Changing sets in “Clybourne Park” from a nice 1959 house to a home ready to be knocked down for a McMansion

The play Clyboune Park is on Broadway and just won a 2012 Tony Award for Best Play. In going from Act 1 to Act 2, the play shifts from a house in 1959 to the same home 50 years later that is ripe for a McMansion teardown:

That’s because Clybourne Park is a biting, funny riff on Lorraine Hansberry’s classic play A Raisin in the Sun, one that takes place in the house that Hansberry’s African-American characters purchase in an otherwise all-white neighborhood. It’s talked about, but never seen, in her play, but it’s the fulcrum of the conversations in Clybourne Park.

“The first act is in 1959, in sort of an Eisenhower-era middle class/working class household,” Ostling explains. “The people are packing up to move. And in the second act, it’s 2009. The neighborhood sort of went down, the house is trashed, and they’re preparing to raze it and build a McMansion. So it’s really two completely different sets.”

In the first act, the set has a cozy, lived-in feel — from the flowery 1950s wallpaper to the period doorknobs. When the curtain rises for Act 2, most of the details have changed significantly.

“All the woodwork is painted over,” Ostling says. “The front door has been replaced — because we were thinking, you know, they probably wanted more security, so that nice wood-and-glass front door is replaced with a security door that has some serious bolts in it.”

During intermission, the set has to be changed very, very quickly; a crew of five swings walls in a highly coordinated intermission ballet. When they first rehearsed the changeover, it took 30 or 40 minutes. Now, Ostling says, “We’re not waiting for the crew at all. We’re waiting for people to go to the bathroom!”

The home may be the same but much has changed between 1959 and 2009, both in American neighborhoods as in what Americans expect in their interiors. I would be interested to see what the “ready to be razed for a McMansion” interior look is these days – probably not much granite and stainless steel.

I’ve always been intrigued by how homes are portrayed on TV, in movies, and in plays. On one hand, they are typically depicted as “average” places. Of course, this look is very staged and I’m not sure these homes really look like typical homes. Yet, they always feel a little strange already as you know they are often cutaway all along one angle to allow for cameras. You know what this is like if you have seen a play or gone on a TV set where the interior looks a little familiar but is completely open with plenty of room for cameras and lights.

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