“There’s no way to escape the fact that I’m a racist,” Bruce Norris told New York magazine this February, two months before his play Clybourne Park won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. During his childhood, his family fled Houston in part because of school busing; until he was about 14, Norris said, his main exposure to African Americans was his family’s maid.
This revelation shouldn’t make audiences think less of Norris’ play, which was a massive hit at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in 2010 and has returned there this summer for a string of sellouts. (It runs through Aug. 14.) It’s a smart and witty work, a humorous consideration of white flight and gentrification that upends stereotypes of numerous groups.
In plumbing the racial anxieties that arise when neighborhoods experience profound demographic change, Norris borrows his characters and setting from one of the American theater canon’s greatest treatments of the topic, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. But in riffing on Raisin—and in exploring the ways in which both white and black people talk about race, as well as working through his own anxieties about racism—Norris sidesteps the very real issues of the African-American experience raised in Hansberry’s play.
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