“Clybourne Park” generates laughter

Kellie Wambold

UW Oshkosh’s theatre department confronted heavy social issues while generating enormous laughs during its production of “Clybourne Park.” “Clybourne Park” is a newer play that mixes dark humor with current social issues like racism, gender roles and gentrification. UWO student Aaron Busse said the play was a good vehicle for presenting these types of issues. “It gives people an opportunity to talk about these issues without getting at each other’s throats [and] being angry with each other,” Busse said. UWO student Brianna Allen said the play was refreshing to watch because it brought up what a lot of people are scared to talk about. “No one likes pushing buttons anymore,” Allen said. “We all like getting offended and we all like getting angry, but we don’t like talking about the actual issues and how we can solve those issues.” UWO student Zach Tazalla said the play helped the audience to speak more openly about the issues it brought up. “In a show like ‘Clybourne Park’ you can say things in a blunt manner to get the point across,” Tazalla said. “From there we can gauge the audience’s reactions and we can judge ourselves and figure out our own beliefs.” Busse, who knew about the heavy themes in the play, said the cast was good at hitting all of the show’s humorous moments. “I laughed a lot more than I thought I would,” Busse said. “The cast had the audience in stitches.” Tazalla said this was due to the cast’s chemistry and their comedic timing. “All of the [actors] played off of each other really well and have a really nice give-and-take,” Tazalla said. Tazalla said Morgan Stewart, a cast member who joined the show less than a week before opening night, impressed him. “I could not tell Morgan walked into the show only a week ago,” Tazalla said. “You can’t tell that she’s thinking about what’s coming next.” Stewart did keep her script with her during Act II, referencing it twice before longer speeches, but she made it feel natural and like it was part of the world of the play. Allen said she hopes students walked away from the play more prepared to discuss race and gender issues. “Try and be as honest as you can about race, simply because no one likes to have those honest conversations,” Allen said. The show’s sound designer, theatre student Jacob Browning, created two separate atmospheres before the show and during intermission. The audience was welcomed to the theatre as 50’s music played. During intermission, the audience jumped when they were thrown into 2009 and Lady Gaga music started playing. This sudden jolt into the present in both the music and Act II of “Clybourne Park” reminded the audience that the issues of the 50’s are still relevant today. Sociology professor Paul Van Auken said the play is a good reminder that racism is present in places like Oshkosh, even if the issue is hard to see sometimes. “There’s a separation issue throughout the country, and you can see it in Oshkosh,” Van Auken said. “When [races] live separately and when we hear about stereotypes, we believe them because there’s no one to contradict them.” Van Auken said plays like “Clybourne Park” are important for students to see because plays can reinforce what is being taught in the classroom. “Students hear about this in an abstract way, a book or an article, in the classroom and then they come to a performance like this and it encapsulates what we’re trying to teach in class in a way that people understand and it’s funny,” Van Auken said. “That can be way more powerful than a lecture.” Van Auken added that “Clybourne Park” and other plays with similar themes could inspire students to make a difference. “I think theatre can be used in a way to spur social change,” Van Auken said.