In two acts each taking place in different eras, the new play Clybourne Park demonstrates how race issues haven’t changed much in 50 years. Jeremy Shamos plays Karl in Act I during 1959 and Steve in Act II in the present day—two of the most foot-in-mouth characters to hit Broadway in years. Shamos’ hilarity has been recognized with a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Play, along with three other nominations for Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning drama. This is quite a triumph for a play that nearly got the plug pulled on it when mega producer Scott Rudin abruptly withdrew from the production last February, due to a conflict with Norris. Stage Rush sat down with Shamos, before the Tony nominations were announced, to discuss breaking dozens of social norms on stage, Clybourne’s press-shy playwright, and almost not making it to Broadway.
Your Act I character, Karl Lindner, has stepped out of A Raisin in the Sun and into Clybourne Park. What’s it like to play that unique aspect?
I’ve made some effort to not over think the Raisin in the Sun connection. I haven’t poured over Karl Lindner’s part in that play. For Bruce Norris, it was a jumping-off point, and it’s the same for me. I’ve never seen the movie; Bruce told me that I shouldn’t. [laughs] When I first walk on stage in Act I, my character resonates with people and a lot of the work is done for me. Pretty late in the first act when I say “The community association made an offer to these people,” the people who are familiar with [A Raisin in the Sun] know what that means, because they’ve been in that living room and saw him make an offer to the Youngers. I get the advantage of my first act being the second act of something else.
How does it feel to play a character that breaks social norms and is hilariously bad?
That’s the pleasure of doing Bruce’s plays in general. He allows his characters to say things that we have probably all thought, but would never say. That’s a complete pleasure, especially within the context of a very smart theatrical event. I’ve been asked if it’s hard to say the things that my characters say. There are certain things that are offensive that would be hard to say if the play itself was offensive. Then yeah, I’d just be offensive in an irresponsible way. But because things are contextualized so well, I feel like it’s thrilling and the audience gets a real vicarious thrill. Read more