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Huntington and SpeakEasy - Powerful Performances at the Strand Theatre

While not billed as such, the free community event at the Strand Theatre on February 20, 2013 was a perfect addition to the calendar for Black History Month. 

"Two Plays, One House"  offered a taste to its audience of "A Raisin in the Sun" and its modern day cousin, "Clybourne Park." The Q&A following, under the apt coordination of WCVB's Karen Holmes Ward, gave the audience a chance to engage in conversation about issues raised by the two plays.

What continues as relevant to our social struggles today include equality, poverty, race, segregation and community.  Clybourne Park was particularly effective at raising issues that remain unresolved depite the passage of fifty years. 

"A Raisin in the Sun"
Huntington Theatre Company
March 8 - April 7, 2013


A Raisin in the Sun
"Clybourne Park"
SpeakEasy Stage Company
March 1-30, 2013


Clybourne Park

The title, "Two Plays - One House" refers to a physical house that, fifty years ago, provoked a white neighborhood into panic when it was purchased by a black family.  Fast forward half a century and the details of the conflict surrounding the house have changed but not the underlying issues, albeit more subtly portrayed. 

Both plays wrestle with housing issues, social strata, family tensions, ambitions, poverty, race and the continuing presence of discrimination in our society.  The event was well attended and the theater-goers were thrilled by the caliber of the actors who, while reading their scripts, managed to transport us into an imaginary and very engaging stageplay. 

The Strand Event was Excellent

The stage was minimal - a half dozen chairs, microphones and music stands.  With little opportunity for "acting" besides sitting and standing, the actors read their lines close to the microphones.  Yet, as if this were the creative world of storytelling, the audience experienced the "imaginary spaces" as if they were watching a live play. 

In "Raisin", the Huntington Theatre actors immersed the audience quickly in the authentic voices of an African-American family working through their relationships and their yearnings,  The ever-popular bathroom and its limited access symbolized the limitations of the family members' lives.  Mama's role in waking the family to "get in line" helped establish the family dynamics and reveal the plot.  Heavy with emotion, frustration and strongly differing visions about life, the play challenged the actors to create characters, plot and tension with a minimum of language.  Huntington actors responded well to the call.

Clybourne Park (Act II) sets a tone that seems to have nothing in common with "A Raisin."  SpeakEasy actors portrayed their characters with a crisp and often biting language that was complex, yet empty.  How quickly the characters and the audience were distracted into irrelevant conversations.  Polite bantering allowed the characters to avoid the real issues while the audience sensed important social tension just under the surface. 

With the speed of a wrecking ball, the white couple will destroy all physical ties to the house, historic some say,  sold to a black family fifty years ago which set into motion the path that created the neighborhood of opportunity that exists today. SpeakEasy actors delivered their lines with perfect ease and drew frequent laughter from the audience.  As director, M. Bevin O'Gara, stated, the play does not try to take a position but rather asks questions the audience can take home to ponder. 

Karen Holmes Ward, Director of Public Affairs and Community Services at WCVB-TV, served as Host of the event and introduced the audience to theater company dignitaries and coordinated the question and answer session following the reading. 
  • Huntington Theatre's Managing Director Michael Maso
  • SpeakEasy Stage Company's Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault
  • Liesl Tommy, Director of A Raisin in the Sun
  • M. Bevin O'Gara, Director of Clybourne Park

About the Theater Companies

Founded in 1982, the Huntington Theatre Company is led by Artistic Director Peter DuBois and Managing Director Michael Maso.  Huntington brings together the best local and national talent to produce a mix of award-winning productions of new works and classics made current.


SpeakEasy Stage Company was founded in 1992 by Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault.  Their specialty is producing Boston premieres.  Their mission is to connect, inspire and challenge audiences with the most socially-relevant theatrical premieres.


About the Plays 

The American classic, "A Raisin in the Sun," which first premiered on Broadway in 1959, is the story of an African-American family struggling within the confines of their social class, one that has helped cast them into poverty and demeaning roles in society.    Their yearning for a different life brings a "forever" complexity to their problematic relationships at home. 

Their daily grumblings for a better life are brought to a head when Grandma is about to receive an insurance check for $10,000.  As each member of the family expresses their hopes for a better life, the money helps to  hone their desires and expectations and to exacerbate the tensions among them.  The insurance money becomes a vehicle for looking at the discrimination and segregation rampant in white neighborhoods in Chicago in the '50's and it indulges the follies of humankind chasing greed. At the Huntington Mar 8 - Apr 7.

Clybourne Park (2010) was inspired by "A Raisin in the Sun" and written half a century later.  Two acts, both set in the same house, fifty years apart, contrast our society then and now.  The passage of time has allowed the bungalow purchased by a black family in an all white neighborhood back in 1959 to become the symbol of the now solidly black neighborhood distressed by a white family in 2009.

The improved property values have given rise to an investment opportunity and decision that rocks the neighborhood (gentrification).  A white family has purchased the home and rather than remodel it, plans to demolish the house and replace it by a modern structure that doesn't "fit" the neighborhood.  At the SpeakEasy Stage Mar 1 - Mar 30.

Posted: February 20, 2013     Nancy J Conrad

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