Patrick J. Mitchell’s return to Lexington has added a new level of professionalism and perspective to Lexington Theatre. That has primarily been through the revival of Message Theatre, the black theater company he founded in the 1980s with director William Caise and writer Frank X Walker. But this month, he has brought his perspective to the stage of Studio Players, which is presenting his interpretation of Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park this month. The play bookends Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, about a black family preparing to move into a predominantly white neighborhood in the 1950s, with the story of the house in question before and then 50 years after the move.
With Clybourne Park in its final weekend, we decide to ask Mitchell a few questions.
Q: The directors always pitch scripts they want to direct to Studio Players. What made you want to direct Clybourne Park?
A: I was living in New York at the time it was out. I didn’t get to see it, but I was fascinated by the story and that they picked up from Karl Linder in A Raisin in the Sun. I thought it would be an interesting thing to see, and when I moved back here, there was the opportunity to submit scripts to Studio Players, and they kindly and excitedly accepted the submission.
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Q: Without giving too much away, tell us what happens in the two acts of the play?
A: The first act is in the house that the Youngers are going to buy in A Raisin in the Sun. Karl Linder, who showed up at the Youngers’ house to talk them out of buying the house, comes back to the house to get them to stop selling the house. We learn a little bit about this family before he shows up to talk to them about it. They have gone through their own tragedy, and the reason why they’re selling the house is some of the things the neighborhood has done to affect their change, to affect their reason for wanting to stay in the neighborhood. Then Mr. Linder shows up, and all these reasons come out as to why they really want to sell the house. In Act II, it’s 50 years later, the house has been empty for a while, and it picks up with the family, the Youngers, who are going to sell the house now. The purchasers of the house now, who are white, are going to tear down the whole house and rebuild it 15 feet taller than it was, and the community has signed a petition to stop them from doing this. The act happens right at that meeting, and the house has gone through a major change because squatters have been living there and doing all kinds of things in the house, and you’ll see that change in the second act.
Q: What issues does this touch on for audiences today?
A: It touches on gentrification, the rules as to how a neighborhood can control what you do to your own house; they touch on the aspects of the white family that’s buying the house and how what they’re doing in their hearts and their minds isn’t racial; they just want to buy a house. But what they’re doing is going to change it, because as they are white, the property values of the rest of the houses are going to go up, and as they go up, some blacks who can’t afford the houses will have to move — thus, the gentrification. It’s not their intent to change it. They just want to have a house. So by default, they end up changing the neighborhood.
Also, I’ve come to find that it gets a little scary for a lot of white people to talk about race, or they might have something on their mind, and they’re a little afraid to say certain things, because they are afraid black people will get upset with them and consider them to be racist. Sometimes, we all say something ignorant, because we don’t have all the information and don’t realize it. That doesn’t make them racist, it’s just they don’t have the knowledge. So it touches on that too, which is really, really nice.
“Clybourne Park” closes this weekend, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday at Studio Players’ Carriage House Theatre, 154 W. Bell Court. Go to Studioplayers.org for more information.