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Spring play looks at social tensions with a darkly comic eye

Poster for Clybourne Park

The spring play at Bethel College draws on a classic from the 1950s while facing issues deeply relevant to the present day.

April 27 and 28, the Bethel College theater department presents Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris, at 7:30 p.m. both nights in Krehbiel Auditorium in Luyken Fine Arts Center. A talk-back session follows immediately after each performance.

Tickets are for sale at Thresher Shop in Schultz Student Center, or with credit card by phone at 316-284-5205, during regular business hours (Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.), or can be purchased in the Luyken Fine Arts Center ticket office starting one hour before each performance, subject to availability.

Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for adults age 65 or older and for other-than-Bethel students, and free for Bethel College students. This play contains explicit language, racial slurs and adult themes and is not suitable for young audiences.

Norris wrote Clybourne Park as a spin-off of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun (1959). It portrays fictional events set before and after the Hansberry play, though loosely based on historical events in Chicago. Clybourne Park premiered off-Broadway in February 2010 in New York, and on Broadway in 2012.

The Washington Post reviewer wrote that Clybourne Park “applies a modern twist to the issues of race and housing and aspirations for a better life.” The play won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2012 Tony® Award for Best Play.

In A Raisin in the Sun, the African-American Younger family buys the property at 406 Clybourne, in an all-white, South Side of Chicago, neighborhood. Clybourne Park imagines what was happening with the white family before they sold the house to the Youngers in 1959, then jumps 50 years to 2009, when residents of the now black neighborhood are protesting the sale of the same home.

Stage director John McCabe-Juhnke, Bethel professor of communication arts, says he chose Clybourne Park as the spring play for a multitude of reasons.

“For some time, I have wanted to stage a production that would encourage persons of color to audition for roles,” he said. “Also, I think the spike in racial tensions in our country over the past couple of years compels those of us in the arts to encourage robust conversations about these issues on campus.

Clybourne Park is the kind of play that can deliver on these issues.”

Luke Unruh, sophomore from Goessel, has the double role of Karl and Steve in the production. He echoed McCabe-Juhnke: “[Clybourne Park] ties in the issue of racism and gentrification when it comes to the real estate market and buying a home.

“Racism is a touchy subject for some people,” Unruh continued, “and expressing concern about it through drama is a different way to express those concerns.”

Clybourne Park primarily focuses on race issues such as the civil rights movement, gentrification and institutional racism. McCabe-Juhnke believes that today’s political climate demands that focus.

“Even as the current political climate has brought more blatant forms of racism into focus, we have to be vigilant about shining a light on racism in all its forms,” he said.

However, despite the play’s heavy emphasis on serious issues, it also promises to be comical.

McCabe-Juhnke continued, “Much of [Clybourne Park] is very funny.”

Devonte Singleton, senior from Los Angeles, plays the double role of Albert and Kevin, and said he looks forward to staging this entertaining production.

“[Clybourne Park] hits on modern and historical conflicts that are very real, however disturbing in some ways,” he said. “It addresses these societal issues with comedy.

“Everyone in the cast’s sole purpose is to entertain. We did not write the play so we will not be soft or dance around certain lines in the play with the fear that it will shed bad light on our personal character. We’re just having fun, at the end of the day.”

In addition to Singleton and Unruh, the cast of Clybourne Park (all playing double roles) is Mark Martin, senior from Newton, as Russ/Dan; Madison Hofer-Holdeman, sophomore from Wichita, as Bev/Kathy; Ellie Bradley, Newton High School senior from Newton, as Francine/Lena; Brandon Castillo, senior from Las Vegas, as Jim/Tom; and Kate Jolliff, senior from Newton, as Betsy/Lindsey.

Damon Klassen, Bethel adjunct instructor of theater, is the technical director and scenic designer.

Stage manager for Clybourne Park is Kelly Habegger, freshman from Hesston. The lighting board operator                is Naomi Epp, sophomore from North Newton, with Reece Hiebert, senior from Walton, on the sound board.

Costume design is by Callie Ross, junior from Overland Park, and props design is by Jaxie Gerk, freshman from Holyoke, Colorado, and Habegger. The Theater Practicum Class built the set. The backstage crew is Gerk, Ashlyn Troyer, freshman from Lyons, Kim Carbonell, senior from Wichita, Merrick Schmitz, freshman from Wichita, and Mario Cruz, sophomore from Victorville, California.

Bethel College ranks at No. 1 in College Consensus’ ranking of Kansas colleges and universities, and is the only Kansas private college listed in the Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities, the Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section and the National Liberal Arts College category of U.S. News & World Report, all for 2017-18. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

Bethel College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation, parental or marital status, gender identity, gender expression, medical or genetic information, ethnic or national origins, citizenship status, veteran or military status or disability. E-mail questions to TitleIXCoordinator@bethelks.edu

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.