Shalwitz ’74 Directs Record-Breaking D.C. Production of Clybourne Park

Howard Shalwitz '74 - Photo by Colin Hovde

Howard Shalwitz ’74, artistic director of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., recently directed an acclaimed, re-mounted production of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris at the theater this summer. The play was first staged at Woolly Mammoth in 2010. In April, Shalwitz received two Helen Hayes Awards—Outstanding Director and Outstanding Resident Play—for the production.

Norris’s two-act play, a provocative look at race, gentrification and real estate, takes place in a Chicago house, with Act 1 set in the 1950s and Act 2 in the 1990s. The work looks back to Lorraine Hansberry’s theater classic, A Raisin in the Sun.

The remount of Clybourne Park was officially the highest grossing production in Woolly’s history, playing to 105 percent audience capacity. The theater hosted 26 live discussions: six forums and 20 audience exchanges featuring 44 different speakers, including such notable guests as U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Andy Shallal of Busboys and Poets, and Danny Harris of People’s District. Audience members for the show came from 32 different states, as well as Canada, Puerto Rico, Tokyo, London, and South Africa.

“The remount of Clybourne Park was satisfying on so many levels,” Shalwitz says. “The actors’ performances grew by leaps and bounds, bringing new emotional resonance to the play. The shifting political climate provided a sharp new lens through which to view the play, and even more than the first production, the remount of Clybourne Park was not just entertainment, but a platform for civic discourse.”

In a recent interview with PBS Newshour, Shalwitz says that Clybourne Park “is a play about language. It’s not just about what’s right and what’s wrong with respect to race and gentrification. It’s as much about the words we use, the games we play, especially now, to try to be politically correct about it and how those mask maybe some deeper underlying attitudes. I think that’s the genius of the play, and that’s a lot of the comedy. It’s like the audience can see the characters tripping over themselves to try to put the best face on their own personal interests.”

Now in its 32nd Season, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company has been acknowledged as “the hottest theatre company in town” (The Washington Post), “known for its productions of innovative new plays” (The New York Times). Woolly Mammoth is a national leader in the development of new plays, and one of the best-known and most influential mid-sized theaters in the United States.

Kimberly Gilbert, Cody Nickell, Dawn Ursula, Jefferson A. Russell, Michael Glenn, and Mitchell Hébert in Woolly Mammoth’s production of Clybourne Park, directed by Howard Shalwitz '74

David Low

David Low '76 writes about arts and culture for the Wesleyan magazine and Wesleyan Connection. He is associate director of publications in the Office of University Communications. He is also a published fiction writer. E-mail: dlow@wesleyan.edu 

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