In 2014, issues of race continued to dominate headlines. The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner sparked nationwide protests, with the epicenter in Ferguson, Missouri, the city where Brown was killed by police officer Darren Wilson. The protests have brought forth heated conversations on both sides of the issue, with a fierce examination of race relations in every corner of the country.
Lorraine Hansberry spoke about race in explicit and passionate terms in her landmark play “A Raisin in the Sun” back in 1959 when the show debuted on Broadway. One of the many magical things about her play is how, more than 55 years after that debut, it still maintains its poignancy and relevance, making it a play that is always timely.
The issues of Ferguson and other events throughout the country were not lost on Carl Jordan when it came time to sit down and direct the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning play for Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse. That play, “Clybourne Park” written by Bruce Norris, opens Friday, Jan. 9th.
Jordan was floored when he first read the play, and feels fortunate to take the helm for 6th Street’s production.
“Bruce Norris is a provocateur and stirs up the pot. He doesn’t tell you what to think or come to a conclusion, but presents different sides of the conversation in an elegant and lovely way,” said Jordan. “He takes on the bugaboos of our society from 1959 to the present day, while we are still having the same problems in our culture now. What happened in Ferguson is very apropos to the play.”
“A Raisin in the Sun,” follows the trials and tribulations of the Younger family on the day a major inheritance check is scheduled to arrive to the family. The check is made out to matriarch Lena (Mama), but her son Walter Lee has a singular plan for the money, opening up a liquor store and becoming a businessman, with all the riches that come with entrepreneurship. Lena has another idea – a down payment on a home in Clybourne Park, a middle class white neighborhood in Chicago.
One of the most infamous scenes in the play involves the character of Karl Lindner, a white man who is representing the so-called “Clybourne Park Welcoming Committee.” The name is a front for a more veiled intention, which includes buying back the home in order to keep the neighborhood whites only.
Norris’ “Clybourne Park” starts where this scene ends, with Lindner meeting at the home of Russ and Bev, the owner’s of the home the Younger’s are buying. Lindner is concerned about things like property values and race mixing, and the safety of his wife Betsy and the child she is pregnant with.
The play is really two very separate halves, with the second act taking place 50 years later, Clybourne Park now a predominantly black neighborhood. That same house is now in bad shape, and the new white owners are looking for some renovations, with input from neighbors who have a stake in the memories of that house.
For Jordan, 50 years later is where the issues of race really explode on the stage.
“It really comes alive in the second act with issues of political correctness, what’s offensive to one culture, territorialism, war, family, race and gentrification,” said Jordan. “These are huge rich subjects that are brought forth, put in a pot and stirred up passionately. Norris does this with wit and satire that makes you laugh out loud. But then you look at your neighbor and ask, ‘Should I be laughing at this and why am I laughing at that?’ It’s really the nature of a great work of art.”
Jordan’s process as a director includes constant reading of the script, looking to glean insight into the play as a whole and insight into each individual character, often re-reading the play from their perspective. But one of the most important sources of material is the play from where “Clybourne Park” came from in the first place. Once Jordan knew he was going to direct the piece, he made contact with friend and colleague L. Peter Callender, a renowned Bay Area actor and director who just ended a critically acclaimed turn in Berkeley as Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe in Aurora Theatre Company’s production of “Breakfast With Mugabe.” The two discussed “Raisin” at length, with Jordan finding even more importance and nuance in the play.
“What’s important about ‘Raisin’ is that it informs the importance of ‘Clybourne Park,’” said Jordan. “I’m just in awe of ‘Raisin.’ It’s a seminal work of art that will live forever, and the same possibilities exist with ‘Clybourne Park.’”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
6th Street Playhouse Presents “Clybourne Park”
Written by Bruce Norris
Directed by Carl Jordan
Jan. 9th – 25th
Tickets range from $10 – $32
GK Hardt Theatre
52 W. 6th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
For tickets, call (707) 523-4185 ext. 1 or visit www.6thstreetplayhouse.com