Paul Segura for producing the Gentrification Machine video that appears on the Hyde Park Community Players’ website, Shonte Wesson for her wonderful photography, Spencer Bibbs for his cool ‘Welcome to the Neighborhood’ photo, Adam Hammond for his fantastic vision and design of the set, and Bill Hohnke for being a very patient and encouraging Assistant Director who graciously wore a million hats.
Thanks to the entire cast and crew for making this production possible.