NEW YORK — The move to Broadway proves to be an entirely felicitous visibility upgrade for “Clybourne Park,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy about race and class that had a virtually simultaneous world premiere two years ago at Washington’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre and New York’s Playwrights Horizons.
As a result of two smash runs in the nation’s capital, D.C. audiences became acquainted with the deftness with which playwright Bruce Norris concocted this clever contemplation of the issues raised in Lorraine Hansberry’s earth-shifting 1959 drama, “A Raisin in the Sun.” Visiting it at Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre — where it formally opened Thursday night, in director Pam MacKinnon’s sublime production — those familiar with “Clybourne” will find its poignant ironies and hilarious confrontations as sharp as ever.
“Clybourne’s” setting is the Chicago house in a lily-white neighborhood just before the black family of “Raisin” moves into it and, 50 years later, when a white couple is purchasing it, in a now predominantly black neighborhood. Through each of two tense acts, and a first-rate cast that includes Frank Wood, Christina Kirk, Crystal A. Dickinson and Annie Parisse, the play turns over and over ingrained American attitudes about home and family, about who belongs and who doesn’t, about the things you say about your neighbors, and what those words say about you.
On my third experience of “Clybourne” — my first without Woolly’s excellent ensemble — I found the play even funnier and angrier than before. This was especially true in the first act, when the passionate showdown between Wood’s white homeowner Russ and a bigoted neighbor played by Jeremy Shamos seeking to undo the house sale to the black family takes on an intensity that exposes the harrowing depth of Russ’s alienation from his community. In moment after moment, this “Clybourne” gets you under a character’s skin, even as it searingly reminds you how we make judgments based on the tone of it.