Monthly Archives: March 2010

Is Logan Circle Clybourne Park?

This posting “Is Logan Circle Clybourne Park?” From our friends at Logan Circle Community Association….

Is Logan Circle Clybourne Park?

No. And I doubt the Clybourne Park depicted in Bruce Norris’s play on view at Woolly Mammoth Theatre through April 17th is the true Clybourne Park either. We’ll get to that shortly.

Act I of Clybourne Park takes place in September 1959 as an African-American couple is attempting to buy a house in Chicago’s all-white Clybourne Park neighborhood. The sellers are leaving the city to be close to the husband’s job in suburbia. The white neighbors protest strenuously along the lines of “not a good fit” (not their words). Why, these folks don’t even ski on winter weekends!

Act II takes place in “post-racial” 2009 as a white couple prepares to purchase and rebuild the house as a McMansion. They’re moving to the city to be close to their jobs in the revitalized downtown. Neighbors–among them an African-American couple–representing the local community association, protest strenuously along the lines of “architectural integrity” (not their words). Who’s skiing now?

We’re free to think whatever we want, but I suspect many come away from the play with the impression that racism is the unspoken rationale behind the arguments put forth in both acts. Could be; maybe not—that’s the most fun part of our right to interpret what we see and hear any way we see fit.

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Clybourne Park, U Street, and Gentrification

From U Street Girl….

Woolly Mammoth’s current production, Clybourne Park, deals with gentrification in a Chicago neighborhood. When they graciously invited me to come see the show and share my thoughts on the issues the play raises, I was more than happy to.

Clybourne Park (written by Bruce Norris) brought up those seemingly age old questions that come along with gentrification. Is a neighborhood better after gentrification? Before? Who can come in and change things? What does race have to do with it (or what doesn’t it have to do with it)? The play showed how difficult having frank conversations about race in this age are, with everyone careful not to offend anyone, yet often coming to the table with preconceived notions and stereotypes.

Thinking about U street and gentrification, I first think about the history. U street was Black Broadway, it was where Dizzie Gillespie and Billie Holiday came to play. It’s where Duke Ellington grew up. It’s where Langston Hughes spent some of his formative years. This is a neighborhood rich with black history.

In the decades since the riots, where U street has seen gentrification – no one can claim that at least all the huge condo and apartment buildings aren’t a part of gentrification – it has tried to celebrate the past. What are the names of these condo buildings? Why, they’re the Ellington and the Langston. Is gentrification better if we celebrate the past?

Is the neighborhood better?    ….

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“Gentrification and Theatre”

From Mari, posted on March 22 on In Shaw (an historically gentrified blog):

Gentrification and Theatre
This weekend I and the Help were invited to see the play Clybourne Park at the Woolly Mammoth Theater down in Penn Quarter. According to the theater’s website on the drama and the promotional information:

Clybourne Park explores the evolution of racism and gentrification over the past half-century in America by imagining the conflicts surrounding the purchase of a house in a white neighborhood in the 1950s by an African American family, and then the re-design of that house in “post-racial” 2009. While Clybourne Park is a Chicago neighborhood, the play makes no direct reference to its geography. Woolly believes Clybourne Park is highly reflective of the changes happening to neighborhoods throughout DC and across the metropolitan area (and urban America).

And it is a riff off of Raisin in the Sun with the first half of the play taking place in the home of the family selling the home (that we assume) the RITS’ Af-Am Younger family. I thought that first half started a little slow.
I really appreciated the director’s commentary after the performance at a reception. On one point as urban DC people living in 2010 we know how to judge the characters of 1959 in the first half of the play, saying with confidence Mr. Lindner, from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, is wrong in arguing against selling to the Black family. However in the second half, taking place in what I gather to be 2009, that moral surety is not there and issues of race and gentrification are tied up in arguments about ‘history’ and architecture.

For the entire posting, visit!

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What defines a community?

From Ms. V of Life in the Village

The Woolly Mammoth Theater Company invited some DC neighborhood bloggers to the play Clybourne Park. I attended the show on Friday night and bumped into And Now, Anacostia. All I knew about the play was it centered around the issues of gentrification (yes the “g” word). The first Act is set in a 1950’s white community in the city. A black family moves in the neighborhood and the white community becomes concerned. In the second act, it’s now present day. It is a black community and a white couple is moving in. Obviously, there is more to the play than that, but I don’t want to spoil it for people intending on seeing it.

Probably contrary to other parts of the City, the change from a white community to a black community happened relatively quickly in Fairfax Village. This community was built in the 1940s as apartments for working class residents, who happened to be white. This area was largely unaffected by the 1968 riots. In the 1970s, a developer converted Fairfax Village from apartments to condos. Most of the people that bought after the conversion were black. There are several neighbors who have lived here since Fairfax Village became condos.

The play reveals the complexities that exist in communities today related to how communities change over times. The ending raises more questions than it answers. The big question that I walked away asking myself was “What defines a community?” People move in and out of communities all the time. Is community defined by race? economic status? family composition? Do we have to be like or look like our neighbors in order to considered a community?

Maybe I have some Pollyanna tendencies, but I’d like to think that despite where we come from, what we do, or what we look like, we are a community. People make a community. Just people.

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“It ‘Helps’ to be White”

Recently published by The Root’s  Media & Culture Editor, Natalie Hopinkson.   She will be joining Woolly for our Mammoth Forum “The Power of LAnguage to Race” on April 4th after our 2p show.

It Helps to Be White

It takes a special kind of talent to take a civil rights novel about black maids to Hollywood. But do you also have to be Caucasian? 

In one scene in the best-selling novel The Help, a spirited black woman has second thoughts about sharing the gory details of her life as a Mississippi domestic with a white writer who is part of the town’s bridge-and-tennis-playing aristocracy.

For the entire article, follow this link:

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Is this Georgetown?

From The Georgetown Metropolitan:

GM was invited Tuesday night to come watch Woolly Mammoth’s newest production, Clybourne Park, and answer the question: is this Georgetown?

Clybourne Park is a wonderful new play by Bruce Norris that serves as an updated companion piece to Lorraine Hansberry’s legendary play A Raisin in the Sun. The new play explores two critical moments in the life of a house and a neighborhood: the first at the dawn of White flight and the second in the heart of the gentrification fight of today’s “post-racial” world.

The quick answer to Woolly Mammoth’s provocative question is: No, at least superficially, Georgetown is not Clybourne Park.

Georgetown had a significant African-American population from its very beginning.  Originally a mix of slaves and free Blacks, after emancipation, the African-American population grew rapidly.  By the early 20th century, almost half the overall neighborhood’s population was African-American. However, once Roosevelt’s New Dealers discovered the charm of Georgetown’s preserved architectural character, those numbers began a steady and unending decline. As with any debate over neighborhood invasion-succession, the distinction between correlation and causation is often hard to determine.

In a way, those New Dealers were the city’s first gentrifiers. Unlike Clybourne Park though, Georgetown skipped the White flight, financial disinvestment, and decades of governmental disregard. That’s not to say Georgetown didn’t experience economic hard times. In fact, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, much of Georgetown was a dirty, smelly, run-down place. It’s because of this that the homes remained preserved; nobody wanted to waste their money building something new here.

While GM loved the play throughout, it wasn’t until a few minutes into the second act that it finally struck a chord of familiarity with Georgetown.  In the play, a newly arrived White couple is negotiating with the neighborhood association (represented by a Black couple) over a planned addition to the bungalow. As their lawyer starts arguing with the association over elevations, massing, and the historical importance of the housing vernacular, GM flashed to just about every single ANC meeting he’s ever attended.

And it’s on this point that GM recognized a common thread: historical preservation.

Some have argued that the Old Georgetown Act was the death knell of Georgetown’s Black population. Keeping buildings up to historical standards isn’t cheap. It costs more just to get approval and that’s not to mention the higher cost of materials. And just generally speaking, preservation laws tend to increase the desirability and, in turn, the price of a neighborhood. It’s very difficult for a neighborhood to be historically protected yet remain a working class neighborhood.

It is somewhat ironic that the African-American characters are seeking to preserve the historical form of Clybourne Park. As in Georgetown, the historical preservation of Clybourne Park may very well be seeding the end of its working-class character.

So in a way, Clybourne Park is Georgetown, but of another era. And like Georgetown, the changes are neither wholly good nor wholly bad. And its these ambiguities that make for a fascinating and thought-provoking play.

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“Race and Place” from the Symbolist

Sent to us for posting on this blog.  The below article will appear in the forthcoming edition of the Symbolist, the Columbia Heights based Art ‘zine.

Race and Place in Clybourne Park

Clybourne Park is a new play by Bruce Norris, currently being put on by the Wooly Mammoth Theatre Company. It’s about how the politics of race determined neighborhood identity in mid-century mid-America and how they continue to do so today. First and foremost I was inspired by its pith and thrilled by the freshness of its brevity.  It sprints. It’s a two act play which is basically composed as two amplified scenes. Both are set in the same house, a generation a part. The first takes place in the Raisin in the Sun Chicago of the troubled integrationist 1950s.  The second act takes place in the present day.  Where doleful anticipation of white flight loomed in the former, the stereotypes of gentrification and apprehension re: colonization did in the latter. This temporal consecution brings the course of social transformation current. While the characters and the script do rely heavily on stock tropes and predictable ethno-cultural posturing, such devices play very well for laughs…and there were plenty.  The comedic elements kept the complex and rapid dialogue briskly apace.

What we have are two contrasting eras addressed, one the obvious inversion of the other.  Two conversations (read arguments, apropos of Fugazi’s: The Argument [“…process, and dismissal, forced removal, of the people…”]) held in two different times, colored by the social forces which define each era.  The Clybourne Park of the 2nd Act will seem very familiar to many readers. Art imitates life in Clybourne Park the way that life imitates art in Columbia Heights—suffice it to say: it’s a well written, relevant play that was superbly executed. Many concepts are touched upon throughout, most intriguing, perhaps, is the relationship between language and identity.  As long as race remains the fictive chimera that people rely upon for understanding their imagined communities then this dialogue driven play will be relevant to any dialogue on the subject.

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