Clybourne Park – American Conservatory Theater, San Francisco CA
#6 for this year brought me back to ACT. This company often presents itself as San Francisco’s “creme de la creme”, and I find that I often have philosophical problems with their highly glitzy, stylized productions. Although they present themselves as being highly esteemed, I also get a feeling from within the theatre circles that they are more closed, often using the same core company of actors and/or importing actors from New York, rather than using local talent. They’re one of the only companies in the city to use a more traditional theatrical audience format, with seating on three levels facing the modest proscenium stage.
Knowing all this background, I sometimes find it hard to engage intellectually and creatively with ACT’s productions. It doesn’t help matters either that I had a poor impression of the first play I saw there (Travesties in 2006) when I was not yet a Bay Area resident. Subsequent visits have only been moderately satisfying. However, when they appeared on Groupon.Com last October with a subscription promotion, offering four shows for about $9 each, I decided to buy the offer. I’ve found that I may not be a most suitable candidate for a theatre subscription, with my highly mobile lifestyle, but I have been pleased with ACT’s attention to detail and willingness to adjust the date and time of the ticket if needed.
This play was a breath of fresh air to the company. Jonathan Moscone, known for his decade of work with the California Shakespeare Theater, made his mainstage ACT debut with this show and seemed to bring a personal creativity to the piece. He made strong used of most ACT core acting company members, two recent MFA graduates, and one guest actor. He cultivated an intriguing tonal balance between farce, satire and drama as the play went on. The actors seemed to be having fun with the material, particularly Omozé Idehenre and Richard Thieriot.
The story took a perceptive look at race relations in the USA, told fifty years apart in 1959 and 2009. Of course, the hidden secret (or open secret, depending on how you look at it) is how things may or may not have changed. It’s true that this depiction may have been more exaggerated than some other real life conversations might be, but it did not lack in intended honesty. I especially appreciated how the script concluded on a note of subtlety, where the audience is not told what happens to the characters but left to draw their own conclusions. Often, this style of story telling is more provocative and intriguing, inciting conversations and lingering in the mind.
ACT invites website visitors to look in on backstage work in this show. Take a look.