Gentrification, at its heart, is a hated concept because of deep-rooted racial tensions in the U.S.
This issue is one of many addressed in “A Raisin in the Sun” and “Clybourne Park,” both of which premiere at PlayMakers Repertory Company in rotating repertory beginning Jan. 26.
PlayMakers held a Vision Series — a talk with the directors of both plays, the playwright of “Clybourne Park,” and Stanford University’s drama expert Harry Elam — Wednesday night to discuss the plays.
Joseph Haj, PlayMakers’ producing artistic director, said he wanted to hold the panel to show audiences similarities between the two plays.
“We chose these plays and put them together because they are relevant now, and to this community because we’re dealing with gentrification,” Haj said.
Elam, who has done extensive research on the writer of “A Raisin in the Sun,” Lorraine Hansberry, said the play is about a black family preparing to move into a white neighborhood in 1959.
At one point in the play, a white neighbor comes to the house and asks the black family to leave the neighborhood.
The play continues, with themes about family, community and the American Dream, Elam said.
“Directorally, this idea of home was very specific in ‘Raisin,’” said Director Raelle Myrick-Hodges. “It was about the past, present and future in African-American generations.”
Myrick-Hodges said it is impossible for audience members not to be able to relate to the family in “A Raisin in the Sun.”
“Clybourne Park,” written by Bruce Norris, picks up at the scene in “Raisin” where the white neighbor asks the black family to leave.
Norris said he started writing the play in 2008 after wondering who was selling the house in “A Raisin in the Sun,” and why they didn’t care that a black family was moving in.
“The rich culture I come from is the opposite of where Hansberry grew up,” Norris said. “Mine is thin and insipid with no heroic thinkers … I don’t feel particularly proud of it.”
Norris’ play is about people who have been comfortable and privileged — they are a white family moving into a black neighborhood.
“The play brings up the question of whether we live in a post-racial or post-gendered America,” Director Tracy Young said. “It looks at this idea of community — being an insider, or an outsider wanting to get in.”
Haj described “Clybourne Park” as decidedly not politically correct and having a high squirm factor.
“I don’t want to lift people up — I want to do the opposite,” Norris said.
Both directors said they hope the plays question the audience’s preconceived ideas about blacks, family, gender roles and resistance to change.
“The contact points for these two plays are important here, at this moment,” Haj said. “But also to the larger world.”
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