The Pick: Clybourne Park, an acerbic play about the intersection of race and real estate

The Pick: Clybourne Park, an acerbic play about the intersection of race and real estate

Jeff Lilico, Sterling Jarvis, Maria Ricossa and Audrey Dwyer in Clybourne Park (Image: John Karastamatis) 

Clybourne Park, the Pulitzer Prize­–winning play currently running at the Berkeley Street Theatre, feels almost tailor-made for this ethnically diverse and neighbourhood-obsessed city. With a mix of irony and sobering insight, it follows the eponymous Chicago enclave’s evolution from middle-class oasis to black ghetto to gentrifying hip strip, teasing out the deeply entrenched racial and cultural barriers between its characters in the process.

The play, written in 2010 by Bruce Norris, is a riff on A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry’s classic 1959 play about the Youngers, a black family who break out of their rundown Chicago neighbourhood by purchasing a house in the predominantly white enclave of Clybourne Park. Norris’s play is both a sequel and a prequel to Hansberry’s: the first act is a snapshot of a white family selling their house to the Youngers in the ’50s, even as their neighbours try to convince them that the arrival of a black family will destroy the community. In a delightfully literal role reversal, the second act sees the same actors, now in the modern era, discussing the fate of the same house now that a yuppie white couple wants to move into the largely black neighbourhood.

The first act is entertaining on its own, but it’s mostly a preamble for the second half, which is when the play really takes off. Despite being 50 years apart, conversations echo each other and character patterns recur, playing out an inescapable cycle of mistrust and misunderstanding across the colour line. Still, the play is refreshingly free of judgment: the ingenious structure brings out the latent hypocrisies and biases of its characters without resorting to heavy-handed finger wagging. The acerbic humour and sharp writing will be ringing in your ears next time you hear the phrase, “There goes the neighbourhood.”

The details: To April 28. $22­­–$49. Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley St., 416-368-3110,