PITTSFIELD -- Despite the disarray, there is a certain sense of comfort, reassurance, familiarity in the living room in the house that is home to Russ and Bev, a middle-aged middle-class couple living in an all-white Chicago neigborhood -- the fictional Clybourne Park.
But, as is the case throughout Bruce Norris' extraordinary, deeply unsettling play, "Clybourne Park," which is being given an expertly acted, richly textured production at Barrington Stage Company's Boyd-Quinson Mainstage (a co-production with Dorset Theatre Festival), looks are deceiving.
The boxes that are scattered around the living room are in preparation for Bev and Russ' move -- flight might be more accurate -- to another neighborhood as they leave behind a place of wrenching, painful memory -- the tragic death of their son, Kenneth, a Korean War veteran.
Russ (played with aching resonance by Remi Sandry) is filled with pain, anger, resentment at an unforgiving community. His only way of letting go is to move. Meanwhile, that inability to let go is taking its toll on Bev (played with dignity snd growing frustration by Carol Halstead). It is only late on the Saturday afternoon in 1959 on which the play's first act is set that Russ and Bev learn that the family to which their house has been sold by their real estate agent is black and from Chicago's South Side, the first to move into this white enclave. As Russ chomps at the bit to leave Clybourne Park, he is pressed not only by a well-meaning minister, Jim (Kevin Criuch), whom Bev has asked to counsel Russ, but also by the representative of the neighborhood homeowners association, Karl (cunningly played by Greg Jackson) whose patronizing manner belies an endemic socio-economic bigotry; an attitude that is not diminished in the play's second act, set 50 years later in the same living room of the same house.
Rundown and showing wear, tear and neglect, the abandoned house now is being sold by a black woman, Lena, whose great aunt bore the same name and was the buyer of the house 50 years earlier. Now the younger Lena and her husband, Kevin (Lynette R. Freeman and Andy Lucien who, in the first act, play Russ and Bev's housekeeper, Francine, and her husband, Albert) are negotiating the terms of the sale with a white couple, Steve and Lindsey (Greg Jackson, again, and Clea Alsip, who, in the first act, plays Karl's pregnant, deaf wife, Betsy), who plan to tear the house down and replace it with a structure whose immodest dimensions are beyond what is permitted in the soon-to-be gentrified neighborhood.
"Clybourne Park" is not simply about race relations. It is about human dynamics -- the ways in which we manipulate others; how we love and like, not love and not like; reach out and retreat. It is as funny as it is poignant and unrelenting.
As performed by a uniformly remarkable cast under Giovanna Sardelli's finely tuned direction, the whole is a delicate balance of penetrating wit, intense emotions that race just beneath the surface, erupting on occasion as characters, some more than others, seek resolution and answers that are hard to find -- until, for one character, the stunning final scene.
The lessons are pointed; the memory haunting amd indelible. Theater Review
CLYBOURNE PARK by Bruce Norris. Directed by Giovanna Sardelli; scenic designer, Narelle Sissons; costume designer, Barbara A. Bell; lighting designer, Michael Giannitti; sound designer, Ryan Rumery. Through Oct. 13. Eves.: Thu. 7; Fri., Sat. 8. Mats.: Sun. 3. Barrington Stage Company (in association with Dorset Theatre Festival), Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, 30 Union St., Pittsfield. Tickets: Start at $20. (413) 236-8888; barringtonstageco.org. 2 hours 6 minutes
Russ / Dan Remi Sandry
Bev / Kathy Carol Halstead
Francine / Lena
Lynnette R. Freeman
Jim / Tom / Kenneth Kevin Crouch
Albert / Kevin Andy Lucien
Karl / Steve Greg Jackson
Betsy / Lindsey Clea Alsip