Woolly Mammoth’s “Clybourne Park” Looks at Gentrification

by Borderstan.com March 19, 2010 at 5:00 am 2,518 0

Clybourne Park Borderstan Woolly Mammoth Carolyn Sewell

“Clybourne Park” runs through April 11 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D Street NW. There is a special ticket offer for Borderstan readers, with details in this post. (Image: Carolyn Sewell)

Gentrification. It can be a controversial word. No, it is a controversial word. Ask around for what it means to people and you will probably get a number of answers or definitions–some good, some bad, some mixed.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre is currently running Clybourne Park through April 11 (more about the show below). The theme is highly relevant considering the recent changes in our neighborhood.

Gentrification and Borderstan

Gentrification is a topic of discussion in DC because the city’s demographics are changing: less African-American and more white, Asian and Latino. More upper middle class and few working class and poor.

The Logan Circle, Shaw and U Street neighborhoods have all seen huge influxes of new residents, many of whom have more education and higher incomes than many of the long-time residents of the area. Moreover, the majority of the new residents are not African-American.

Some of the change is due to the newcomers moving into existing residences where African-Americans previously lived. However, it is also due to the huge number of new–and expensive–residential buildings constructed in the past five to 10 years. The rapid demographic changes in the Borderstan area in the past decade are astounding. (Also, see “DC’s 600,000 People: The Redistricting Angle.”)

The change in local retail is another one of the major shifts that comes with gentrification. The recently arrived expensive restaurants and boutiques on the 14th and U Street corridors are examples. So is the 1400 block of P Street NW (yes, there was life before Whole Foods). If you have lived in the neighborhood less than seven to 10 years, it is difficult to fathom the enormity of the change. It is not just the number of new businesses, but how different they are in terms of their customer base.

“Clybourne Park” at Woolly Mammoth

As for Clybourne Park, here is what Woolly Mammoth says about the show:

A white community in 1950’s Chicago splinters over the Black family about to move in. Fast-forward to our present day, and the same house represents very different demographics as we climb through the looking-glass of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic A Raisin in the Sun.  These hilarious and horrifying neighbors pitch a battle over territory and legacy that reveals how far our ideas about race and gentrification have evolved–or have they?

Clybourne Park explores the evolution of racism and gentrification over the past half-century in America by imagining the conflicts surrounding the purchase of a house in a white neighborhood in the 1950s by an African American family, and then the re-design of that house in “post-racial” 2009. While Clybourne Park is a Chicago neighborhood, the play makes no direct reference to its geography. Woolly believes Clybourne Park is highly reflective of the changes happening to neighborhoods throughout DC and across the metropolitan area (and urban America).

Have you seen Clybourne Park? If so, what did you think? Are you planning to see it? We hope to have a review here at Borderstan for you next week.

Special Ticket Promotion

Woolly Mammoth is running a special promotion with $30 tickets for Borderstan readers. When purchasing tickets use the code 788. Go to woollymammoth.net for more information and tickets. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at 641 D Street N.W.

Pieces on Gentrification

Woolly Mammoth’s Radio Woolly has podcasts, blog entries, and special events listings at the “Is your neighborhood Clybourne Park?” on its Web site. Some of the Woolly’s blog entries are very well written and offer interesting perspectives, including Shaw. For another DC angle, read “G” is for Gentrifier at Barry Farms (re)Mixed blog.

Finally, you might want to check out this recent New York Magazine piece, “What’s Wrong with Gentrification?”


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