Theatre Palisades Turns into Clybourne Park

By CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA | Reporter

The complicated racial dynamics of Chicago in 1959 came to Pacific Palisades as Pierson Playhouse took on the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Clybourne Park” by Bruce Norris.

The show was directed by Tony Torrisi, and produced by Martha Hunter and Sherman Wayne.

The story, which played out over two acts, takes place in a white middle-class neighborhood in the home of Bev and Russ, played by Yvonne Robertson and Larry Thaler, which they are planning to sell.

But the seemingly innocuous sale quickly proves to be more complex, as the neighborhood learns that the incoming homeowners are African American.

When neighbor Karl and his deaf wife Betsy, played by Matt Landig and Laura Goldstein, visit the home and interrupt another argument between Russ and clergyman Jim (Philip Bartolf) to “warn” them of the social implications of their transaction, the reasons behind their decision to sell become clear. The suicide of their son, Kenneth, and the first signs of racial tension creep into the dialogue.

Housekeeper Francine and her husband Albert, played by Ruthenna Porterfield and Brooks Darnell, are suddenly thrown into the mix as the group turns to them for a “black perspective.”

It made no difference that the actors at Pierson Playhouse were performing a Sunday matinee, as the effort and performance were just as powerful as an opening night show. While the dialogue sometimes veered off into 10-minute rants on topics that did little to further the story, like Neapolitan ice cream, the chemistry between the two performers was strong enough to keep the audience engaged, getting the occasional laugh.

Time was fast-forwarded to 2009 in act two, as the same actors return as new characters who are negotiating local housing regulations in the neighborhood that is now being gentrified. The black couple negotiating on behalf of the home are related to the Youngers, the family that was unwelcome back in 1959, as Steve and Lindsey, also played by Landig and Goldstein, want to rebuild a much larger home in its place.

At first, the debates start with uncomfortably lengthy arguments on what the capital of Morocco is, but later evolve into the case against political correctness and a rant of homophobic and racist jokes, as originally written by Norris.

The actors kept both themselves and the audience gripped, not wincing at the offensive dialogue with which they had been tasked.

As the tension of the conversation, well orchestrated by the cast, reaches its breaking point with a near-violent altercation, the show ends with a workman who stumbles upon a suicide letter from Bev and Russ’ son Kenneth, bringing the show to a close and the story full circle.

“Clybourne Park” will be playing at Theatre Palisades until May 5 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm. and Sundays at 2 p.m.