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LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
By Macey Levin
There is an important time element that surrounds and motivates the action of the play. The first act takes place in 1959, when Raisin. . . finishes; the second act is fifty years later. Though the early exposition starts off slowly and the cast seems to push too hard to get some laughs.
The drama takes over with the entrance of Karl Lindner, (Greg Jackson) president of the Clybourne Park Association who is returning from a visit to the Youngers, the black family from Raisin. . . that has purchased Russ (Remi Sandri) and Bev's (Carol Halstead) house. Unable to convince the Youngers to accept a larger refund on their down payment, Lindner offers Russ and Bev an opportunity to sell the house to the association. This triggers an argument that also engulfs the Jim (Kevin Crouch) the Episcopalian minister and Francine, (Lynnette R. Freeman) Bev's housemaid, and her husband Albert (Andy Lucien). Carl's deaf and pregnant wife Betsy (Clea Alsip) is on the periphery. The reasons for the confrontation and Russ's adamant refusal to reconsider the sale are agonizing.
A half-century later the house is once again for sale, but the participants are reversed; it is now a white family purchasing from a black couple, descendants of the Youngers. While negotiating the details of architectural alterations, their seemingly fundamental differences in regard to the plans deteriorate into arguments that, at first, skirt racial comments with feeble euphemisms. The dialogue leaps from polite responses to strong condemnations. Laughter abounds, but the exchanges are painful.
Every member of the cast appears in each act as new characters, all contributing skilled and sensitive work. Jackson as Lindner is a standout, especially in the first act. The only carry-over character from Raisin. . . he is unctuous in his not-so-hidden racist comments, even while the black couple is in the room. Andy Lucien's second act character Kevin is comic and pointed in his observations as confrontations erupt.
Director Giovanna Sardelli balances the inflammatory disputes and the humorous moments with a sure hand. After the exposition the play moves at a comfortable pace as the audience becomes engrossed and repelled by what is occurring. The transformation of the house by scenic designer Narelle Sissons is convincing in its fifty-year deterioration. It would have been effective to unveil the change by opening the curtain on it rather than watching the stage crew make the change, though that too is attention-grabbing.
This production is much sharper and darker than the original Broadway version and, therefore, closer to many hidden sentiments.