Tuesday, September 17, 2013

PCPA's Done It Again

I've never seen a bad performance at Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA). Located on the campus of the John Hancock College in Santa Maria, The Conservatory offers an exraordinary combination of student training and professional theatre.

The current production of "Clybourne Park" is absolutely first rate.  Written by Bruce Norris, the  2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning play is timeless and cunning in reminding us that, in America, the past is never the past. 

The play is a continuation of Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 "A Raisin in the Sun," the "what happens next?"  And the "next" is a fierce, and wickedly funny examination of race, real estate values and Whose narrative is it now?  It's a tour de force of writing, a high-wire act that teeters always on the knife edge of laughter and cringe, all carried off by a fabulous ensemble of actors in a tight, disciplined, dead-on-the-mark performance. 

The plot of the two-part play is simple:  A nice, decent middle-class couple, after the loss of their son (whose suicide haunts and informs the play) are selling their nice middle class home in a nice white neighborhood, and the buyer, as it turns out, is a black family.  In 1959.  And the nice, decent middle class neighbors are searching six ways to Sunday to discuss the implications of this sale (racism, white-flight, real estate values, "them" vs "us") without actually discussing the realities (racism, white-flight, real estate values, "them" vs. "us.")

Act two, fast forward to the present day.  Same neighborhood,  same issues, different color.  Now, the awkward, knife-edged discussion is racism, white Yuppification, real estate values, "community" and loss of "community, "them" vs. "us." And adding to the wicked comedic effect, the playwright has cunningly lifted a great deal of identical dialogue from part one, straight into part two; a mirroring effect that brings the shock of recognition. Same old.  Same old. 

In the program notes, author Norris observes, "One of the traps we fall into is the 'progress' trap.  We like to think there's some sort of linear progression toward a utopian ideal, and that each incremental or even superficial change we make is somehow part of a long march to this ideal universe."  Instead, we seem to tread over old ground, struggling to learn a new dance.

The play runs through Sept 29, at the Severson Theatre (the smaller, more intimate venue).  You can get tickets at (805) 922-8313 or go on line to

Don't miss this one. And, while you're on the website, check out their upcoming schedule, starting with Mary Poppins in November.  Perfect Holiday fare for the whole family.

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