“Race and Place” from the Symbolist

Sent to us for posting on this blog.  The below article will appear in the forthcoming edition of the Symbolist, the Columbia Heights based Art ‘zine.

Race and Place in Clybourne Park

Clybourne Park is a new play by Bruce Norris, currently being put on by the Wooly Mammoth Theatre Company. It’s about how the politics of race determined neighborhood identity in mid-century mid-America and how they continue to do so today. First and foremost I was inspired by its pith and thrilled by the freshness of its brevity.  It sprints. It’s a two act play which is basically composed as two amplified scenes. Both are set in the same house, a generation a part. The first takes place in the Raisin in the Sun Chicago of the troubled integrationist 1950s.  The second act takes place in the present day.  Where doleful anticipation of white flight loomed in the former, the stereotypes of gentrification and apprehension re: colonization did in the latter. This temporal consecution brings the course of social transformation current. While the characters and the script do rely heavily on stock tropes and predictable ethno-cultural posturing, such devices play very well for laughs…and there were plenty.  The comedic elements kept the complex and rapid dialogue briskly apace.

What we have are two contrasting eras addressed, one the obvious inversion of the other.  Two conversations (read arguments, apropos of Fugazi’s: The Argument [“…process, and dismissal, forced removal, of the people…”]) held in two different times, colored by the social forces which define each era.  The Clybourne Park of the 2nd Act will seem very familiar to many readers. Art imitates life in Clybourne Park the way that life imitates art in Columbia Heights—suffice it to say: it’s a well written, relevant play that was superbly executed. Many concepts are touched upon throughout, most intriguing, perhaps, is the relationship between language and identity.  As long as race remains the fictive chimera that people rely upon for understanding their imagined communities then this dialogue driven play will be relevant to any dialogue on the subject.

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