Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris, Royal Court Theatre, Highly Recommended
It is the late 1950ies. A white middle class couple sells its desirable property below market value. A black couple buys it. They will be the first non-whites in the neighbourhood. The liberal white home-owners in the neigbourhood are none too pleased with their friends the sellers, and embarrassed about having to express their objections. It is 2009; a young yuppie couple has bought the same property and has plans to make extensive changes to it. The couple and its plans are not welcome by the existing home-owners in this mixed middle-class neigbourhood.
What have the efforts of the civil rights movement and others to combat racism achieved in the period from the 1950ies to 2009 ? Norris brings attitudes to race and home ownership together. He cleverly teases out ambivalence in our own attitudes; the audience is sent on an emotional roller-coaster ride of identification with the protagonists who confront each other on stage.
We have by no means eliminated racist attitudes and probably never will, but the balance of power between black and white has changed significantly and that is clearly for the good of both. On stage in 2009, the neighbourly dispute about building restrictions leads to broader political debate. The stance taken by each party is affected, but no longer determined, by race. The same goes for the question of who has the upper hand in the combative exchanges. The outcome of civil rights struggle and social policy no doubt falls short of Martin Luther King's dream,nonetheless it is real and tangible progress.
Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris is an intelligent, funny, cleverly constructed and fiendishly subversive American play, that makes you laugh and makes you think. A strong ensemble cast and able direction keep the audience absorbed in the stage action.
Clybourne Park is transferring to London's West End; Wyndham's Theatre, 28 January to 7 May 2011. Catch it there.