PlayMakers Repertory Company, the University of North Carolina’s professional-theater-in-residence, will ring in the New Year — and help celebrate Black History Month in February — with an invigorating twin bill of A Raisin in the Sun (1959) by Lorraine Hansberry and Clybourne Park (2010) by Bruce Norris, performed in rotating repertory, on Tuesdays-Sundays, Jan. 26-March 3, in the Paul Green Theatre in UNC’s Center for Dramatic Art.
Raelle Myrick-Hodges will direct Hansberry’s tragic tale of the African-American Younger family’s attempt to integrate a Chicago subdivision in the Fifties, and Tracy Young will direct Norris’ sequel about the white family that sold them the house.
The first play by a black woman to be performed on Broadway, A Raisin in the Sun was nominated for four 1960 Tony Awards®, including Best Play. Clybourne Park also earned four 2012 Tony Award nominations, and won the Tony for Best Play as well at the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
“This is my first time working on A Raisin in the Sun,” Raelle Myrick-Hodges confesses. “I was not one of the youth that read it in high school. The first time I read it was when PlayMakers producing artistic director Joe Haj wanted me to do the play. I initially said no, but Joe was adamant that I read it. And, of course, I fell in love with the language and the characters….”
Myrick-Hodges adds, “My desire to direct the play was a direct result of reading [it]. The stage directions envelope you, taking you to a very specific family in a specific time. And it is so gorgeous in its dreaming for its lead character Walter [played at PlayMakers by Mikaal Sulaiman] as well as its disillusionment.
“Honestly, if it wasn’t going to be a PlayMakers production, I doubt I would have wanted to direct it,” she says. “[But t]he script and the producer made my need to direct the play very high.”
Clybourne Park director Tracy Young recalls, “I had heard about Clybourne Park when it was running at Playwrights Horizons in New York City. I then read it, and was very excited to direct it at PlayMakers.”
Young adds, “The writing is thrilling — very human, very funny, very disturbing, and also very compassionate in its own brutal way (which will make sense when you see the play).
“The play is very astute in depicting what we all struggle with in the areas of identity — racial, gender, sexual, socioeconomic — and how we negotiate (often very clumsily) with others in these areas,” claims Young. “The play is about human imperfection and how in a way, the more things change, the more they stay the same. It challenges the perception that we are living in a post-racial America, and it does that in a way that is both disturbing and, ultimately, enlightening.”
Young adds, “[Clybourne Park] is a comedy. There are strong language and mature themes. It’s a play worth seeing. If possible, audiences should see Raisin first, as it will greatly inform the Clybourne experience.”
Raisin in the Sun director Raelle Myrick-Hodges says, “There is much to this play and to ‘describe’ the plot to you takes away from the truth that theater is about what each individual audience member sees in the play. There are several plots. But, basically, Walter Lee Younger and his family grapple over the choice of what to do with insurance money they have inherited because of the death of their father. The family struggles with poverty vs. gentrification, racism, sexism, and how to balance each family member’s role in the family. I really don’t wish to give away the plot. It’s a classic.”
In addition to Mikaal Sulaiman as Walter Lee Younger, the PRC cast for A Raisin in the Sun includes Dee Dee Batteast as Ruth Younger, Matt Garner as Karl Lindner, Kathryn Hunter-Williams as Lena Younger, Miriam A. Hyman as Beneatha Younger, Nilan Johnson as Bobo, Patrick McHugh as Moving Man, J. Alphonse Nicholson as Joseph Asagai, Daniel Morgan Shelley as George Murchison, Allen Tedder as Moving Man, and Victor Waddell as Travis Younger.
Clybourne Park director Tracy Young recalls, “The first act takes place in 1959, in the home of Russ (Jay O’Berski) and Bev (Constance Macy). They have recently sold their home and, with the help of their maid Francine (Rasool Jahan), are packing and preparing to move.
“The neighborhood minister Jim (Josh Tobin) drops by for a farewell visit, and attempts to console Russ about the death of his and Bev’s son Kenneth (later played by Josh Tobin), who was a soldier in the Korean War and committed suicide two years after returning home. Russ resists Jim’s consolation, and asks him to leave.”
Young adds, “Bev pleads with Jim to stay, and reveals that she has serious concerns about Russ’ ability to cope with the loss of his son. Francine’s husband Albert (Nilan Johnson) arrives to pick up Francine, and is enlisted by Bev to bring Kenneth’s footlocker downstairs from the upper floor of the house. Soon after, Karl Lindner (Matt Garner) arrives with his deaf and pregnant wife Betsy (Kelsey Didion) in tow, and confronts Russ about the selling of his home to a ‘colored family’ (the Younger family from A Raisin in the Sun).
“Karl warns Russ that a black family moving in to the Clybourne Park neighborhood will result in ‘white flight’ and property values dropping,” Young explains. “Russ responds that he doesn’t care, because the community shunned his son because of his involvement in war crimes and the shunning led to the boy’s suicide,” says Young. “Despite much urging from Karl, Russ refuses to reconsider the sale of the home to the Younger family.”
Young adds, “Act II takes place in the same home, but now 50 years have passed. In the ensuing years, the Clybourne Park neighborhood evolved into a predominately black neighborhood, and suffered the effects of poverty, drugs, and urban blight. Now the area is becoming gentrified; and a white couple, Steve and Lindsey (Matt Garner and Kelsey Didion), has purchased the house with the intent of demolishing it and rebuilding a substantially larger house in its place. This time, it is a black couple from the neighborhood, Lena and Albert (Rasool Jahan and Nilan Johnson) who are aiming to stop the white couple from tampering with the history of the historic home by having the home assigned landmark status.
[WARNING: SPOILERS] “With the help of their lawyer Tom (Josh Tobin) and the white couple’s lawyer Kathy (Constance Macy), the two opposing groups meet at the house to argue about [its] fate …,” notes Tracy Young. “Lena reveals that her great aunt was in fact Lena, the matriarch of the Younger family, and that because of this, the house holds a special meaning for her. Throughout the negotiations around the house, many underlying racial biases are alarmingly and humorously revealed. When a worker, Dan (Jay O’Berski), hired by Lindsey and Steve, unearths Kenneth’s military foot locker and reveals its contents, the play comes full circle.” [END OF SPOILERS]
Raisin in the Sun director Raelle Myrick-Hodges says the deep thrust stage of the Paul Green Theatre complicates the staging of Lorraine Hanserry’s landmark drama. “… It is as if you are directing a piece in the round,” claims Myrick-Hodges. “How to make sure the play is staged in a naturalistic way without leaving the audience (or in a thrust situation, half the audience) without enough information to stay engaged in the play.”
Clybourne Park director Tracy Young declares, “The play continually traverses outrageous and biting humor and searing and painful tragedy. The interplay between these two extremes is the tonal essence of the piece and capturing that has been an exciting and rewarding challenge.”
In addition to director Raelle Myrick-Hodges and PlayMakers Repertory Company producing artistic director Joseph Haj, the creative team for A Raisin in the Sun includes production manager Michael Rolleri, scenic designer Robin Vest, lighting designer Kathy A. Perkins, costume designer Jan Chambers, sound designer/engineer Robert Dagit, vocal coach John Patrick, movement coach Craig Turner, dramaturg Mark Perry, and stage manager Charles K. Bayang.
PlayMakers Rep’s creative team for Clybourne Park is much the same, except for director Tracy Young, costume designer Jade Bettin, dramaturg Gregory Kable, and stage manager Sarah Smiley.
“Because the play in running in repertory with A Raisin In The Sun, both Clybourne and Raisin have the same scenic designer, Robin Vest,” notes Clybourne Park director Tracy Young. “Act I of Clybourne takes place at the same time of Raisin, inside the house that the Younger family purchases. The Stoller family are the current owners; and as the play opens, they are packing up and moving out.”
Young adds, “So much consideration was given to creating the kind of house that Lena describes in Raisin: a larger two-story home with a backyard. We wanted to give a sense of openness and of some kinds of ‘natural’ elements. The house has natural wood floors and the wallpaper and curtains are decorated in floral patterns.
“We were also interested in the notion of family and shared memory,” Young explains, “and so there are enlarged picture frames that stand in for architectural elements of the house in both Raisin and Clybourne.”
Tracy Young reports, “In Act II of Clybourne, we flash forward 50 years and see that the house has fallen into disrepair. The new owners are a white couple who are planning to demolish the house in order to rebuild a substantially larger house in its place. The current residents of the surrounding neighborhood are working to oppose this expansion and to preserve the historic nature of the older home and that conflict is what drives the second act of the play.”
The costumes for A Raisin in the Sun and the first act of Clybourne Park are 1950s fashions, Young notes. She adds, “In Raisin, much is said about how the small apartment the family lives in is deprived of natural light. We wanted the Clybourne house to be light and bright, with many windows. Both acts of the play take place during the late summer between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. (but 50 years apart), so the lighting reflects that.”
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 24th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel preview by Josephine Yurcaba: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2013/01/playmakers-confronts-prejudice-in-shows, Jan. 16th multimedia preview by Colleen McEnaney, Delia D’Ambra, and Lily Fagan: http://www.dailytarheel.com/multimedia/15797, and Jan. 16th preview by Josephine Yurcaba: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2013/01/playmakers-tackles-issues-of-gentrication-in-new-plays; and Jan. 8th Chapel Hill, NC Chapel Hill Weekly & Magazine preview by Jessie Ammons: http://www.chapelhillmagazine.com/blogs/chapel-hill-magazine-blog/playmakers-presents-a-raisin-in-the-sun-and-clybourne-park/.
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents A RAISIN IN THE RUN at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 26 Preview, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 29 and 31 Previews, 2 p.m. Feb. 2 Opening Performance, 2 p.m. Feb. 3, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5-8, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 13, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15 and 16, 2 p.m. Feb. 17, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19, 2 p.m. Feb. 23, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27, 2 p.m. March 2; and CLYBOURNE PARK at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 27 Preview, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30 and Feb. 1 Previews, and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2 Opening Performance, 2 p.m. Feb. 10, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 and 14, 2 p.m. Feb. 16, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20-23, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26 and 28, 7:30 p.m. March 1, and 2 p.m. March 3 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $15-$50, except $10 UNC students, $12 all other students, and $15 general admission on Tuesdays (Community Night).
BOX OFFICE: 919/962-PLAY or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/843-2311, email@example.com, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.
A Raisin in the Sun: http://playmakersrep.org/raisin.
Clybourne Park: http://playmakersrep.org/clybournepark.
NEWS RELEASE: http://www.playmakersrep.org/media/story.aspx?id=fb1dbeca-e7dc-4f13-9ba3-66b9bf2efdf4.
NOTE 1: The 2 p.m. Feb. 9th performance of A Raisin in the Sun and the 2 p.m. Feb. 16th performance of Clybourne Park will be an Open-Captioned Performances. For details, click http://www.playmakersrep.org/opencaption.
NOTE 2: There will be FREE post-performance discussions with the creative team of A Raisin in the Sun on Feb. 11th and 17th and with the creative team of Clybourne Park on Feb. 24th and 28th.
NOTE 3: Arts Access, Inc. (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) of Raleigh will audio-describe an All-Access Performance of A Raisin in the Sun on Feb. 19th and of Clybourne Park on Feb. 26th, which will also feature sign-language interpretation and Large-Print and Braille programs and — if requested in advance by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org — a tactile tour of the set.
NOTE 4: At 2 p.m. on March 2nd (A Raisin in the Sun) and at 2 p.m. on March 3rd (Clybourne Park),, the N.C. Psychoanalytic Foundation (http://www.ncpsychoanalysis.org/), the Lucy Daniels Foundation (http://ldf.org/), and the N.C. Psychoanalytic Society (http://www.ncpsasoc.org/).will sponsor FREE post-show 50-minute “Mindplay” discussions, led by Harold Kudler, MD, who will speak on”Raisin d’être: The Long View of People and Community.”
A Raisin in the Sun (background): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Raisin_in_the_Sun (Wikipedia).
A Raisin in the Sun (script): http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Lorraine Hansberry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorraine_Hansberry (Wikipedia).
Clybourne Park (background): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clybourne_Park (Wikipedia).
Clybourne Park (script): http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Bruce Norris: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Norris_(playwright) (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Review, a FREE weekly e-mail arts newsletter. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Review.
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