Monday, May 28, 2012

The Two Best Plays on Broadway

A scene from The Lyons
Photo credit: Carol Rosegg
A scene from Clybourne Park
Photo credit: Nathan Johnson
Last weekend, I revisited two plays I loved off-Broadway, Clybourne Park and The Lyons. There are other plays I've been recommending, such as Peter and the Starcatcher, which is a beautiful production, but for my money, in terms of writing, Clybourne Park and The Lyons are the two best new plays on Broadway right now.

The Lyons by Nicky Silver seems at first to be a conventional family drama. Ben Lyons (Dick Latessa) is dying and he and his wife, Rita (Linda Lavins) have invited his children, Lisa (Kate Jennings Grant) and Curtis (Michael Esper), to the hospital to say their goodbyes. That may not sound liked the stuff of comedy, but Silver gives Rita plenty of zingers, but they don't feel gratuitous because they are in keeping with her character.

Act two focuses on Curtis and I don't want to give anything away, but it goes in a different, unexpected, and completely thrilling direction.

The Lyons aren't very likable people, but they're fully formed and complicated. It's easy to relate to them--their sadness, their loneliness, their selfishness.

In Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris, fifty years divide the first and second act. Act one takes place in 1959 in Clybourne Park, a white neighborhood in Chicago. Bev (Christina Kirk) and Russ (Frank Wood) are packing up to move after a tragedy with their son. Karl Lindner (Jeremy Shamos) and his deaf wife Betsy (Annie Parisse) come over, concerned that Bev and Russ have sold their home to a black family (the family, never seen in the play, is the one at the center of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun).

In the second act, Lindsey (Parisse) and Steve (Shamos) are moving into that same house, only now it is a predominantly black neighborhood (as Karl predicted would happen) and Kevin (Damon Gupton) and Lena (Crystal A. Dickinson) are protesting the changes they want to make to the house and to their history.

None of the characters are completely in the right or wrong. Like Silver's characters, Norris's characters feel like real people, not just vehicles for an agenda.

Both plays have the benefits of exceptional casts and direction (Mark Brokaw for The Lyons and Pam MacKinnon for Clybourne Park), but I'm pretty sure that these are two plays that could be enjoyed on the page, not just in fabulous productions. Both Norris and Silver are making their Broadway debuts as playwrights this season. Let's hope that these plays will stick around for a while and that there will be more to come from both.

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