(First written on July 3, 2012) I see Times Square as the heart beat of Manhattan. While the entire island is literally buzzing with life in all shapes or forms, this particular Square with its lights, screens, blinding colours and thousands of passers by is also the place where people gather to see some of the most recognized plays and musicals. That is why it was surprising to me when my mother and I managed to buy tickets for the controversial Broadway play Clybourne Park (Bruce Norris, 2010) at the Walter Kerr Theatre merely one hour before the show began.
Clybourne Park was staged in London’s West End, won an Olivier Award as well as a Tony Award. Its main topic? Race (it seems to me the word is used with more difficulty in the US than the UK – but I still need to confirm that). At least, that is what every review starts by pointing out. However, when you start recollecting memorable moments of the play, you notice that underneath it all, it is about 7 people who act unpleasantly and idiotically because they are driven by their own personal fears and selfishness. So much so that they do not even notice when the construction guy unburies a chest of memories of a suicidal Korea War veteran and carries it to the middle of the room. No, they simply carry on with their politically correct justifications (“You know, half of my friends are black… I’ve dated a black guy”). Eventually, you learn that political correctness is distracting us from what is most important: finally having honest conversations.
The setting reminded me of other plays by Albee, Reza and Ayckbourn: the first act takes place in 1959 (in a Chicago house), and the second in 2009 (at the same run down house ready to get demolished). The actors play completely different roles in those two time frames, revealing new relations to each other and different individual traumas. As the New York Times review mentioned, these are perfectly well educated people and we are observing them as they become animals. This is not only highly entertaining to the viewer, but also deliciously challenging as an actor, as I could imagine when reading Albee.
The topics of suicide, child death, handicap and racism were the reason I was surprised that so many audience members were laughing so loudly. True, there were a few funny scenes, but when the background is so serious, all I can do is cringe or lightly laugh. Perhaps that is how I feel about black humour. I need to work on that.
Live from the Center for Jewish History, New York City, where the main librarian is speaking way too loudly.