Monday, August 18, 2008

Excellent Actors in Palmer Park

Robert Crew (the Toronto Star) gives Palmer Park 3 out of 4 stars:

"If you find the highways and byways of American history of overwhelming interest, then Palmer Park could be your sort of play.

"There's a certain irony here. This somewhat parochial piece was written by an accomplished Canadian-born playwright, Joanna McClelland Glass, and is being staged here at our flagship theatre festival.

"Set in Detroit in the late 1960s, it looks at an area of the city that was, briefly, a Camelot of integration, with white and black families living side by side and happily raising funds for their local school, Hampton. (Glass lived in roughly this area from 1968 to 1974.)

"It's the tale of two upper-middle-class families. Martin Townsend, a professor of physics, and his wife Kate, a white couple, move into the area and are made welcome by their black neighbours, Fletcher, a pediatrician, and his wife Linda.

"With contemporary footage of the 1967 Detroit race riots, the 1968 World Series won by Detroit and more, it has the feel of a docudrama and Glass certainly doesn't stint on statistics. Houses in Palmer Park cost a mere $30,000 compared with $100,000 for houses just a few miles north. The ratio of whites to blacks in the area and Hampton was 65 per cent to 35 per cent; anything more equal and the whites got nervous.

"This urban paradise falls apart, however, when another, blue-collar school protests the ratio of students per teacher at Hampton (25 compared to 36 per class at the poorer school). The solution imposed by the board is to transfer 130 black kids out of the overcrowded school and over to Hampton.

"The situation quickly devolves into a nasty struggle of black against black, salaried employers versus wage earners. The character of Hampton changes and the black middle-class families start to move out, with the white not far behind.

"Glass calls the play a lament for the failure of integration in the United States, but it's hard to feel a heck of a lot of sympathy for the Palmer Parkers who bought their homes on the cheap and created a privileged, artificial world; real integration, after all, would be 50-50. For all their much-vaunted idealism, the situation was hardly ideal.

"That said, the acting almost persuades us otherwise, with Dan Chameroy and Kelli Fox excellent as the white couple and Nigel Shawn Williams and Yanna McIntosh both giving powerhouse performances as Fletch and Linda. The rest of the cast, led by Kevin Hanchard and Severn Thompson, also make strong contributions.

"Ron OJ Parson's direction is unexceptional and the set becomes somewhat uninteresting, but Dayna Tekatch chips in with some lively choreography.

"Paradise lost, perhaps, but the middle class moved on and created new, prosperous lives elsewhere. Unlike the kids of those blue-collar workers. "

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