Feud clouds fate of ‘Clybourne Park’

For the second time this season, Center Theatre Group’s hopes of gaining some regard on Broadway — and with it, perhaps some cash — appear to have run aground because of decisions by commercial producers outside the L.A. nonprofit theater’s control.

“Clybourne Park,” Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning sequel to Lorraine Hansberry’s classic 1959 drama, “A Raisin in the Sun,” has been a critically acclaimed smash in its current run at the Mark Taper Forum, but a transfer to Broadway may be off because of a dispute between Norris and Scott Rudin, a key producer in the planned April staging at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

The New York Post reported Wednesday, and a source close to the production confirmed, that Norris, who is also an actor, had backed out of a commitment to star in a pilot for a Rudin-produced HBO adaptation of Jonathan Franzen’s bestselling novel, “The Corrections.” That prompted a tit-for-tat by Rudin, who pulled his money out of “Clybourne Park,” which was to have featured the same seven-member cast that has won glowing reviews at the Taper.

PHOTOS: ‘Clybourne Park’


Rudin could not be reached Wednesday. Norris released a brief written statement through his agent: “At this moment … I feel my priority needs to be writing rather than acting, and so I’ve declined, regretfully,” to appear in “The Corrections.” Norris added that “Jonathan Franzen, Noah Baumbach [who’s directing the planned HBO series] and Scott Rudin are three of the most talented people working today, and I was honored to be considered.... I wish all success to the various parties involved and hope to cross paths with them again in the future.”

Michael Ritchie, artistic director of Center Theatre Group, said Wednesday that the possible derailment of “Clybourne Park” on its way to Broadway is one of those sudden turnabouts that are part and parcel of life in the theater — although he couldn’t think offhand of another instance in which a playwright and a producer had a falling out because the playwright had turned down an acting role in a completely different project.

Ritchie held out hope that Jujamcyn Theaters, which owns the 947-seat Walter Kerr Theatre, might be able to find other producers to back the show. Norris’ agent, Mary Harden, said that it would be incorrect to consider the Broadway run of “Clybourne Park” canceled, because of the possibility that others may step in. Jujamcyn president Jordan Roth couldn’t be reached for comment.

In his review of “Clybourne Park” on Jan. 26, Times theater critic Charles McNulty said Norris’ play, which runs through Feb. 26, is “smart, abrasively funny and fiendishly provocative,” and has received a “superb production” at the Taper from director Pam MacKinnon and her cast.

Two New York City nonprofit theaters had also been in line for co-producer credits of the prospective Broadway run of “Clybourne Park” — Playwrights Horizons, which staged the play’s premiere during its off-Broadway run in 2010 (also directed by MacKinnon, with the same cast featured at the Taper), and Lincoln Center Theatre, which had planned to offer the Broadway show to its regular audience, which would get first choice of seats at a discounted price.

For Center Theatre Group, the news wasn’t as troublesome as last fall’s decision by producers to halt a planned Broadway $12-million revival of “Funny Girl” and its shake-down run at the Ahmanson. Ritchie had to scramble to fill the resulting gap in the Ahmanson’s season — which he did by moving the musical “Fela!” forward in the season and then plugging the gap with a desirable transfer of another Broadway production, a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies” that begins previews May 3.

If “Clybourne Park” doesn’t find new backing, Ritchie said, the loss will mainly be in prestige — the cachet and visibility that comes when a nonprofit company sends a production to Broadway — rather than on the bottom line. Center Theatre Group was to have been listed as a co-producer. Ritchie said that even if the show were to be a major hit in New York, CTG would stand to earn no more than about $60,000 from its small share in the profits and a fee for providing costumes and set pieces. If “Funny Girl” had gone forward and become a hit on Broadway, he said, the upside for CTG could have been as high as $250,000.

The news that “Clybourne Park” may not make it to Broadway probably will affect the cast the most, Ritchie said. “I have to imagine there is disappointment and confusion. But look, this is a business where when you’ve been in it long enough, you get somewhat seasoned to the vicissitudes of it. I have no fear of them not going out on stage tonight and giving the same performance they did last night. It’s a business of troupers, and ‘The Show Must Go On’ is more than a song title.”

From the L.A. perspective, he said, the glass definitely remains more than half full. “It is clearly turning into one of the biggest hits at the Taper since I’ve been here,” said Ritchie, who’s in his eighth year as artistic director. What’s more, he said, the decision to run “Clybourne Park” concurrently with “A Raisin in the Sun,” which is playing at CTG’s Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, is paying off. “Raisin,” a remounting of an earlier production by L.A.'s Ebony Repertory Theatre directed by Phylicia Rashad, “should be pretty much a wall-to-wall sellout, one of the bigger shows we’ve had at the Douglas,” Ritchie said, and playgoers “absolutely” are making a point of seeing both shows, as he had hoped.

“Raisin” tells the story of the Younger family’s struggles against white racism as it tries to move from Chicago to suburban Clybourne Park. In Norris’ sequel, set in 1959 and 2009, the first act focuses on the white family selling to the Youngers; in Act 2, descendants of Hansberry’s characters deal with the arrival of new neighbors — wealthy, gentrifying whites.