I must be living right these days. I got another treat last night–Clybourne Park at Actor’s Theatre. Here is my reaction to this gem:
Just how good is Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte’s new production of the new American classic, Bruce Norris’ “Clybourne Park”? About as good as theatre gets. This brilliant realization of an equally brilliant script does not take a back seat to any theatre you will ever see in Chicago or New York. In a season that has brought theatre-goers more than their money’s worth in an unprecedented string of great shows, finally the champ comes rolling into town. When Charlotte Rep lost its fight for financial survival a few years back, Dan Shoemaker and ATC stepped in to fill the void. And they have done so with a remarkable consistency of quality. But with this production they come fully of age, erasing from our theatre-quality scale the old standard and giving us a new one.
Deliver an ingenious script that does a comic riff on an American classic (“A Raisin in the Sun”) into the masterful hands of Dennis Delamar (ably assisted by Polly Adkins) and then let him work with as talented a cast as you are likely to see any time soon. The result is sheer theatre Nirvana. This production held echoes for me of some of the finest plays I have ever seen or read. The funny and touching first act reminded me at times of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” (Craig Spradley’s rendition of the bitter father). The flat-out hilarious second act paid homage to Kaufman and Hart’s zany, “You Can’t Take It With You.” (Mitzi Corrigan’s first act ditzy mom had already reminded me of the latter play.) Add to that a denouement that devastated me like the finest moments of Sam Shepherd’s “Buried Child.”
Dennis works magic here, but he does not do it alone. The cast is a mix of very talented young performers and three veterans–Craig, Mitzi, and Rob Simmons–all of whom we see much too seldom on Charlotte stages these days. Pay particular attention to Spradley’s transformation from the troubled but amusing dad of Act I into a working-class cameo in Act II. At the play’s end when Delamar has us focused elsewhere, sneak at look at Spradley to see some of the best work all night by an old pro. And then there is Simmons at his comedic best. It is comforting to see the Charlotte area’s best actor back in top form. His timing throughout, but especially in Act II, is peerless.
Add to this costumes by Jamey Varnadore, lighting by Hallie Gray and a brilliant set by Chip Decker that does the reverse metamorphosis from a cute butterfly into the ugliest caterpillar you have ever seen, and you have all theatrical elements working to near perfection.
I cannot say enough about the direction of this play. The delivery of comedy this complex takes Toscanini-like precision. Dennis does that here. And he delivers the farce of Act II without the quick entrances and slamming doors we usually associate with that comedy genre. For the most part he plops his characters down on make-shift chairs in an empty living room and trusts his actors and the playwright to work their magic. And then there is the ending. No spoiler here. Just suffice it to say that I have not seen a better finish to a play in all my years of theatre-going in Charlotte.
If you are a theatre lover, do yourself a favor and see this comedic masterpiece. If you are an actor or director, do yourself an even bigger one and see this lesson in brilliant comic timing and subtle layering of serious issues painlessly over the fun.
Shared by Charles LaBorde, a long-time educator and theatre supporter, on his Facebook page. Shared on our website with his permission.