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'Clybourne Park' challenges post-racial narrative

| Thursday, April 18, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Actors with Pittsburgh Public Theater's Claybourne Park (from left to right) Megan Hill, Tim McGeever, Chandra Thomas and Bjorn DuPaty rehearse on Sunday, April 14, 2013 at the O'Reilly Theater, Downtown.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
The cast of Pittsburgh Public Theater's Claybourne Park (from left to right) Chandra Thomas, Bjorn DuPaty, Brad Bellamy, Lynne Wintersteller, Jared McGuire, Megan Hill andTim McGeever rehearse on Sunday, April 14, 2013 at the O'Reilly Theater, Downtown.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
The cast of Pittsburgh Public Theater's Claybourne Park (from left to right) Chandra Thomas, Bjorn DuPaty, Megan Hill, Tim McGeever and (background) Lynne Wintersteller and Jared McGuire rehearse on Sunday, April 14, 2013 at the O'Reilly Theater, Downtown.

Bruce Norris' “Clybourne Park” is not your average drama.

Few plays achieve the theatrical trifecta by winning the 2012 Tony Award for best play, the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for drama and the 2011 Olivier Award for best new play.

“It's an amazing play. I love its wickedness. It's funny. It's moving and very challenging for both actors and directors, and it's provocative,” says Pamela Berlin, the director for the drama's Pittsburgh Public Theater production that is being performed through May 19 at the O'Reilly Theater, Downtown.

In “Clybourne Park,” Norris challenges the idea that Barack Obama's election to president of the United States ushered in a post-racial era and erased or blurred the divisions between whites and blacks.

Norris splits his play into two acts that in some ways function almost like separate one-act plays performed by the same cast in the same house in a Chicago neighborhood.

Act 1 takes place in 1959 and focuses on the house's white owners who are in the process of selling their home to a black family, a sale that neighbors are actively attempting to block.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, that's because it's the same setting as Lorraine Hansberry's landmark drama “A Raisin in the Sun,” which tells the story from the black Younger family's perspective.

Act 2 takes place 50 years later as the house's black owners are ironing out details with a white couple who want to buy the now sadly dilapidated house. The neighborhood is undergoing gentrification and renewal and the prospective owners plan to demolish the house to build a much bigger and grander dwelling that ignores the neighborhood's history and character.

Members of the cast of seven play different roles in each act.

What connect the two parts are their themes, Berlin says.

“It deals with race relations. It also deals with other things that have presumably changed, (such as) husband/wife relationships and how people speak to one another that are surprising, shocking. ... Some things have improved, and some have gone downhill over time,” Berlin says. “It's two different plays connected by the connections the audience makes and it's my job to … capitalize on what (Norris) has done.”

Though Norris raises questions for audiences to consider, he doesn't point fingers or assess blame, Berlin says.

“It's a unique piece in terms of what it asks and demands of audiences. You are made to feel uncomfortable, ask questions of yourself. It makes you laugh and then feel put on the spot,” Berlin says. “Bruce does not pass judgment. But no one is spared.”

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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