The Setting of Clybourne Park (Act Two):
During intermission of Bruce Norris' play Clybourne Park, the stage undergoes a significant transformation. The former home of Bev and Russ (from Act One) ages fifty years. In the process, it erodes from a quaint, well-kept home into seemingly abandoned residence that features, in the words of the playwright, "an overall shabbiness." Act Two takes place in September of 2009. The stage directions describe the altered environment:
"The wooden staircase has been replaced with a cheaper metal one. ( . . . ) The fireplace opening is bricked in, linoleum covers large areas of wooden floor and plaster has crumbled from the lath in places. The kitchen door is now missing."
During Act One, Karl Lindner predicted that the community would irrevocably change, and he implied that the neighborhood would decline in prosperity. Based upon the description of the house, it seems at least part of Lindner's forecast has come true.
Meet the Characters:
Six people sit in a semi-circle, looking over real estate / legal documents. Set in 2009, the neighborhood is now a predominantly African-American community. It's a new act, so we have a new batch of characters:
The black married couple, Kevin and Lena, maintain strong ties to the house in question. Not only is Lena a member of the Home Owners Association, hoping to preserve the "architectural integrity" of the neighborhood, she is the niece of the original owners, the Youngers from Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun.
The white married couple, Steve and Lindsey, have recently purchased the house, and they have plans to tear down most of the original structure and created a larger, taller, and more modern home. Lindsey is pregnant, and makes every attempt to be friendly and politically correct during Act Two. Steve, on the other hand, is eager to tell offensive jokes and engage in discussions about race and class. Like Karl Lindner in the previous act, Steve is the most obnoxious member of the group, serving as a catalyst that exposes not only his prejudice, but the prejudice of others.
The remaining characters (each one Caucasian) include:
- Tom, the real estate lawyer representing the interests of Kevin and Lena's Home Owner's Association. Tom continually tries (but usually fails) to keep the conversation on track.
- Kathy, the lawyer of Steve and Lena, also tries to keep the proverbial ball rolling. However, she does go on brief tangents, such as when she mentions that her family (the Lindners from Act One!) once lived in the neighborhood.
- Dan, a contractor who interrupts the debate when he discovers a mysterious box buried in the yard.
The first fifteen minutes seem to be about the minutiae of real estate law. Steve and Lindsey want to change the house significantly. Kevin and Lena want certain aspects of the property to remain in tact. The lawyers want to make certain that all parties are following the rules established by the lengthy legalese they page through.
The mood begins with casual, friendly conversation. It's the sort of small talk one might expect from newly acquainted strangers working towards a common goal. For example, Kevin discusses various travel destinations -- including ski trips, a clever call back to Act One. Lindsey talks happily about her pregnancy, insisting that she doesn't want to know the sex of their child.
However, because of many delays and interruptions, tensions increase. Several times Lena hopes to say something meaningful about the neighborhood, but her speech is constantly put on hold, until she finally loses patience.
In Lena's speech, she says: "No one, myself included, likes having to dictate what you can or can't do with your own home, but there's just a lot of pride, and a lot of memories in these houses, and for some of us, that connection still has value." Steve latches onto the word "value," wondering if she means monetary value or historic value.
From there, Lindsey becomes very sensitive and at times defensive. When she talks about how the neighborhood has changed, and Lena asks her for specifics, Lindsey uses the words "historically" and "demographically." We can tell she doesn't want to directly bring up the subject of race. Her aversion becomes even more prominent when she scolds Steve for using the word "ghetto."
The History of the House:
Tensions ease a bit when the conversation removes itself from the politics of property, and Lena recounts her personal connection to the home. Steve and Lindsey are surprised to learn that Lena played in this very room as a child and climbed the tree in the back yard. She also mentions the owners before the Younger family (Bev and Russ, though she doesn't mention them by name.) Assuming that the new owners already know the sad details, Lena touches upon the suicide that took place over fifty years ago. Lindsey freaks out:
LINDSEY: I'm sorry, but that is just something that, from a legal standpoint, you should have to tell people!
Just as Lindsey vents about the suicide (and its lack of disclosure) a construction worker named Dan enters the scene, bringing in the trunk that has recently been dug up from the yard. By coincidence (or perhaps fate?) the suicide note of Bev and Russ' son lies in the box, waiting to be read. However, the people of 2009 are too concerned with their own daily conflicts to bother opening up the trunk.