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'Straightforward Conversational Drama' Explores One Area's Gentrification Through 50 Years
This Friday, Cripple Creek Theatre Company opens the Pulitzer-prize winning Clybourne Park at the Shadowbox Theatre. Written by Bruce Norris, the play focuses on racial and social changes within one neighborhood at two socially and culturally distinct times, 1959 and 2009.
The first act illustrates one white community's reluctance to accept a new black family, even of the same class. The second act explores issues of gentrification, as the neighborhood has fallen into disrepair and matches ideals for the rich and "good investment" seekers. An interview with Artistic Director and Company Co-Founder Andy Vaught gives insight to the play and its relevance to New Orleans' own social dynamics.
A departure from Cripple Creek's borderline-norm of more absurdist plays from authors such as Thornton Wilder, Alfred Jarry, and even Mr. Vaught himself, Clybourne Park touts a straightforward conversational drama with a singular location, thus "getting back to the roots of Cripple Creek." However, for members of the company, this does not make the play any less compelling or less worthwhile to produce.
Vaught finds Norris' work nihilistic, or, upon quick second consideration, "maybe he's just a realist." In line with Cripple Creek's mission to "engage our community with immediate, relevant plays," Clybourne Park reflects upon race relations, and considers place and memory as the bases of a strong community. Immediately relevant to current New Orleans social dynamics--evident even on the same St. Claude block as the Shadowbox Theatre--the play confronts the audience with questions of neighborhood and entitlement. Specifically, Cripple Creek bills that the play explores middle class hypocrisies, a phrase Vaught describes as a "lack of understanding about the struggle that others have to go through, their history, to get where they are… [as some allow] their present financial situation allows them to distract them [from others]."
Not to be hypocrites themselves, Cripple Creek partnered last fall with the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) for the creation of the play. In fact, the production opening this weekend is the last in a series of three events of "The Clybourne @ St. Claude Project."
If you missed it, there was a physical workshop exploring the question: "what does 'home' mean to you?" as well as a staged reading of a new play examining "the impact of exclusionary housing policy and practices on women and families."
While this intense community activism fulfills the company's second mission, "to provide our community with a platform for constructive dialogue, transformative reflection, and social change," they do not stop there. After every Saturday performance of Clybourne Park's six-week run, dramaturg Rachel Lee will lead a Post-Show Reflection with rotating speakers such as C.W. Canon, journalist (6/1) and Karen Gadbois, reporter and blogger (6/8), among others. The lobby will also be transformed with relevant artwork from GNOFAC and Women's Health and Justice Initiative, as well as comparisons of institutional racism in housing policies in New Orleans and Chicago.
As the company looks forward to the theatrical success and sprouts of community dialogue to come from Clybourne Park, they are proud to be closing their seventh year. In reflection, Vaught intimates that past productions have taken audience members to "the Acropolis of Ancient Greece, a gateway to Hell, and a small Norwegian town." But to craft the minute details of what makes a house a home, and what makes a community vibrant, Vaught states "that's, well…" and holds a pause that leads to a shrug and a laugh to imply that that's damn difficult.
'Clybourne Park' premieres May 17, and is running Fridays-Sundays until June 23. More information here.
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