Theater review: Neighborhood politics, then and now
editor's pick

Theater review: Neighborhood politics, then and now

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Exploring the human condition. Inspiring growth and change. Nurturing empathy. Heartland Theatre Company, through its commitment to excellence, is much more than an entertainment venue.

Heartland's current production, "Clybourne Park," serves as a perfect illustration of the hidden treasures that await you through the doors. I certainly encourage you to find time in your schedule to catch a performance.

Written by Bruce Norris, this award-winning drama explores an alternate perspective to the issues of neighborhood politics and the unfortunate human realities that simmer along a fragile line of racial and cultural differences first raised in Lorraine Hansberry's iconic "A Raisin in the Sun," which premiered in 1959 during the early years of the Civil Rights movement.

In Hansberry's play, we meet the Youngers, an African-American family determined to realize their version of the American Dream by purchasing a new home away from the grip of poverty on Chicago's south side.

When a white resident of their chosen neighborhood learns of their plans, he offers them money NOT to follow through — he doesn't want to see his property values plummet.

Norris' play is shown from the perspective of the white couple who, after suffering a devastating loss and experiencing unspeakable isolation and abandonment from their neighborhood, choose to sell their home to an African- American family, the Youngers.

That follows, in the second act, with an exercise in civilized problem solving, illuminating with some discomfort that we still — all of us — have a very long way to go.

Directed with great sensitivity by Rhys Lovell, "Clybourne Park" features a talented ensemble who successfully travel through time from the first act, set in 1959, to the second act, set in 2009 as the fictional neighborhood, first exclusively white, then exclusively black, attempts to approach — with strained civility — harmonious integration.

Under Lovell's insightful guidance, the cast successfully captures the suffocating and awkward moments created by Norris' fast-paced tragic comedy, as each character struggles with his or her individual and collective truths.

The ensemble, with each actor impressively playing dual roles, is comprised of Tim Wyman, Michelle Woody, Kristi Zimmerman, Anastasia Ferguson, John Bowen, Elante Richardson, Joshua McCauley and John Fischer, who masterfully tackles the challenges that come with giving voice to the one we love to hate.

Scenic designer Chad Lowell provides the ideal playing space with impressive attention to detail, supported by props master Morgan Brennan and costume designer Rob Goode.

With sensitive subject matter and occasional adult language, this production is intended for mature audiences.

Stiller is a freelance writer who reviews plays for The Pantagraph


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