It might seem as if Hendersonville Community Theatre has no business doing Bruce Norris’s Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Clybourne Park. It is far from what one would expect of a small community theater. The show contains adult language and delves into issues of racial relations. HCT is to be commended for its courage, and applauded for the deft execution of such delicate material.
Clybourne Park is something of a sequel to Lorraine Hansbury’s 1959 play, A Raisin In The Sun, which tells of a group of African-American family members looking to better themselves by buying a home in a predominantly white neighborhood near Chicago. In act one, we meet the white family selling that house and being pressured by white neighbors not to sell. In act two, it is roughly 50 years later. The house is run down and being bought by a white couple. They struggle with local construction restrictions in the now-historically black neighborhood, and push back from an African-American couple connected to those original buyers from Raisin.
While filled with decidedly unfunny situations, the show has a great deal of humor. Most of it arises out of painfully awkward moments of trying to navigate racial divides in both the 1950s and modern times. There is a palpable frustration in watching the contemporary cast trying very hard to be more accepting, yet finding themselves entangled by political correctness. The show’s most amusingly uncomfortable moments — and the bluest of language — comes when racially tinged jokes are exchanged, first in an attempt to relate, then as verbal weapons as things get more heated.
Director Jonathan Forrester brings a passion to the play, having acted in a previous production of Raisin. His direction maintains the production’s tension. The same actors play characters in both timelines. Chris Kingsley and Matilyn Hull appear as a couple in both acts. Kingsley shines as two characters tasked with the bulk of the most racially tinged moments, giving both a loathsome and likable portrait of evolving views. Hull is exceptional in act one as the deaf pregnant wife. In act two, she is also pregnant, but far more outspoken, as her dreams of a home for her family start to come undone. Ronnie Pepper is a natural onstage, as half of the African-American couples depicted, alongside Beth Pearson. Bob Reece, Archer Faust and Beth Norris round out this strong ensemble, despite the fact that Norris is not the appropriate age for her role in the first act.
There are moments in both acts that mirror each other, but are filtered through different contexts. It exemplifies how little has actually changed over time, and how similar both sides of the same issues can be, given reversed circumstances. It makes you sit up, pay attention and think, as well as laugh out loud. The production is as entertaining as it is relatable. And, shows like this, done this well, could open conversations of racial healing as a result.
WHAT: Clybourne Park
WHERE: Hendersonville Community Theatre, 229 S. Washington St., Hendersonville, HendersonvilleTheatre.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, July 3. Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. $12-22