This year’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Clybourne Park” takes place on Chicago’s Northwest Side on two distinct afternoons: one in 1959, the other in 2009. Inspired by the Groundbreaking drama, “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Clybourne Park” highlights the politics of race and gentrification.
In the 1959 setting, a white neighborhood responds when a black family tries to move into the neighborhood. In 2009, the situation is reversed:
CORLEY: And that plays out in the second act of “Clybourne Park,” set 50 years later in the same living room of that bungalow. It’s tattered now. There’s graffiti on a couple of walls, the stained glass windows gone. A white couple has bought the house in the now all-black and gentrifying neighborhood. They want to tear the home down and build anew. Their black neighbors want to preserve the neighborhood’s history and want the white couple to alter their McMansion plans.
Their chat, with attorneys present, turns into an uncomfortable and eventually hostile conversation. Karen Aldridge portrays Lena, a black woman whose aunt used to live in the bungalow. She echoes the arguments of the white Karl Linder, as she and her husband try to persuade her white neighbors to save the house.
This might be a great play for students to see in order to think about the continuing issue of residential segregation. While it is pretty easy for students to get outraged over the housing issues of the 1950s when fictional situations like these played out in many American neighborhoods (see about the infamous 1951 riots in Cicero here and here) as whites tried to protect their neighborhoods before fleeing to the suburbs, there are plenty of issues to think about in recent years.
It is also interesting to see the term McMansion injected into matters of gentrification. Typically, McMansion refers to large suburban homes. However, in some of the research I’ve done, it is not terribly unusual for urban residents opposed to new large homes to dub them McMansions. Particularly in cases of gentrification, perhaps the term McMansion really gets the point across for opponents: these are suburbanites who want to bring in their suburban lifestyle which will destroy the urban fabric of the neighborhood.