In the Severson Theatre, at 800 S. College Drive in Santa Maria, the PCPA Theaterfest presents a new production of Bruce Norris' 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy, Clybourne Park, opening Thursday and running through Sept. 29.
Clybourne Park is directed by Mark Booher with sets by Abby Hogan, costumes by Robin Newell, lighting by Tamar Geist and sound by Alberto Yong. The show stars Elizabeth Stuart, Peter Hadres, Cara Ricketts, Michael Jenkinson, Ryan Vincent Anderson, Andrew Philpot and Karin Hendricks — all but the last being members of the Actors' Equity Association.
Not technically a sequel, more an extrapolation, Clybourne Park takes place, as the PCPA documents say, "in the context of" Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 breakthrough drama, A Raisin in the Sun.
The play was a very sympathetic, sometimes unsparing look at a black Chicago family moving into an heretofore all-white suburb and finding themselves internally at odds over the meaning of the experience and the desirability of the goals. The suburb's whiteness is not the result of evolution, but of design.
The subdivision's bylaws explicitly prohibit blacks. The central historical model of the situation, though not of the biographies of the characters, is the lawsuit — eventually coming before the U.S. Supreme Court — successfully undertaken by Hansberry's father in 1940 against the homeowners association of Washington Park, that he might be allowed, without harassment, to take up residence in the home he had bought with the proceeds of his booming real estate brokerage.
Some of the resistance was violent: Threats were made, bricks were thrown through windows (one such projectile missing 10-year-old Hansberry by inches).
Considering how immediate and personal the experiences were to her life, Hansberry's treatment is admirably balanced, almost detached. Still, there was more than enough passion in the Broadway production — and in the movie that followed two years later — to catapult Sidney Poitier, the lead in both, into permanent stardom. It was one of the last assertions of individual vision; the struggle was about to become a mass movement, with charismatic leaders.
Act One of Clybourne Park, set in 1959, is more or less the same story as in A Raisin in the Sun, only from the point of view of the white homeowners association. Act Two is set in the same neighborhood, in the present. The suburb has become all black, and its thoughtful citizens worry about being pressured to sell, then to witness their homes being "restored" and sold to yuppies.
"This play excites me and upsets me," director Booher said. "When I first saw it, I laughed and didn’t know if I should be laughing. It felt subversive, naughty, important and dangerous. Things happen in this story that I understand and can predict, and then things happen that I thought wouldn’t dare happen. People say things they shouldn’t say. People do things they ought not do. Things are complicated. The play is not merely about race and real estate, family and community, the Korean War, growth and grief, the degradation or gentrification of a neighborhood, heritage and bias. The 'takeaways' aren’t simple or predictable, which is one of the things I enjoy and respect about the script."
Clybourne Park plays at 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and at 7 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets range from $29.50 to $32.50, with discounts for students, children, seniors and preview performances (this Thursday and Friday). For tickets and other information, call the box office at 805.922.8313 or click here.