Actors Kenneth Kay and Gregg Weiner discussing the declining grass growth rate in East Podunk or the saturation factor in a cocktail napkin would be a fascinating experience for anyone privileged to watch. Imagine then what happens when you toss them the inflammatory script of Clybourne Park now playing at Boca Raton's Caldwell Theatre. Simply good theatre.
Written by Bruce Norris and premiered at NYC' s Playwrights Horizons Theatre just last year, the show is split completely by its two acts. In the first, it's 1959 and Russ (Kay) and Bev (Patti Gardner) have just sold their home. They're in their packing box strewn living room, idly discussing word meanings and place names, she in her pointy bra and circle skirt with crinolines and he slumped in a chair with the National Geo and a worn out air. Francine (Karen Stephens), the black maid, is treated with persistently oblivious respect by Bev. It's ho hum time. But not for long. Jim (Cliff Burgess) the sanctimonious pastor stops in. Then Karl (Gregg Weiner) and Betsy (Margery Lowe) arrive, he as the local bigot and she as his deaf and pregnant wife. Then, finally, we get Brian D. Coats as the maid's dignified husband, Albert. It's showtime.
This first act drives hard to its finish. There's nothing PC here as the master/servant, block busting, racist fears whistle around the stage. But it's not all black and white. Margery Lowe's acerbic turn as the deaf wife with the speech difficulties is hilarious. And Weiner's attempts to stop the home sale are repulsively funny. But it is Kay, desperately worn out by past events, who anchors the act.
Act Two and it's 2009. Lena and Kevin (Stephens and Coats, both formidably quiet actors) have now just sold the home previously owned by Bev and Russ to Steve (Weiner) and Lindsey (Lowe) who want to tear down the house and rebuild a home that flouts the community standards. Tom (Burgess) represents the community. Once again the act starts slowly, the buyers and sellers discussing the rebuilding plans with the lawyer Kathy (Gardner). Kay is now in a seemingly minor role as construction worker Dan, already making changes to the property. And suddenly it's black and white time again and Stephens and Coats set a viciously funny pace to a coda that is both tender and tragic. Andrew Wind as Kenneth appears here and he is well worth the wait.
Scenic designer Tim Bennett has worked magic with the home, comfortably alive in the first act, tiredly neglected in the second. Thomas M. Shorrock designed the unobtrusive lighting and Alberto Arroyo the 1959 and 2009 costumes.
It would be easy to say that Clybourne Park with its sometimes bad language and derision of stereotypes is not for everyone, but really, it is. Director Clive Cholerton has taken a terrific script, given it to good actors and presented a show that entertains, enlightens and makes you want to see more of his work.
Clybourne Park plays through February 6 at The Caldwell Theatre, 7901 North Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Call 561.241.7432 / 877.245.7432 or visit www.caldwelltheatre.com.