Clybourne Park’s Neighbourhood Watch

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I must admit straight off the bat I usually have reservations about Australian productions of American plays. It’s not that I don’t like American plays, quite the contrary, some of my favourite plays are American, but I’ve had bad experiences in the past and my prejudice kicks in, conjuring up images of over-acted caricatures and cringe-worthy accents by actors who seemingly have never visited the United States.

MTC’s production of Clybourne Park is not one of those productions. If anything it will do plenty to put such misconceptions about Australian theatre behind a lot of people, myself included. Clybourne Park flows so naturally that it may as well be taking place at Steppenwolf in Chicago with an entirely native cast. Some scenes reminded my so much of my own American family and their friends not only did I forget I was in Melbourne, I forgot I was in a theatre.

Clybourne Park is an exceptionally well-written social comedy that plays on community, racism, gentrification, greed, fear, property prices, suicide and war. It is so well crafted, and in this case well executed, that is gets away without having any central plot or singular protagonist. Clybourne is rather a collection of multiple stories wrapped in wit and humanity and conserved in moving boxes scattered around a house. There is a great sense of joy in carefully unpacking each box and putting everything in its place.

The ensemble cast so effectively inhabit their multiple characters that if it weren’t for the program you might not even notice that each actor has at least two roles. The house itself, visible from the moment you take your seat, exists as a character in its own right, and just like the performances has a beautiful naturalism to it. Although some of the moving boxes in the opening act might seem a bit too specifically placed rather than naturally littered around the room you soon forget this as the scene comes to life. Lighting, sound and costume seamlessly add to the performance without drawing attention to themselves.

Clybourne Park is awkward, funny, heartfelt and moving. There’s a lot to it. It’s easy to get caught up discussing the issues raised or the quality of the writing and performance. Alyson Whyte and Greg Stone are wonderful but so is every member of the cast. Bruce Norris won a Pultizer for his efforts as writer. If that floats your boat by all means indulge, but this is not some kind of preachy issues piece. You should see Clybourne Park not just because it’s clever or will make you laugh, but because it’s an incredibly entertaining experience perfectly sold by a great director and captivating cast.

Clybourne Park plays at the MTC’s Sumner Theatre until October 26.
For more information and tickets visit
Photo by Jeff Busby

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