I grew up in Clybourne Park.
That seems like a strange thing to say, considering Clybourne Park is a fictional place created by playwright Lorraine Hansberry. Even so, the fact remains that my Chicago neighborhood, by all accounts, was Clybourne Park. Only, it was called South Shore.
I’ve always held Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, close to my heart. Surprisingly, I’ve never seen it as a play. I was introduced to the Younger family by watching the movie version staring a powerful cast, which included Sidney Poitier as Walter Younger, a man desperately looking for the easiest way to make a fortune and his faithful, but in no way naive wife Ruth, played by Ruby Dee.
I never tire of watching this movie; for three reasons. First, it stars Sidney, nuff said. Second, the story is so gripping that, even though I know how it will end each time, I am compelled to see it to the end. Finally, aside from Hansberry’s story taking place in 1959 and life in South Shore for my family beginning ten years later, my story could easily be Hansberry’s story in A Raisin in the Sun.
I was seven years old when my parents traded in our 12th floor apartment in one of Chicago’s many graffiti-covered high-rise buildings commonly known as The Projects for a single-family, split-level home in the nearly all white, middle class neighborhood called South Shore. We were the first black family to own a home on our street. So, A Raisin in the Sun really resonates with me.
However, as fulfilling as Hansberry’s story is, I have always wanted more. I have always desired to know who lived in this imaginary white community called Clybourne Park, what were the people like and how did they ultimately adjust to the presence of a black family living so close? To put it more personally, did the Younger family’s experiences in their white neighborhood continue to mimic my own family’s or did our stories diverge?
Apparently, I am not the only one who has unanswered questions. Playwright Bruce Norris attempts to fill in the missing puzzle pieces to the story with his play Clybourne Park, currently showing at the Guthrie Theatre.
Clybourne Park can be seen at the Guthrie Theater until August 4. For ticket information contact the Guthrie Ticket Office at 612.225.6238 or visit their website guthrietheater.org.
For our anniversary, hubby and I went to see the play. The tickets we a little spendy, but it was our anniversary, so we felt we were entitled to splurge. Besides, the Guthrie would never have survived 50 years unless it’s doing something right.
The play is divided in two acts; each act focusing on a specific time in history. The first act is the flip side to Hansberry’s 1959 story. Clybourne Park neighbors stand helpless as one of their own, one who participated in backyard barbecues, Rotary meetings and ski vacations, sells their home to a black family. As they begin to realize their community would no longer be insulated, accusations of betrayal are flung and those with resources begin making plans to move.
Did these things happen with the families in my childhood neighborhood? Judging by how quickly white flight occurred, I can only speculate that they did. Clybourne Park may be a fictional Chicago community, but as far as I’m concerned, Hansberry was writing about South Shore.
The second act takes place fifty years later in 2009. Clybourne Park is now predominantly black with the only whites remaining in the neighborhood those who don’t have the financial resources to move. Property values have plummeted and the same house the Younger family once proudly owned now sits empty and has fallen into disrepair. The main focus of the second act is the gentrification of the neighborhood as more and more white families buy cheap homes. Again, accusations of betrayal surface, although the reasons are different than before.
Here is where the stories about the fictional neighborhood and the real neighborhood split. South Shore, my Clybourne Park, has never gotten its second chance. The property values remain at an all time low, but no white knight is rushing in to save the day. Instead, neighbors live in fear while gangs control the community.
Regardless of the similarities with and differences from my own story, I found Clybourne Park to be quite an entertaining experience. The hilariously funny scenes helped to offset the gravity of the subject matter. The actors nearly all play dual roles, and give convincing performances. Even my husband, who has never seen A Raisin in the Sun, and grew up on a small farm in Indiana, enjoyed it immensely.
Before leaving the theatre, we stopped in the gift shop and were delighted to find a DVD of A Raisin in the Sun for purchase. I’m looking forward to watching it with again and watching my husband’s reaction as he sees it for the first time.