Lorraine Hansberry had the subject matter for her 1959 drama A Raisin in the Sun close at hand: The African-American playwright was 8 years old when her family bought a house in Chicago's white Washington Park neighborhood in 1938. Years later, she'd recall "literally howling mobs surrounding our house," as well as memories of her mother walking the rooms at night with a loaded Luger pistol. Subsequent legal battles over racial covenant real estate restrictions went all the way to the Supreme Court.
Hansberry's semi-autobiographical drama, which sparked the black theater movement in the 1960s, focused instead on an African-American family's internal turmoils before that maelstrom. In response, playwright Bruce Norris wrote Clybourne Park in 2010 to step back and look at events taking place in the neighborhood of Hansberry's play, first before the events of A Raisin in the Sun and then 50 years afterward. With its biting wit and focused racial debates, Clybourne Park took the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2012 Tony for Best Play.
PlayMakers Rep's rotating repertory staging of both plays follows Center Theatre Group's simultaneous productions last January in Los Angeles. Following a series of previews, the shows open Saturday and run through March 3. —Byron Woods