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A CurtainUp Review
Divided into two acts, fifty years apart, the house in Clybourne Park could be in any neighborhood that has undergone changes between 1959 and 2009, just as the corner deli morphed into a Super Saver before becoming Whole Foods. At the intersection of racism and gentrification is prejudice -— perhaps less overt than it was fifty years ago, but existing nonetheless. Norris hits nearly all the usual targets with humor that stings: black/white, rich/poor, male/female, gay/straight, mentally ill, physically handicapped, even differences of taste in architecture. Some of the jokes are self-deprecating to the teller's demographic, some are just crude but like all ethnic jokes their underlying theme holds plenty of truth.
Inhabiting James Kronzer's cleverly atmospheric two-story house is an ensemble that is perfectly in tune with each other. Playing different roles in each act, they're all good. Helen Hayes nominee Dawn Ursula is subservient to her husband and to her employer in Act One and a very self -confident and stylish African-American neighbor in Act Two. Mitchell Hébert is excellent as the emotionally numb man of the house in Act One and Mr. Fixit in Act Two. Jennifer Mendenhall, one of Washington's consistently fine actors, plays the mousy, well meaning stay-at-home wife and, in the second act the not-as-clever-as-she-thinks-she is lawyer with equal finesse. Kimberly Gilbert is never demeaning to the deaf girl she plays in the first act and always feisty as the very pregnant purchaser in 2009 of the house where she looks forward to bringing up her baby. Admittedly she has some of the best lines, but she is a marvel in both roles.
Howard Shalwitz, who won the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Direction of Clybourne Park, and his perfectly-cast ensemble, also a HH Awards winner, never resort to scene-stealing tricks. It's as though they are delivering the jokes with a straight face and the seriousness of Norris's observations with a matter-of-fact tone. That's why it is a pleasure to welcome this play to the neighborhood.