"Clybourne Park" holds up a big ol' mirror and insists we take a good, long look.

The Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play is Arizona Theatre Company's season closer and it is, quite simply, remarkable. Moving. Frustrating. Eloquent. Crass. And a must-see.

The Bruce Norris play forces us to look at how we use language, see others, handle pain, suppress grief and, especially, the racist tendencies we may not know are there.

"Clybourne Park" will make you cringe. Maybe cry. Certainly think.

Director Mark Clements has seen to it that the often-dark humor is matched by the often-dark circumstances and characters. And the cast is sublime; it is difficult to imagine this play performed more perfectly.

"Clybourne Park" begins in 1959, in the same house that is up for sale in Lorraine Hansberry's classic, "A Raisin in the Sun." The living room is loaded with packed boxes; the couple there is headed to the suburbs. Their house in this all-white neighborhood has been sold to a black family. Sitting among those boxes is a deeply depressed man (Lee E. Ernst) who has long refused to think about, acknowledge, grieve the tragic loss of his son, a Korean War veteran. His wife (Jenny McKnight) sees his suffering but isn't sure what to do for him. So she chatters. And calls in an officious minister (Grant Goodman) in hopes he can help her husband.

The family's black maid (Marti Gobel) is exhausted with the patronizing couple, and longs to get away; something her helpful husband (Anthony Fleming III) makes difficult.

Into this scene storms Karl (Gerard Neugent) with his pregnant, and deaf, wife (Greta Wohlrabe). He is livid, purple-faced, venomous: he has been unable to stop the black family from moving in.

In the second act, 50 years later, the house is run-down, the walls slashed with graffiti, the kitchen gutted. The neighborhood is predominately black. A white family has bought the house and intends to raze it and build a new one. A young couple, blacks who represent the neighborhood association, bitterly opposes the threat to the integrity of the neighborhood.

We find the same actors but different characters dealing with many of the same issues, though their language is so much more polite this time around. Initially, anyway.

"Clybourne Park" is populated with people who are easy to dislike, jokes that can offend, and language that rips a veil away to reveal bile that hides behind politically correct behavior.

But the play is also a study in avoidance - of emotions, bigotries, the truth, even the horrors of war.

Ultimately, it forces us to look in that mirror and see what part we play in shaping the world around us.


• What: Arizona Theatre Company's production of "Clybourne Park."

• By: Bruce Norris

• Director: Mark Clements

• When: 2 and 7 p.m. today; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. Continues through April 27.

• Where: Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave.

• Tickets: $32-$89. Discounts available, including $10 student seats.

• Reservations/information: 622-2823 or www.arizonatheatre.org

• Running time: About two hours with one intermission.

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at kallen@azstarnet.com or 573-4128.