This weekend, a student-produced play at Lynchburg College transports its audience through time to laugh, but also to think about social justice, racism, and real estate.
Clybourne Park, the Pulitzer Prize-winning satire by Bruce Norris, tells the story of one Chicago house in two eras. In 1959, a white neighbor tries to convince the owners not to sell the house to a black family. Fifty years later, the roles are reversed and a black couple tries to prevent a white family from razing and rebuilding the now-dilapidated home, which they fear would lift property values and price them out of the neighborhood.
The show opens on Friday, April 17, at 7:30 p.m. in the studio theatre, Dillard 100. The show will also play on Saturday evening and on Sunday at 2 p.m.
Clybourne Park challenges racial stereotypes and assumptions by combining conflict and comedy, said Bradley Branham ’15, who is directing the show for his senior theatre project. “You laugh at these characters and you laugh at a certain situation, then later you ask yourself, should I be laughing about that?” he said. “It questions the audience’s opinions.”
“Clybourne Park was on my radar with everything race related happening in the United States,” he continued. “I wanted to do something that tackles this issue.”
Branham became aware of Clybourne Park when he was doing research after seeing A Raisin in the Sun on stage at Lynchburg’s Heritage High School, his alma mater, several years ago. He learned that Clybourne Park was written as a response to that play, which tells essentially the same story as the first act but from a different perspective.
“It was the first piece of theatre that I witnessed that actually made me stop and think,” he said. “I thought I want to do a show that is that raw that can make the audience really think about what is happening. Clybourne Park has that ability.”
Branham has enjoyed directing the show, and he is thinking about earning a master’s degree in directing. “I feel like I’ve come full circle after four years of learning all about acting, character analysis, and analysis of myself,” he said. “Directing was definitely the next step.”
Directing the show is helping Branham demonstrate his ability to bring a playwright’s story to life in a unique way, said Theatre Professor Jeff Wittman. “He’s finding his own voice. He’s not imitating me, he’s not copying my colleagues,” Wittman said. “He’s translating his soul and his knowledge to direct this play.”
Branham said he hopes Clybourne Park will help the audience reflect on the realities and consequences of racism.
“For some people in America, racism only happens when you hear about it on the news, and then it kind of slips by the wayside,” he said. Although the play does not pretend to have an answer for racism, Branham says he believes that recognizing and understanding the problem could help. “We have let it slip away for too long. Either we’ve become too uncomfortable to confront the issue, or we haven’t walked a mile in the other person’s shoes.”
Clybourne Park is produced by Alpha Psi Omega, the National Theatre Honor Society at Lynchburg College.