‘Cly­bourne Park’ is must-see theater.

The Boyertown Area Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Cheryl Thorn­burg cthorn­burg@berksmont­news.com

I al­ways look for­ward to pro­duc­tions in Steel River Play­house’s“New­berry Loft, but I was un­pre­pared for the pro­found im­pact of “Cly­bourne Park,” as per­formed in this com­pact space. The au­di­ence is es­sen­tially sit­ting in Russ and Bev’s liv­ing room with the ac­tors a few feet from them as this thought-pro­vok­ing story un­folds.

Set in two eras 50 years apart, it holds up a mir­ror to the prej­u­dices, fears and con­flicts that have plagued hu­man­ity through­out time. Bruce Nor­ris’ char­ac­ters will seem fa­mil­iar. You know, or are like, some of them.

Act One is set in 1959 as Russ and Bev are pre­par­ing to move to the sub­urbs from their Cly­bourne Park home. Russ, played by Marc Schule, is still strug­gling with the sui­cide of his son and has cut him­self off from friends. His wife, played by Al­li­son Fisher, is try­ing to help him move on. As var­i­ous friends stop in, ten­sion builds as they try to in­ter­act with Russ.

Emo­tions erupt when a neigh­bor, Karl and his wife ar­rive and Karl, played by Joe Don­ley, in­forms them that the cou­ple who has bought their home is black and he is not happy about it and be­gins spout­ing about prop­erty val­ues declining, etc. Russ and Bev have no prob­lem with it, but as Karl gets more ag­i­tated, what en­sues is one of the most ex­plo­sive scenes I’ve seen on stage. Schule and Don­ley tap into some real rage and the ten­sion is pal­pa­ble.

It is not just their act­ing that is su­perb, how­ever, the other ac­tors re­act to the sit­u­a­tion in their own way, cap­tur­ing the essence of a sit­u­a­tion that played out many times in that era. Tia Chanel plays Francine, the black maid, who tries to stay out of the con­flict; Jerry McGrier plays her hus­band Al­bert; Christo­pher Wa­ters plays the min­is­ter and Lau­ren Salvo plays Betsy, Karl’s wife who is deaf.

Those same ac­tors get to switch things up in Act Two, when the ac­tion moves to 2009 in the same home when a young white cou­ple is meet­ing with real es­tate rep­re­sen­ta­tives and mem­bers of a neigh­bor­hood com­mit­tee. Cly­bourne Park is now a black com­mu­nity in a de­sir­able area and the young cou­ple wants to tear down the house and build a larger one in its place.

Don­ley and Salvo play the new­com­ers and are met with re­sis­tance from Chanel and McGrier, who want to main­tain the char­ac­ter of the neigh­bor­hood. Once again, things be­come heated and some of the ac­tors who played lesser roles in Act One get to show what they can do in Act Two. Salvo shows a spunky side as she gets in­volved in dis­cus­sions about the plans and Chanel plays a much stronger char­ac­ter as she de­fends the neigh­bor­hood where she grew up.

Schule who de­liv­ers such an in­tense per­for­mance in Act One, gets to show his ver­sa­til­ity and pro­vide comic re­lief as he plays a work­man who un­cov­ers a trunk while dig­ging in the back­yard.

The re­main­ing char­ac­ter, Ken­neth, Russ and Bev’s son, is only spo­ken of through­out the play un­til the fi­nal scene Zachary Clark is only on stage for a few min­utes, but he makes an im­pres­sion and gives the au­di­ence even more to think about.

“Cly­bourne Park” is di­rected by Re­becca May Flow­ers.

The play’s sub­jects may be se­ri­ous, but in ad­di­tion to in­tense drama, there are also some very funny mo­ments to break that ten­sion.

The themes may be un­com­fort­able and there is some crude lan­guage, but “Cly­bourne Park” is a play that needs to be seen, par­tic­u­larly in this day when the coun­try is not just di­vided, it seems to be frac­tured.

The Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award win­ning drama runs through Sun­day, Feb.19 at at Steel River Play­house, 245 E. High Street, Pottstown, PA 19464. Tick­ets for Cly­bourne Park are $22 for an adult, $19 for se­niors (65+) and $15 for stu­dents. Tick­ets can be or­dered on­line at www.steel­river.org. Seat­ing in the New­berry Loft is lim­ited, so re­serve tick­ets soon. For more in­for­ma­tion, call 610-970-1199.

PHO­TOS BY JOHN DAGGETT

Joe Don­ley, left, and Lau­ren Salvo ar­gue with Jerry McGrier and Tia Chanel in a dy­namic scene in Act Two of “Cly­bourne Park.”

Steel River Play­house’s provoca­tive “Cly­bourne Park” runs through Feb. 19. Joe Don­ley is chill­ing as Karl.

Marc Schule, left, de­liv­ers an ex­plo­sive per­for­mance as Russ, and Al­li­son Fisher bal­ances him out as his wife, Bev.

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