Monday, March 30, 2015

review and photograph by janet i. martineau

Act I: Simmer, simmer, bubble, boil, explode.
Act II: Simmer, simmer, bubble, boil, EXPLODE.
The instigators: Racism and racists, rude comments about nearly every possible ethnic group, white folks, neighborhoods, history. Using comedy, satire and dialogue that makes us squirm in recognition.
Opening tonight is Pit and Balcony Community Theatre's production of the Pulitzer-winning "Clybourne Park" by Bruce Norris.
We caught the final dress rehearsal and everything about it is a keeper, except in the few opening moments when the script is a little bit draggy before it starts to simmer.
More or less a companion piece to Lorraine Hansbury's 1957 "A Raisin in the Sun," also a Pulitizer winner, this 2010 play examines a white Chicago neighborhood turning black and then black turning white. Act I takes place in 1957 and Act II 50 years later, in 2009.
What is delightful and the most fun is the seven-member cast portrays one set of characters in the first act and then a different set of characters in the second. It takes a bit of time for us to adjust to the sudden change, but it gives the actors a chance to show off two very different characters.
There is an eighth cast member, but mum is the word. And some of those 14 characters in the two acts are interrelated, but mum on that as well because the surprise is wonderful. In fact, mum on a lot in this review.
Directed by Tommy Wedge, everything about the production sparkles -- the attention to detail, the see-through set that changes dramatically between acts, the set decoration and costumes, the music, the pacing, and especially the acting (but then Wedge got himself a total dream team).
Without detailing their characters in both acts too much, the actors are Jim Stewart, grieving father and macho contractor; Ann Russell-Lutenske, frustrated wife and upscale lawyer; Cassidy Morey, deaf and pregnant foreigner and pregnant and mouthy American; Ekia Thomas, housekeeper and upscale professional, and Marco Verdoni, minister and lawyer.
Chad William Baker is cast as the lead bigot in both acts, and the coiled rattlesnake who sets off the dynamic explosions in both. And Kenneth Elmore is the significant other of Thomas in both acts.
They are all exquisite...totally into their dual characters with every fiber of their souls. When the explosions occur these actors leave us breathless with their intensity and flawless interweaving and rapid-fire exchanges. They are REAL.
Morey is a special treat with her foreign accent coupled with deaf speech pattern in the first act and her pregnant maneuvers in the second. And Russell-Lutenske's facial expressions shine.
Last year Pit brilliantly  staged "Raisin," directed by Linda Rebney, and now its companion is equally brilliant with Wedge. Good job.

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