Home Entertainment Need a reason to check out Buffalo Theatre Ensemble? First-rate, 4-star ‘Clybourne Park’ revival is it

Need a reason to check out Buffalo Theatre Ensemble? First-rate, 4-star ‘Clybourne Park’ revival is it

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Need a reason to check out Buffalo Theatre Ensemble? First-rate, 4-star ‘Clybourne Park’ revival is it


“Clybourne Park” — ★ ★ ★ ★

Theater lovers who don’t have Buffalo Theatre Ensemble on their radar should recalibrate.

Founded in 1986, the longtime resident company at Glen Ellyn’s McAninch Arts Center consistently produces solid, often exceptional work. Case in point: Its keenly executed revival of the ever-resonant “Clybourne Park.”

Conceived as a companion piece to Lorraine Hansberry’s seminal “A Raisin in the Sun,” Bruce Norris’ well-crafted, Pulitzer Prize-winning examination of racism and the scant progress made in addressing — let alone resolving — the problem, “Clybourne Park” is the sort of intimate, provocative drama at which BTE excels.

The acting is assured and deeply felt in Kurt Naebig’s characteristically understated production, which unfolds on designer Sarah Lewis’ tidy, comfortably middle-class bungalow.

The time is 1959. The place is Clybourne Park, an all-white Chicago neighborhood and longtime home of Russ (Bryan Burke in a wrenching portrait of anger, grief and depression) and Bev (Kelli Walker, delicate in her expression of pain), a couple whose chatter doesn’t entirely mask the strain a family tragedy has placed on them.


        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

 

Having sold their home (below market value), Russ and Bev are days away from moving to the suburbs and are packing up with help from their African American maid Francine (a nicely contained Raina Lynn), who patiently endures the subtle, indirect slights her employer inflicts.



Bryan Burke, left, and Kelli Walker, center, play a couple planning to move from their Chicago home to the suburbs and Raina Lynn plays their housekeeper assisting them with packing up in Buffalo Theatre's revival of "Clybourne Park," Bruce Norris' companion play to Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun."


Bryan Burke, left, and Kelli Walker, center, play a couple planning to move from their Chicago home to the suburbs and Raina Lynn plays their housekeeper assisting them with packing up in Buffalo Theatre’s revival of “Clybourne Park,” Bruce Norris’ companion play to Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.”
– Courtesy of Rex Howard Photography

Pastor Jim (Harrison Weger) drops in to say farewell and offer Russ belated, halfhearted consolation. Francine’s affable husband, Albert (Jamie Black), arrives to collect his wife and gets roped into moving a trunk. Last to arrive is homeowner’s association representative Karl (Zak Wilson, unnerving as a refined racist in a tailored suit) and his deaf wife, Betsy (Lisa Dawn), who is pregnant with the couple’s first child. They’ve just come from visiting the Black family (the Youngers from Hansberry’s “Raisin”) who have bought Russ and Bev’s home.

Fearing integration will spark white flight and lower property values, Karl urges Russ to cancel the sale, sparking an increasingly heated debate (whose tension Naebig effectively stokes) revealing the characters’ inherent bigotry.

        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

 

Fast forward 50 years to Act II, which takes place in the same house now abandoned and dilapidated after the onetime middle-class Black neighborhood succumbed to drugs and violence. The neighborhood’s gradual gentrification appeals to Steve (Wilson) and his pregnant wife, Lindsey (Dawn), an upper middle-class white couple intending to build their McMansion with help from their attorney Kathy (Walker) and contractor Dan (Burke).

Standing in the way is the current homeowners association represented by Lena (a razor-sharp Lynn), her husband, Kevin (Black), and their lawyer Tom (Weger) who object to changes that will upend the neighborhood’s architectural integrity and by extension, its racial composition.

The issues of admission, exclusion and ownership that informed the first act dominate the second, in which a new generation expresses fears and prejudices animated by ignorance, undiminished by time. They’re reflected in the self-consciously polite micro-aggressions we launch and defend daily in all sorts of neighborhoods everywhere.

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Location: Buffalo Theatre Ensemble at McAninch Arts Center, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn, (630) 942-4000, atthemac.org, btechicago.com

Showtimes: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 9

Tickets: $42

Running time: About 90 minutes, no intermission

Parking: In the lot

Rating: For adults, includes strong language and mature subject matter

COVID-19 precautions: Masks recommended