Catching Up With Clybourne

Nearly fifty years after the Younger family moved to Chicago’s fictional white Clybourne Park neighborhood in A Raisin in the Sun, another Chicagoan did a bit of seminal neighborhood integration himself. It was in this climate of Barack Obama becoming the first African-American President of the United States and moving into the White House that Bruce Norris premiered his 2010 play Clybourne Park, a companion of sorts to Raisin.

In its first act, Clybourne Park follows the white couple that has agreed to sell their home to the Younger family. Neighborhood representative Karl Lindner — the only character to appear in both Raisin and Clybourne — tries to convince them not to sell. The second act fast-forwards fifty years to the present, as a different white family tries to buy and tear down that same house in a now black-dominated neighborhood.

Norris realized that his generation represented the children of the fictional Lindner. “That’s a lesson that sticks with you, the lesson that you are, essentially the villain in someone else’s story,” he told The New York Times in August 2011. “Many years later, I thought, what if we turned the story around and told it from the opposite angle, the angle of people like my family, the villains, the ones who wanted to keep them out?”

The play debuted on Broadway in April 2012 and garnered numerous awards: the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the 2011 Olivier Award for Best New Play, and the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play. It makes its Boston premiere at the SpeakEasy Stage Company in March 2013 with a production directed by M. Bevin O’Gara, the Huntington’s associate producer.

In concert, the two plays explore various facets and eras of racism. Other playwrights, too, are grappling with the ideas Hansberry addresses in her play: Kirsten Greenidge’s The Luck of the Irish and Kwame Kwei-Armah’s Beneatha’s Place both take inspiration from Raisin, delving into further studies of race, American culture, and the search for home.

Hansberry predicted that racial tension would soon boil over. As Frank Rich wrote in New York Magazine, “Explode it did, in the years after Hansberry’s final curtain, and Norris’s play is most of all an effort to sort through the ensuing wreckage.”

— Ali Leskowitz

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