REVIEW: Clybourne Park at Phoenix Theatre

The show tackles issues of race and territorial boundaries in a way that portrays each character as equally unlikeable and uproariously funny.

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It’s crass. It’s offensive. And it’s completely hilarious if you can check your ego at the door. The show, split up into two scenes, tackles the issues of race and territorial boundaries in a way that portrays each character as equally unlikeable and uproariously funny.

In the first scene, we meet middle-aged Bev (Constance Macy) and Russ (Bill Simmons). They’ve just sold their well-kept home in the Clybourne Park neighborhood in 1959. Accurate for the times, we get a sense of the movie The Help from Francine (Dena Toler), a young African-American woman who tends to the couple’s home. Not everyone in the neighborhood is happy about the home’s new owners, people of color. In particular, Betsy (Lisa Ermel)—a deaf, pregnant housewife—makes sure to voice her opinions. Bernie Killian’s set design for this adaptation of Clybourne is spot on with furnishings from that decade; the same is true of the show’s wardrobe.

Flash forward: We see the same home in a much different, deteriorated condition. Graffiti blemishes its walls, and it’s now in jeopardy of being demolished so that a white couple can build a brand-new house on the lot. As couples of different ethnicities debate the future of the property, we finally understand why Bev and Russ seemed to be in such a rush to move out of their home.

Some of the dialogue and situations might make you feel uncomfortable—and if it doesn’t, well, check your pulse. When you sit down to experience this award-winning show, get ready to confront the realities of our differences as people, including the ignorance that existed in the past and continues to fester in the present.

The brilliance of this play lies in understanding that, as an audience, we aren’t laughing at the ethnicity, tragedy, or handicap of the characters. Rather, it allows us the chance to laugh at ourselves for our own prejudices and judgments. Clybourne addresses the bigger picture of acceptance and understanding and the shifts these ideals have seen over the years. And it raises issues that are, unfortunately, still relevant today in urban neighborhoods—including several here in Indy.

Photos by Zach Rosing

Show runs through May 5. Thurs. 7 p.m., Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. $28 for adults; $18 for 21 and under. Phoenix Theatre, 749 N. Park Ave., Indianapolis, 635-7529. phoenixtheatre.org

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