"I have lots of black friends", "What types of foods do you prefer?", "How many white people does it take to screw in a light bulb?", "Do you know how to ski?", "What's the difference between a white woman and a tampon", "A white man and a black man are sharing a prison cell...", and many others great one liners, jokes, and socially inappropriate commentary can all be found in CLYBOURNE PARK.
Fresh off Broadway, Pioneer Theatre Company brings the regional debut of this provocative Pulitzer Prize winning play to Utah. I had the opportunity to see this show when it was on Broadway and found it to be one of the season's best shows. Great writing, great characters, and thought provoking issues are tackled, all contributing to a moving and enjoyable evening. Pioneer Theatre was up for the challenge and delivered a note-worthy production that rivaled the Broadway cast.
The first half of the show takes place in the 1950's in a white suburban Chicago neighborhood, and then during intermission, the entire set is transformed into modern day in the same house nearly 50 years later, which has now transformed into a primary black neighborhood. The show explores such topics as racism, prejudices, stereotypes, gender, class, traditions, and society at large.
Both the directing by Timothy Douglas and acting were very strong, with standout performances by Tarah Flanagan as Betsy/Lindsey and ERIKA ROSE as Francine/Lena. Tarah brought many laughs as the deaf Betsy and her choices seemed very natural and connected. Likewise, Erika was very grounded as Francine and listened and responded very well to her fellow actors. However, the one actress that didn't work as well was Celeste Ciulla as Bev/Kathy. She was somewhat of an over-actor and her large choices were not always motivated nor was she fully listening and engaged with the other actors on stage, most notably in her breakdown moment towards the end of Act I.
Some great laughs came from Brian Normoyle as Karl with his outspoken and politically incorrect commentary as well as Kasey Mahaffy most notably as Jim, the eccentric priest. The entire cast functioned well as an ensemble, had great comedic timing, and reacted off one another in a believable and natural style. Each actor played two distinct parts, their 1950's character in Act I, and their contemporary character in Act II. There are some intentional similarities in the creation of the characters between each act and the actors delivered a fantastic portrayal of both the traditional and contemporary characters in their mannerisms, physicality and choices.
The pacing began a little slow in the first act, however by the middle of the first act, the actors seemed to get in a solid rhythm that drove to a strong finish to Act I and continued through Act II. The set, designed by George Maxwell, was remarkable and added to the time and place. The flawless transition from Act I and Act II was no small feat. And the costuming by Carol Wells-Day, aided greatly in distinguishing the individual characters' personalities and class.
The show is raw. No spectacle, no stage combat, and no complex movement or blocking sequences. Most of the show involves actors seated in a few chairs and having a conversation. Its theater in its truest form with no conventions or distractions, and Pioneer Theatre certainly delivers an outstanding performance that will leave you rolling in your seats with its witty jokes and that uncomfortable humor that you can't help but to laugh and say, "I can't believe he just said that!"
It is a relatable and relevant story that will be enjoyed by audiences young and old. Influenced by the Raisin in the Sun. Some language and adult humor may make it more appropriate for ages 14 and older.
"CLYBOURNE PARK" runs at Pioneer Theatre Company through March 2. Tickets are $25-$49 and can be purchased through the box office by calling 801-581-6961 or online at: www.pioneertheatre.org