Clybourne Park opened this week at The Panasonic Theatre and marks the third offering in the brand new Off-Mirvish Season, a smaller subscription series designed to offer daring, original and perhaps unseen productions that might not have been on the Mirvish radar before.
The critically acclaimed play by Bruce Norris received rave reviews on Broadway in 2012, taking home The Tony Award and the Pulitzer. The production currently on stage at The Panasonic is a remount of the Studio 180 production from last year, which played to sold out audiences at the Berkley Street Theatre.
Clybourne Park tells a story of community, neighbourhoods, race relations and interpersonal conflict by examining the same Chicago house in two different time periods - 1959 and 2009. In Act 1 we are introduced to Russ (Michael Healey) and Bev (Maria Ricossa) who are leaving the neighbourhood they've grown to call home due to an unfortunate event that occurred in their family that has caused nothing but turmoil and unhappy memories. Unbeknownst to them, the house has been sold to a black family, and the residing neighbours are upset about what the sale will mean for their neighbourhood.
In Act 2 the tables are turned when we see descendants of the purchasers of Russ and Bev's home rallying to prevent a white couple from demolishing their home (which is now in a predominantly black neighbourhood) in order to build a house of their own.
What ensues is a fascinating examination of the prejudices which exist within all of us; about what it means to be a community and about how seemingly isolated events can have a ripple effect that continues for many years.
This production boasts a talented cast of actors who deliver the material with just the right amount of sarcastic wit. Michael Healey is the stand-out as Russ, bringing a surprising amount of depth and heart to his character who is grieving the loss of his son. As his wife Bev, Maria Ricossa does a fine job of keeping up with the witty banter between the couple, but shines more in Act 2 as a sharp witted lawyer. Sterling Jarvis and Audrey Dwyer deliver subtle performances in Act 1 and then return in Act 2 (as the owners of the house in 2009) to get some of the biggest laughs of the night. Mark McGrinder plays his 1959 character Karl with just the right amount of loathsome bigotry, while Kimwun Perehinec delivers many of the comic moments of Act 1 as Karl's deaf and pregnant wife. Jeff Lillico tackles three roles with superb ability, playing a nosy, holier than thou Preacher in Act 1, a gay lawyer in Act 2 and returning at the end of the play to deliver the show's emotional wallop.
The brilliance of this play is in its writing, and Bruce Norris has done an excellent job using language to explore complex issues in a way that makes the audience think and laugh at the same time. While Act 1 at times seemed to struggle with pacing issues and felt a bit long, Act 2 is well worth the wait as we get to watch the gloves come off and witness first rate verbal sparring. By the end of the show the audience is being told one of the most offensive jokes imaginable, and yet one can't help but laugh at the hilarity (and underlying truth) of the entire situation. This show examines the best and worst of human nature, and does so while dealing with very real issues such as neighbourhood gentrification and race relations.
Overall, it is a production worth seeing and a great programming choice for the Off-Mirvish Season. Those people who missed the Studio 180 production the first time around are now being given the unique opportunity to see it again, and with Toronto being very much in a state of constant flux surrounding many political issues, the subject matter could not be timelier.
When and Where?
The Panasonic Theatre
On stage now until March 3rd 2013
Tickets can be purchased in person at the box office, by phone at 416-872-1212 or www.mirvish.com