Dave Rice 12:24 p.m., May 20
"Americans suffer from an ignorance that is not only colossal but sacred," wrote James Baldwin, referring to how most choose to look away from any mention of race.
Bruce Norris's award-draped Clybourne Park takes two looks, 50 years apart, at how the "ignorance" has persisted.
At the end of Lorraine Hansberry's a Raisin in the Sun, the Youngers defer their dream no longer. They are moving to Clybourne Park, an all-white part of Chicago. And are doing so against the advice of Karl Linder, a smiling racist representing the neighborhood, who tried to buy them out. It's clear that the African-American family will not live gently at 406 Clybourne Street.
Norris' play begins in 1959, at the low-rise, single family dwelling the Youngers are about to move into. The original owners, Russ and Bev, will leave in three days. Karl Linder tries to talk them out of it.
Act two takes place in 2009. Clybourne Park is now a predominantly black neighborhood. Steve and wife Lindsey want to buy the house at 406 to gentrify: tear down the existing structure and build one 15 feet higher than the others. But the house now has historical value - thanks to the pioneering Youngers - and residents meet to contest the project.
Along with ties to Raisin, both acts have a common thread: each begins in seeming harmony, and no one listens to anyone else. They interrupt each other so habitually they never apologize. But once they start to pay attention, the "ignorance" gets exposed, and things fall apart.
As a sequel to A Raisin in the Sun, Clybourne Park pales by comparison. Hansberry's deeply crafted characters grow (and Walter Younger grows up). The people in Clybourne come across more as snippets of speech. Most de-volve into narrow-mindedness, and those that don't are stuck in deep denial.
But that's the author's point, which he leavens with sitcom humor and masterful dialogue that - under Sam Woodhouse's excellent direction at the Rep - crackles like a dissonant musical score.
This is as good as ensemble acting gets around here. So good that singling out an actor does the others an injustice (true, however: Sandy Campbell makes chipper Bev a heartrending portrait of Betty Crocker/June Cleaver atop a mountain of ache; and Jason Heil's outstanding as geeky Karl and self-congratulating Steve, both variations on the ignornace-exposed theme; and where did they find the amazing Amanda Leigh Cobb? Not to mention Monique Gaffney, Mark Pinter, Matt Orduna, and Jason Maddy all at the top of their games).
They performed with such precise timing and assurance you'd have thought opening night was weeks ago.
Norris wrote the two acts in separate styles: the first as a late-50's TV show; the second as a more contemporary one. Jennifer Brawn Gittings' costumes, Missy Bradstreet's wigs, and Tom Jones' sounds (oldies but goodies) evoke time and place with ease. And Sherrice Kelly's sculpted lighting ranks among the Rep's best in some time.
Robin Sanford Roberts' set's almost a character in itself. The living room at 406 feels old: ancient wooden walls, as if it had back troubles, and a lurking sense of dankness. If the house could speak for itself, it could tell a goodly amount of American history.
San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown, playing through February 10.