Clybourne Park – A Divide of Generations

I was excited to be at the Stanley for opening night of Clybourne Park.  What’s not to love about theatre folk getting dressed up and sipping on some chardonnay in a beautiful theatre?   Knowing only a loose synopsis of the story, the awards it has won and finding myself in the coveted Arts Club venue, my expectations were high.

The play’s two acts are divided by generations; the first taking place in the 1950’s and the second in present day. Without going into every detail of the story, the first act follows older couple Russ and Bev (played by Andrew Wheeler and Deborah Williams) moving out of their suburban white neighborhood and the issues that arise when their home is sold to an African American family.  The second act reverses things, as young white couple Steve and Lindsey (played by Robert Moloney and Sasa Brown) are looking to move into the now predominantly black neighborhood.  The couple run into a few awkward speed bumps presented by neighbors Kevin and Lena (played by Daren Herbert and Marci T. House), who want to uphold the integrity of the historic house. Now, this show is titled as a “sharp witted comedy” which is a bit confusing given the content.  Did I mention the older couple’s son committed suicide in the house after serving in the war?

The actors were skilled but unfortunately the characters ended up coming across as somewhat one-dimensional.  Much of the back and forth banter was lost on me as it was all delivered at level 10 in both volume and in vigor.  I know that in a theatre the size of the Stanley projection is very important, but it was to the point of taking me out of the reality of the story completely.  In the second act, the actors (who all played different roles) seemed much more at ease and the jokes were much more satisfying.  There was still an excess of yelling that was exhausting to listen to, but at least there were some total zingers from Williams and calm, brewing Herbert who struck at all the right moments.  Sebastien Archibald was a nice anchor in both acts, playing a bumbling pastor in the first act and a straight to the point lawyer in the second.

All things considered, the script was absolutely ‘sharp witted’ as promised but I was unable to fully appreciate the comedy of it as the actors just seemed to yell at each other for the show’s entirety.  The writing stands alone and did not need the exponential push that seemed to run consistently through the whole production.  However, I found myself asking the question; maybe it’s a generational thing?

The audience was roaring with laughter for the entire show.  They were, I would say, predominantly over 50 and maybe seeing something that I wasn’t.  I feel that the race issue that the play covers doesn’t necessarily hit home with my generation.  Vancouver, the ‘cultural mosaic’ that it is, doesn’t seem like the city where these issues are very heated – hence why it is easy for one to make light of them.

Clybourne Park plays at The Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until October 7th.