Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park, cast on stage at the Panasonic Theatre, Toronto, Ontario

Cast of Clybourne Park

There is a reason Clybourne Park won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize.   Bruce Norris’ look at race, relationships and real estate is smart, funny, and thought provoking.  This piece drew me in immediately and never once lost its momentum.  The first act built the framework to allow for the comedic pay offs in the second act.  I left the theatre feeling fully satisfied.

Studio 180’s mandate is to stage socially relevant theatre that provokes public discourse and this show illustrates how important this type of theatre is.  You have an enjoyable evening at the theatre and it provides ample food for thought to hash out after the show.  Off-Mirvish made the right decision in remounting this powerful work.

Clybourne Park takes place in two eras.  Act One takes place in 1959 and Act Two in 2009.  The first part of the show deals with the imminent and mostly unwanted arrival of the first black family into the all white Clybourne Park neighborhood.  Act Two, finds us in 2009 in the same neighborhood, which is now mainly an African American community.  A white family is moving in and wants to make changes to the structure of their home and this seems to threaten the very core of the neighborhood.

Joel Greenberg keeps the staging simple but makes sure his performers have carefully crafted distinct and fully fleshed out characters.  The dialogue reminded me of a Mamet script (with less swearing) and it is always a challenge to do interjecting dialogue effectively.  The cast nails this aspect for the most part which was integral to keeping the pace clipping along and the audience invested in the story.

Double casting is employed in the two acts with opposite characterizations to their first act personas.  Jeff Lillico is the definition of charm as Jim.  He has such a delightful ease on stage, which makes it nearly impossible not to fall in love with his square priest.  Mark McGrinder commanded the stage as Steve, a man who continuously puts his foot in his mouth and does not want to back down from confronting uncomfortable subjects.

Michael Healey is wonderful as the uptight Russ in act one and is perfection as the construction worker Dan in the second act.  Maria Ricossa knocks it out of the park as the cool, no nonsense Kathy.  Audrey Dwyer’s understated Francine is fantastic and her spunky Lena is hilarious.  She received one of the biggest laughs of the evening when her character tells a very off colour joke.  The audience uncomfortably laughed for several moments and she just held the space and knew exactly when to come in with her next line.

Sterling Jarvis was solid as the charming Albert and the more submissive Kevin.  I had some problems with Kimwun Perehinec’s take on Betsy, the deaf wife.  I will say that is probably the most difficult character to do well, but in the act of playing deaf, she came across instead, as mentally delayed. Her character could have been show stoppingingly funny but unfortunately it fell short.  I also have a small gripe about how slowly the sign language was performed.  It didn’t seem realistic to me that a deaf lady and her husband would not be able to perform sign language at a very rapid pace.  To be fair, Perehinec’s character Lindsey in the second act was much stronger, but it still didn’t seem as authentic as some of the other performers.

Michael Gianfrancesco’s set is the perfect 1950’s abode and Michelle Bailey successfully captures two distinct eras with her costuming.

I highly recommend Studio 180’s Clybourne Park. It runs until March 3rd at the Panasonic Theatre.

For tickets visit: Mirvish

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