Theater & Dance
"Clybourne Park"

By: Bruce Norris
Produced by: Palo Alto Players
Featuring: Betsy Kruse Craig, Damaris Divito, Fred Pitts, Kelly Rinehart, Michael Rhone, Casey Robbins, Todd Wright and Dale Albright (understudy)
Directed by: Jeanie K. Smith
When: November 6-22, 2015
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Tickets: $29-$43. Call 1-650-329-0891 or visit

Read John Orr's story about this production in The Daily News.

Wright, Robbins
Joyce Goldschmid / Palo Alto Players
Todd Wright as Russ, left, and Casey Robbins as Jim in the Palo Alto Players production of "Clybourne Park," at the Lucie Stern Theatre, Novermber 6-22, 2015.
Brilliant staging of a brilliant play: 'Clybourne Park'
Palo Alto Players come up with a production that is excellent in every particular
November 12, 2015

"Clybourne Park," as written by Bruce Norris and directed by Jeanie K. Smith at Palo Alto Players, is intensely brilliant and hilarious, with a cast that achieves a creative fusion that drives them all to powerful and meaningful performances, working on an excellent set with very impressive creative staff.

It's one of those rare productions that add up to far more than the sum of their parts. Everything works, everything is, indeed, excellent.

But the show has a very short run, with just eight more performances scheduled till the stage must be struck at Lucie Stern Theatre to make room for the TheatreWorks Silicon Valley production of the musical "Emma."

So, get thee to a ticketry, and do not miss a chance to laugh and gasp at the same time as this powerful black comedy skewers middle-class pretensions and serves up a feast of thought-provoking observations about race and economics in the United States.

Betsy Kruse Craig
Betsy Kruse Craig as Bev in Act One.

Rhone, Robbins
Michael Rhone as Karl, left, and Casey Robbins as Jim in Act One.

Divito, Pitts
Damaris Divito as Francine, left, and Fred Pitts as Albert in Act One.

Rinehart, Rhone
Photos by Joyce Goldschmid / Palo Alto Players
Kelly Rinehart as Lindsey, left, and Michael Rhone as Steve in Act Two.

Norris' astounding 2010 play won the British Olivier Prize for best new play, the Pulitzer Prize for drama and a Tony Award for best play. All very much deserved.

Act One is set in 1959, with Todd Wright as Russ sitting and eating Neopolitan ice cream while Betsy Kruse Craig as Bev natters around, partly worried about him, partly nagging at him to get things done. They are moving out of the house, and Russ figures that using up the ice cream is a reasonable step in that process.

Why Neopolitan, Bev wonders. Where did that word come from? Uh, Naples, I think, Russ says. No, that can't be it, she says, and continues to worry at it with him while also trying to direct the activities of her maid, Francine, played by Damaris Divito, who doesn't need to be told what to do.

Why bother talking about something so silly, anyone might wonder, but the dialogue and the deeply committed performances tell us all about these characters: Russ is smart, but clearly deeply wounded and angry about the death of his son. Bev's heart is in the right place — and also wounded — but she's clueless about almost everything. Francine is rather cowed, and has no interest in getting involved in her bosses' problems.

The neighborhood pastor, Jim (Casey Robbins) shows up and tries giving Russ counseling he doesn't want; Russ starts getting angry, and things boil over when Mike Rhone as neighbor Karl shows up, with Kelly Rinehart as his deaf, pregnant wife, and tries to talk Russ out of selling the house to the buyers, because they are "colored," and his property values may suffer.

"Don't we say 'negro' now?" Pastor Jim asks.

Karl is in a panic about losing property values, and says, "Who should we invite in next, the red Chinese?"

This scene could be played as grim drama, but Smith has always seen it for the black comedy it is, and the theater is filled with both roars of laughter and a good amount of gasps at some of the shocking dialogue.

Fred Pitts as Albert, Francine's husband, shows up in the middle of what has become a very loud argument. Francine just wants him to drive her home, but Karl tries to get them — two black people — involved in the argument. You wouldn't want to live here, would you? he asks.

Bev has tried to get Francine, then Albert, to accept a gift — a chafing dish she doesn't want.

"We don't want those things, thanks. We got our own things," she is told.

Poetry, that.

Act One, as it races to its climax, becomes a riot of overlapping and shouted dialogue, with all seven actors adding to the scene, in dialogue or motion. Astounding.

Act Two is 50 years later, 2009, in the same house. Same cast, but different parts, and a radically different set, provided by Players Artistic Director and Scenic Designer Patrick Klein.

Karl's fears have come true with a vengeance. The neighborhood is now, apparently, a black ghetto, and the house itself is a wreck that looks like it's been used as a crack den. Graffiti everywhere, marijuana flag, sheets of clear plastic sheeting hanging in doorless passageways.

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Rhone and Rinehart now play a different couple, who are buying the house and want to tear it down to build a larger, nicer home. Gentrification has begun. Kruse Craig is their lawyer.

Divito and Pitts now are representatives of a housing board that wants to protect the history of what they see as a historically black neighborhood. Their lawyer is played by Robbins. Wright, meanwhile, is a workman who keeps interrupting what becomes a rancorous, off-topic and off-color argument because he's having trouble in the backyard with something he's found.

Fifty years later, and in some ways, "white privilege" is still apparent, as the white essentially ignore Divito's character, despite the fact that she is a much tougher character now. She has to shout to be heard, and isn't shy about it.

And Rhone's character is goaded into telling a very bad joke, that offends everyone.

Perhaps the biggest change is that they are all wrapped up in middle-class pretensions now — whites, blacks and a gay man — and all are fighting to get what they want, regardless of what the other person says.

The dialogue by Norris is brilliant, and this cast delivers it with awe-inspiring skill.

While this play is underway, the Lucie Stern Theatre just buzzes with excellence.

I've seen most of this cast in other roles and plays, but have never seen them better than they are in this show. I have only seldom seen a show this good, anywhere. Congratulations to all.

Hats off, too, to Pat Tyler's impressive costume and properties design. Kruse Craig looks beautifully and perfectly like she just stepped out of a style ad in a 1959 copy of Look magazine. Rhone's glasses in Act One are hilarious, but work for the character. Nick Kumanmoto's lighting design makes both sets work, and Gordon Smith's sound design works extremely well, in the sound-challenged Lucie Stern Theatre.

Get thee to a ticketry.

Email John Orr at

Joyce Goldschmid / Palo Alto Players
Act One of the Palo Alto Players production of "Clybourne Park," at the Lucie Stern Theatre, Novermber 6-22, 2015. From left are Casey Robbins, Betsy Kruse Craig, Kelly Rinehart, Todd Wright, Michael Rhone, Damaris Divito and Fred Pitts.
Joyce Goldschmid / Palo Alto Players
Act Two of the Palo Alto Players production of "Clybourne Park," at the Lucie Stern Theatre, Novermber 6-22, 2015. From left are Casey Robbins, Todd Wright, Fred Pitts, Damaris Divito, Michael Rhone, Kelly Rinehart and Betsy Kruse Craig.
Pitts, Divito
Joyce Goldschmid / Palo Alto Players
Fred Pitts as Kevin, left, and Damaris Divito as Lena in Act Two of the Palo Alto Players production of "Clybourne Park," at the Lucie Stern Theatre, Novermber 6-22, 2015.