This show is co-produced with Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, where it will appear Sep. 26 to Oct. 13, again with Sardelli at the helm.
Set in 1959 and 2009, the story is a response to Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 classic "A Raisin in the Sun." It finds Russ (Remi Sandri) and Bev (Carol Halstead) moving out of their home in Chicago's all-white Clybourne Park neighborhood. As they pack, they are visited by their minister, Jim (Kevin Crouch), and assisted by housekeeper Francine (Lynette Freeman), who is black.
Enter neighbors Karl (Greg Jackson), his pregnant and deaf wife Betsy (Clea Alsip), and Francine's husband Albert (Andy Lucien). Karl (a character from "Raisin") learns that a black couple, the Youngers (protagonists of Hansberry's play) are moving in, and tries to stop the sale for fear of plunging property values.
Russ, still not healed from the death of son Kenneth (also Crouch), a Korean War vet who hung himself upstairs several years earlier, gives them all the heave-ho before burying Kenneth's foot locker in the back yard.
Fifty years later, all the actors return playing different parts - some connected to the 1959 characters - in an all-black but gentrifying Clybourne Park.
An affluent white couple, the pregnant Lindsey and her husband Steve, are moving in and reviewing plans with their lawyer Kathy and realtor/developer Tom. They consult the neighborhood association, headed by Lena and her husband Kevin. The contractor Dan then makes an intriguing find.
Let the irony, and the lessons therein, begin, all courtesy of excellent acting and adroit humor.
Sandri's bitterness as depressed father Russ is utterly palpable, and it makes even non-parents want to empathize, or understand their own parents better - a tall order. As Dan, he is a hilarious caricature who in the end deftly turns the gun on us, and doesn't have to pull the trigger to open our wounds.
Alsip played both her pregnancies perfectly, but it was her portrayal of deaf speech that was so convincing I had to check online during the intermission to see if she was deaf in real life. Now that is some exceptional acting!
Jackson was in the enviable position of playing the two characters who were magnets for abuse, and he didn't disappoint in his ability to enhance that particular attraction. His frustration with overblown political correctness in the second act, as Steve, was masterful on his part, and scathingly honest satire on Norris'.
Freeman delighted and excelled in her generational-shift portrayal of two black women: one rooted in the genteel sensitivity of "knowing her place," while the other was a simmering militant. She also delivered the play's best, profanely racial one-liner, which is not to be missed.
Halstead also took us to difficult but very convincing extremes, from her Donna Reed- rose-colored-glasses version of the white housewife, to her savvy, 21st century progressive-cum-convenient pragmatism. And nicely done, to boot, complete with the twist of who her mother was. Stay carefully tuned in to family trees in Act II.
Crouch had the honor of playing three roles. Ironically (there's that word again), his finest moments were probably in the shortest - the coda where he returns as Kenneth - and haunts the audience when Norris' script runs out of time, and patience, for laughter.
Finally, Lucien shines. He fights the stereotype of the angry black man in both eras, trying to be a mediating force and a peacemaker. Even when his honor is provoked, he warns in fury but doesn't strike. In arguably the plays most poignant moment, his simple acknowledgment of Bev's grief and mourning resonate throughout the theatre, far above any racial din.
The production is just over two hours with a 10 minute intermission. There is some profanity, but all of it with purpose, not distracting to the point of Teresa Rebeck's otherwise excellent "The Scene," DTF's opening offering this summer.
Narelle Sissons' set transition from middle class to crack house chic, lent great credibility to Norris' vision. Lights by Michael Giannitti were evocative during the coda, and sound by Ryan Rumery - both music and construction work - were textbook. Costumes by Barbara A. Bell followed their usual excellent pattern right down to the bandana on Dan's head. Dorset's stage management remained tight under the aegis of Kelly Borgia and Melissa Daroff.
There's no question that good timing and taking the proper social stance almost always is a factor in piling up awards. "Clybourne Park" meets the criterion of addressing the hot button topic, race. But it has enough ambiguity where Norris leads us on that, and also a healthy commentary of the matter of grief. In this way, it eschews the predictable and thus earns its many paeans. It's a work in which everyone can feel guilty over their own fears, yet still justified by their frustrations.
That alone screams irony, and using Fussell's dictum, is enough to have us recognize its greatness.
"Clybourne Park" runs through Aug. 31 at Dorset Theatre Festival. For tickets and information call 802-867-2223 or visit www.dorsettheatrefestival.org.
Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @TellyHalkias