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A Review of The Arden Theatre Company's Production of "Clybourne Park"

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L-R: Julia Gibson as Bev, Erika Rose as Francine, Josh Tower as Albert, Maggie Lakis as Betsy, David Ingram as Russ, and Steve Pacek as Jim in Arden Theatre Company's production of Clybourne Park. Photo by Mark Garvin.
L-R: Julia Gibson as Bev, Erika Rose as Francine, Josh Tower as Albert, Maggie Lakis as Betsy, David Ingram as Russ, and Steve Pacek as Jim in Arden Theatre Company's production of Clybourne Park. Photo by Mark Garvin.

This past Wednesday I headed over to The Arden Theatre Company to see their production of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Clybourne Park”. Given the high praise for the script, and my overwhelmingly positive experiences with the Arden thus far, I had nothing less than high expectations for the evening. I am pleased to tell you that I was not disappointed.

“Clybourne Park” is a play that actually borrows its ‘universe’ from the 1959 classic “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry. For those not all that familiar with it (and I was admittedly a bit unfamiliar myself), “A Raisin in the Sun” follows the Youngers, an African-American family that ultimately purchases a house in Clybourne Park, an all white neighborhood. Even though the Clybourne Park Improvement Association tries to get them to change their minds, the Youngers refuse.

The first act of “Clybourne Park” takes place before the Youngers move in, with the focus on the family selling the Clybourne Park home, as well as their neighbors, friends, and a member of the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, Karl Linder. The second act takes place several decades later, providing a look at what has happened to the house and the neighborhood over the years.

As a result of these two different sets of characters in the first and second act, the cast has the added challenge of taking on two (and in one case three) different roles. “Clybourne Park” features Arden veterans Ian Merrill Peakes, David Ingram, Steve Pacek, and Maggie Lakis. Making their Arden debuts are Julia Gibson, Erika Rose, and Josh Tower.

One of the reasons why I enjoyed this show immensely was how expressive the characters were. The dialogue in “Clybourne Park” often elicits extreme reactions in the other characters. Even when one wasn’t directly involved in an exchange of words with another character, they were reacting to it, resulting in a great deal of laughter from the audience. Towards the climax of the second act, the audience was laughing so hard the actors had to give us several moments before they could continue with the scene. The laughter was that deafening.

I was particularly impressed with Ian Merrill Peakes, who played Mr. Linder in Act One, and then Steve in Act Two. His gestures and the sheer exasperation in his voice and on his face were unbelievably funny, particularly in Act Two. I couldn’t take my eyes off of ‘Steve,’ for fear I might miss something.

L-R: David Ingram as Dan and Ian Merrill Peakes as Steve in Arden Theatre Company's production of Clybourne Park. Photo by Mark Garvin.
L-R: David Ingram as Dan and Ian Merrill Peakes as Steve in Arden Theatre Company's production of Clybourne Park. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Now normally, in a review of a play you probably see much of the praise heaped upon the actors, or perhaps the director and writer. All of them certainly deserve it, but also I want to take some time out, however, to commend the crew of this production. During the intermission, an unbelievable transformation took place on set, and I was glad I had stayed in my seat to watch. The crew managed to give the Clybourne Park house a new look inside of a very short period of time. They were downright ninja about it. Kudos must also go to the team that built the set. It was amazing to watch how easily it broke down and changed before my very eyes. There is some seriously amazing ingenuity there at The Arden.

“Clybourne Park” runs until March 25, 2012. Single tickets are $29- $45, and there are discounts available for seniors, students, military and educators. Call the Arden Box Office at 215-922-1122, order online at www.ardentheatre.org, or visit the box office at 40 N. 2nd Street in Old City, Philadelphia. This is yet another great production that you won’t want to miss!