is obvious that the inspiration for Bruce Norris's entertaining satire
is Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 A Raisin In The Sun, since his first act
is essentially a comical look at the offstage action of Hansberry's
drama about an African-American family preparing to move into an
turns his attention to the white couple who have sold the house, and
the neighbours who try to talk them out of it.
Norris the opportunity to look at the story comically, and to present
the neighbours as fools more than bigots, but it doesn't keep him from
finding seriousness of an unexpected sort in the experience of the
selling husband, who is motivated in part by resentment at what he sees
as their friends' failure to support them in a period of private
tragedy, and who thus doesn't give a damn what happens to their
property values when he leaves.
compounds the ironies by jumping ahead fifty years and reversing the
situation, as a white couple plan to move into the same property in
what is now a black neighbourhood whose residents have been there long
enough to feel some loyalty to it and be suspicious of gentrifying
Norris has to
say about more polite but still unresolved American race relations,
about neighbourhood and loyalty, and about the clash between honourable
aspirations and honourable conservatism all comes through without
preaching, in part because it is sugar-coated by a lot of extraneous
but thoroughly enjoyable comedy.
each act the
serious discussions - between sellers and neighbours then and between
buyers and community representatives now - are repeatedly interrupted
and sidetracked by comic irrelevancies, from phone calls and offers of
refreshment to travel stories and arguments over the capital of
punctuated by the need to repeat and translate everything for a deaf
woman, Act Two by a string of joke-telling with increasingly
antagonistic subtexts. And with at least two married couples present in
each half, we are invited to enjoy the cracks appearing in their
cordiality as things get heated.
weakness of the play is that the incidental and essentially irrelevant
laughs are so much fun that they risk going beyond sugar-coating to
total negation of the play's serious content.
that director Dominic Cooke can't always avoid, especially in the first
act, where the characters do tip over into stereotypical cartoons,
especially Sophie Thompson's parody of a 'Fifties housewife.
The strongest performances are those that manoeuvre the tightrope between serious and comic, notably Steffan Rhodri's bitter seller in 1959 and Martin Freeman's exasperated buyer in 2009, while Lucian Msamati artfully steals scenes in both halves as a quiet observer whose occasional sharp zinger shows that he sees through everyone's euphemistic cant.
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- Clybourne Park - Royal Court 2010