Thursday, April 1, 2010

Clybourne Park Deals With Familiar Issues

I had a wonderful opportunity to see a production of Clybourne Park as performed by the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Woolly Mammoth is a homegrown theater company, now in its 30th season. They are located in a beautiful, new (oh, about 5 years old?) facility on D Street NW between 6th and 7th.

Clybourne Park is the current production and it has apparently been so popular they are extending the run into mid-April. I attended a mid week show and there appeared to be just a handful of seats unfilled.

The play delineates the often artificially masked, but always obvious tensions of race, class, economics and housing which were present in post-war, 1950s America. This happened in cities all over the United States. As non-whites were eventually able to move into all white neighborhoods, white residents reacted in various ways from resistance, confusion, reluctant acceptance, encouragement and everything in between. Clybourne Park smartly illustrates this real life struggle through the eyes of fictional, but 'gosh darn they could have been plucked right out of the 50s' characters. Not at all predictable, but rooted in real history.

The second act advances to present day in the same neighborhood. Although now the neighborhood --having become predominately non-white-- faces what essentially qualify as the same issues, when a white couple is able and willing to move in. The scenarios present in the 1950s and the 2010s are analogous, but not identical. The play explores each time period on its own accord and holds the audience in high regard in that manner. We get to decide how we want to deal with the events of the play. Not be preached to.

Woven through the two acts are other seemingly mundane issues of neighborhood covenants (explicit and implicit), zoning, law, home economics and social norms. But as we know in hyper-politicized DC, those issues are neither mundane nor unimportant. Add to that a fantastic framing element which grounds the story and ensures that whatever debate happens after the play, there will always be a common ground for viewers to walk upon.

So, the question: Is Mount Pleasant Clybourne Park? Wow. I feel supremely unqualified to answer that question, but also supremely qualified to give my opinion based on my experiences. Living here for the better part of a decade, yes, I have been fortunate enough to see the changes, good and regrettable in the neighborhood during that time period. Neighborhood building is a process. An unyielding and omnipresent process. Change happens whether we plan for it or not.

And.... well, tune in tomorrow for the rest of the answer.

No seriously, I'm saving the rest for tomorrow. So, come back and read it. Feel free to give your thoughts in the comments below though.