Neighborhood Politics Span Generations in 'Clybourne Park

Feb 8, 2014

Is it true, as the saying suggests, that as much as things change they stay the same?

The neighbors of the fictional neighborhood Clybourne Park seem to think so, as they demonstrate in the play of the same name, which is currently in performance at Farmers Alley Theater.

Written by playwright Bruce Norris, the  Tony Award-winning drama plants itself into the plot of its predecessor "A Raisin In The Sun." The 1959 play written by Lorraine Hansberry follows the plight of the Youngers, a black family who moves out of their Chicago apartment into a new, all-white neighborhood.

In Act One, neighbors try to figure out just why a black family would want to subject themselves to such a different environment. 50 years later, in Act Two,a new generation of neighbors are up in arms over the idea of gentrification.

Though the lingo and the politics have changed, casting director Awoye Timpo says that some of the prejudices are still alive and well today.

"When people think about what this play is, a lot of people say 'Oh, this is a play about race,' but I think more so than than it's a play about what our expectations of what the future is going to be," she says. "It's about what our community is, and it's about how we have the power to control things, and how some things are completely out of our control."

Dewandra Lampkin, plays the characters of Francine, a housekeeper in 1959, and Lena, the niece of the elder Lena from “A Raisin in the Sun.” Lampkin feels the show has plenty of teachable moments that go beyond the script. 

"Not so much history lessons but as a way to connect the past to the future and what do we have to look forward to - what are we working towards versus what are we looking back on," she comments.

Actors Ron Centers and Bridget Sitarski agree.

"Growing up in the 50's and the 60's we weren't as open as people are today - it's a very interesting expose between the two different time periods and the mindset of the two, three generations," says Centers.

Sitarski adds, "I'd like people to come away with the humanity of each of these individuals. When it boils down everybody's still just human beings trying to get along and get through whatever society is throwing at them. We all still struggle with these human issues, and society changes but in the end it’s all just relationships and how we deal with each other - how do we communicate with each other."

Though this is just one group of people in one particular neighborhood, Timpo feels their circumstances and their conversations - can transcend beyond the stage and into your own living room.

"I feel like people will be able to understand that sense of what it feels like to be a part of a community and whether or not your community has been "threatened." Especially people who are from this area - they'll be able to see 'Gosh, I remember what this place was like 20, 30, 40, 50, years ago and how it is now.' The kind of evolution of a place I think is relatable to everybody."

Clybourne Park  runs through February 23 at Farmers Alley Theater.