The first act of Clybourne Park at San Diego Repertory Theatre is engrossing drama punctuated by deeply rooted pain, eruptions we don't see coming and transgressions disguised as niceties. Personal investment in playwright Bruce Norris' characters, both white and black, is inescapable. We care about Russ and Bev, who lost their Korean War vet son to suicide and have lost hold of their relationship as a result. They've sold their house in Clybourne Park, a prosperous white neighborhood of Chicago, to a black family, and a nasty firestorm has sparked around them. We care not only because of the eloquence of Norris' writing but also due to sublime performances from Mark Pinter as Russ and Sandy Campbell as Bev, who together bring this complex story of family, race and loss to such a moving Act 1 crescendo.
But Clybourne Park, inspired by Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun (the fear-mongering character Karl Lindner is the connective thread), is really two plays in one, and the second act undermines much of the subtlety and sensitivity that preceded it. As the action shifts from Russ and Bev's home in 1959 to the same house in disrepair and on the verge of a teardown in 2009, Clybourne Park becomes a shout-fest all but stripped of its poignancy.
The cast, directed by Sam Woodhouse, which also includes Monique Gaffney, Jason Heil, Jason Maddy, Amanda Leigh Cobb and Matt Orduna, returns in different but related roles in Act 2, but these 2009 characters pale by comparison. The play's discourse on good intentions, bad intentions and the racial divide does make the transition from the play's first act to the second, but the narrative tone does a 180. The delicate and important questions raised earlier are too often dressed in one-liners, exasperation and shock value.
The second act's coda, a softly lit and ominous return to the events of 1959, is a reminder of what could have been. But then Clybourne Park is Norris' play—his vision and his choices.
The Rep is true to that vision, for which director and cast deserve due credit. For this visitor to the play's uneasy neighborhood past and future, the disappointment lingers.
Clybourne Park runs through Feb. 10 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. $33-$52. sdrep.org
—David L. Coddon
Birds of a Feather: Human actors play two gay penguins who raise a chick in the Central Park Zoo and an opposite-sex couple of hawks who do the same on a ledge of a swanky Manhattan high-rise. Yep, based on true events. Opens Jan. 31 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
The Bluest Eye: This adaptation of Toni Morrison's 1970 novel focuses on an 11-year-old girl in 1940s Ohio who's been led to believe that her dark skin makes her ugly. Jointly presented by Moxie Theatre and Mo'olelo Performing Arts Company, it opens Feb. 2 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. moxietheatre. com, moolelo.net
Frederick Douglass Now: Roger Guenveur Smith's one-man show uses noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass as a vehicle to explore the African- American historical experience. Runs Feb. 4 through 6 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. sdrep.org
Hamlet: The son of a king is fit to be tied in the wake of his dad's death and his uncle's rise to power. Presented by Intrepid Shakespeare Company, it opens Jan. 30 at San Dieguito Academy Performing Arts Center in Encinitas. intrepidshakespeare.com
Plays by Young Writers: A series of scripts by playwrights younger than 19 performed over two weekends—each performance consisting of two full productions and one staged reading. Runs Feb. 1 through 9 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. lyceumevents.org
The Trip to Bountiful: In spite of the objections of her son and daughter-in-law, an elderly woman treks from Houston to her hometown of Bountiful, Texas, and finds that things have changed. Opens Feb. 1 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
An American Story: In this musical, playwright, actor, composer and producer Hershey Felder plays Charles Leale, the 23-year-old doctor who tended to Abraham Lincoln after the president was shot at Ford's Theatre. Through Feb. 3 at the Birch North Park Theatre. birchnorthparktheatre.net
Educating Rita: A dissatisfied hairdresser decides to enroll in an English lit class and seeks tutelage from an alcoholic university professor. The relationship forces both to assess their place in life. Through Feb. 3 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Leading Ladies: It's the late-1950s, and two struggling actors decide to pose as two missing men who are due an inheritance. When it turns out the missing pair are actually women, the actors decide to go through with the scheme in drag. Through Feb. 3 at Avo Playhouse in Vista. moonlightstage.com
A Feminine Ending: An oboist struggles to juggle her own artistic career and the demands of her boyfriend, a pop star on the rise. Through Feb. 10 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Clybourne Park: In this award-winning, sort-of sequel to A Raisin in the Sun, a suburban Chicago home is the setting for tense race relations in 1959 (Act 1) and 2009 (Act. 2), with the same actors playing different characters in each act. Through Feb. 10 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. sdrep.org
Charley's Aunt: It's the late-1800s, and two college men want to get with a couple of young lasses. They plan a get-together to coincide with a visit from a rich aunt from Brazil. But, as usual with this sort of farce, things go haywire. Through Feb. 16 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Feb. 17 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org
Pygmalion: You know My Fair Lady. Well, this is the 1912 George Bernard Shaw play on which that beloved musical was based—the story of professor Henry Higgins and Cockney student Eliza Doolittle. Through Feb. 17 at the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
The Brothers Size: A young man is recently out of prison and living with his car-mechanic brother when an acquaintance from the lockup shows up and causes some turmoil. Through Feb. 24 at The Old Globe's Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Gem of the Ocean: In August Wilson's play, a 285-year-old matriarch and former slave named Aunt Ester leads a man down a path to self-discovery in 1904 Pittsburgh. Through Feb. 24 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
DNA New Work Series: La Jolla Playhouse is providing rehearsal space and resources to new playwrights developing their scripts, the results of which will be presented in staged readings or workshopped productions through March 3. Check lajollaplayhouse.org for the schedule of performances.
Pete 'n Keely: It's the late-1960s, and a successful singing duo who haven't spoken in five years have decided to reunite for a live TV special. Through March 3 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
Ruthless! The Musical: In this all-female satire, an 8-year-old wannabe star murders the girl who got the lead in the school play. Then some really crazy shit happens. Through March 3 at Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
South Pacific: Love blossoms for two couples amid racial prejudice and World War II in this classic musical. Runs through March 17 at Welk Resorts Theatre in Escondido. welktheatres.com
Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net