Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Claybourne Park"

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note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Richard Pacheco

Trinity Rep Production of 2011 Pulitzer Play A Winner
"Claybourne Park"

Reviewed by Richard Pacheco

Trinity Rep delivered an amazing performance of the Pulitzer Prize winning play Claybourne Park by Bruce Norris. It is a rich, darkly funny and touching work that is compelling and sparked by an energetic and a pitch perfect ensemble performance by the cast. Brian Mertes helmed the New England premiere of this exceptional work.

All the actors play multiple roles and do it with finesse and skill. It is a wonderful ensemble piece that resonates in the mind and heart long after it is gone.

When the play opens, in 1959, we find ourselves in the tidy living room of grieving parents Bev (Anne Scurria) and Russ (Timothy Crowe). Having just lost their son to the trauma of the Korean War, they are eager to leave the trappings of white middle-class Chicago in the hopes that their broken hearts will stay behind with their broken home.

Unseen offstage, the Younger family from A Raisin in the Sun is ready to move up and into the all white neighborhood to realize their dreams. There is a strong undercurrent of barely spoken racism here which permeates the place. These soon to be fearful new neighbors are enduring some racially charged-meddling who are relying on weasel like neighbor Karl (Mauro Hantman) to talk Bev and Russ out of moving and forcing an downturn in property values by exiting.

In the second act, we then return to the house in 2009 to find the changes that have occurred. Clybourne Parkis now an all-black neighborhood, and the tables, a complete reversal of circumstances A young white couple (played by Brown/Trinity Rep MFA ’12 students Tommy Dickie and acting company member Rachael Warren) attempt to purchase the home in order to renovate it. They encounter a roadblock to their plans with a young black couple (played by Brown/Trinity Rep MFA ’12 student Mia Ellis and company member Joe Wilson, Jr.) whose initial hesitations – based on superficial housing regulations – are stripped away revealing deeper, more serious objections.

Veteran Trinity Rep member Timothy Crowe delivers a finely nuanced performance as Russ one of the grieving parents in Act I. Mr. Crowe is understated and potent in the role. He is like a coiled spring ready to burst free as he ponders the loss of his son to the trauma of the Korean War. He has a fierce humor and often elegiac presence that is powerful and endearing. He is gruff and no nonsense. Yet he is a man of great feeling and an indelible sense of loss over his son. In Act II, he appears more briefly as Dan, a construction worker. He makes it down to earth and gritty.

Veteran actress Anne Scurria is his wife, Bev. She is solid and strong, with a great sense of sadness for the loss of her son but a determination to go on, to move forward no matter what it takes. She can be obstinate and relentless in her quest, but she is kind and compassionate underneath. Ms. Scurria does an exceptional job with the role, breathing life into it with great dexterity. In Act II she plays Kathy, an attorney with zest and conviction. She offers a portrait of a skilled lawyer who despite that cannot remember the capital of Morocco where she visited. She offers confidence and yet a sense of vulnerability.

Mia Ellis is full of poise and presence as the maid, Francine in Act I. She has an honesty that is endearing and fascinating. As Lena in Act II, she nearly does an about face on character traits. She is outspoken, not afraid to be provocative and determined. She is fierce and blunt as Lena, fighting back years of rage and indignities as well as deep emotions.

Tom Dickie as Jim in the first act is a clergyman who is a bit wimpy and not determined to pursue his convictions. He is a man who wants to evoke peace between he meets—no matter what the cost. Earlier in Act II he is a real estate man trying to get all he parties to reach an accord about the renovations without anyone getting offended or outraged. It is another sturdy performance. At the end of Act II he appears briefly as the son, Kenneth and is touching and memorable.

Joe Wilson as Albert, Francine’s husband is a kind honest man of conviction. He’s peaceable, but can get pushed over the limits. Mr. Wilson is a strong and energetic presence, yet not wanting to antagonize and willing to help when he can. As the husband Kevin in Act II he is a strong presence, yet determined to keep things under control and not have them erupt while discussing the renovations.

Mauro Hantman is a delight in Act I as the pushy, self concerned weasel, Karl, who tries to convince Russ and Bev not to move and take their property values with them. He returns in Act II as Steve, the young white husband. He is skilled and full of finesse here as well, as he shows a man trying to not be incorrect and finally succumbing to his building rage.

In Act I, Rachel Warren is winning and totally convincing as the deaf Betsy, who is married to Karl, a sleazy weasel of a man. She has some great comic touches and assurance. In Act II, once again pregnant as Lindsey, one of the young people moving into the neighborhood she is frazzled and concerned.

Brian Mertes directs this all with a fearless touch. He makes the most of his extraordinary cast. He draws out the best he can from them.

Eugene Lee’s set is sparse and effective. It conjures up both locations with skill and minimal furniture and effects.

Olivera Gajic’s costumes are simple and effectual. The lighting design by Dan Scully, and sound design by Peter Sasha Hurowitz are also effective.

The cast receive a well deserved standing ovation. This is strong stuff, brilliantly performed. The were impeccable, full of verve, conviction and pitch perfect timing for the at times raucous comedy as well as the more touching moments that resonate long after the play is done. It’s a don’t miss darkly comic story with its impeccable performances across the boards.

It will run through November 20 in the Dowling Theater. Tickets are now on sale at the Trinity Rep box office, 201 Washington St.; by phone at (401) 351-4242, and online at

"Claybourne Park" (till 20 November)
@ 201 Washington Street, PROVIDENCE RI

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide