Clybourne Park Summary

Bruce Norris

Clybourne Park

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Clybourne Park Summary

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Clybourne Park, a play written by Bruce Norris in 2010 is a spinoff of the play A Raisin in the Sun. It tells the story of what happened before and after the events in A Raisin in the Sun and is based loosely on real events.

In act 1, Bev and Russ are selling their home in the Clybourne neighborhood of Chicago. They are grieving the loss of their son. They receive visitors: a clergyman, Jim, and their neighbors Karl and Betsy. The visitors plead with them to back out of the deal because the family buying the house is black. They fear that property values will fall if black residents begin to move into the neighborhood.

As it turns out, the family is the Younger family from A Raisin in the Sun, and their neighbor is Karl Linder, a minor character who attempted to keep them out of the neighborhood. He has just come from their house where he has offered them a bribe to stop them from moving in. They refuse, and now it is up to Bev and Russ. The couples talk for a while before calling on Bev and Russ’s housekeeper to express their views.

Russ finally has had enough and kicks everyone out of the house. He decides that he does not care what happens to the neighborhood since no one accepted his son, Kenneth, when he returned from the war, and now he is gone.

The second act takes place fifty years later. The same actors play different characters. Clybourne Park has become a historically black neighborhood, but the area is slowly gentrifying. The house is up for sale, and a white couple, Steve and Lindsay, are trying to buy it to raze it and build something bigger. They are having problems with the local housing regulation and are forced to negotiate. The couple on the board, Kevin and Lena, do not want to see the house torn down.

Lena is related to the Younger family. Steve and Lindsay’s lawyer is the daughter of Karl and Betsy. She mentions that her family moved sometime around her birth. A discussion about housing codes degenerates until the racial issues come to the surface. Steve feels that political correctness is allowing a subtle prejudice against him, and the conversation further degenerates with both sides feeling the resentment.

The conversation is interrupted by Dan, a worker who has found Kenneth’s army trunk in the back yard. He opens it and finds Kenneth’s suicide note. The scene flashes back to Bev finding her son dressed late at night in his army uniform. He tells her that he has a job interview, but it is evident to us that he is writing a suicide note. The play ends with Bev saying that she believes things are going to change for the better.

Norris takes a classic play about actual events and adds a modern response to the themes of race and racism from the original. In the first act, we are faced with the issue of white flight, a time when black families began moving into neighborhoods in the city, and in response, white people moved out. This flight caused some of the urban neighborhoods to change into mostly black neighborhoods.

In the fifty years that passed from the first act to the second, white families are moving back in, causing gentrification of areas that are now black enclaves. The fact that white families are moving in is not causing the turmoil. The problem lays in the ways the neighborhood changes, over time allowing only exclusive members with a wealthier status to afford to live there. Modifying the face of the community would cause a lot of turmoil, and the characters that want to tear down the house, want to do so because it will improve the neighborhood.

Those who oppose them, do not do so for racial issues, but through understanding that people will begin to lose their homes as property value skyrockets. The writer examines these two opposing forces in a commentary on modern racism and prejudice.

There are cringe-worthy moments in the play, particularly a moment where all the characters tell racist jokes to each other. However, the characters are each fighting for the right to make the neighborhood in their image, and this is a beautiful, painful struggle. Lena wants to see the house preserved as emblematic of her family’s struggle in breaking barriers. Steve and Lisa want to tear down a crumbling house and build something they envision will bring new life to the neighborhood.

While A Raisin in the Sun looked hopefully forward, Clybourne Park looks back at what has happened. It is up to the audience to decide if the hope in Raisin in the Sun is fully realized in the second act of Clybourne Park or if cynicism is the only real outcome of fifty years of change.