Clybourne Park

by

Bruce Norris

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Clybourne Park: Act 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
This second act opens in September of 2009. It’s a Saturday afternoon. The set is still the interior of the house from Act I, but it is rundown and shabby, much of the floor linoleum, plaster crumbling from the walls. In the center of the living room, six people sit in a circle: a white couple named Steve and Lindsey, and their lawyer, Kathy, and a black couple named Kevin and Lena, and their lawyer, Tom.
Unlike in Act 1, where the house was full of moving boxes but still well taken care of, now it is run-down. It suggests a more general dilapidation of the neighborhood as a whole, and helps suggest the lower economic status of Clybourne Park in the 2000s compared to the 1950s—and why Steve and Lindsey would want to renovate. 
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The group begins discussing a document of neighborhood guidelines for renovation. Steve and Lindsey have recently purchased the house, and want to make renovations. Specifically, they want to make it much taller than it already is. They have decided to meet with Kevin and Lena to discuss restrictions the neighborhood association has proposed on making changes to the area’s historic homes.
Lindsey and Steve at first seem amenable to conversations about the size of their house. They want to be courteous neighbors, or at least appear to be courteous and open to suggestions. Lindsey and Steve go into the meeting seeing it as a problem related only to their house, whereas Kevin and Lena are worried about the neighborhood as a whole, and how a single house can affect a community. That Kevin and Lena are concerned with preserving the history of the neighborhood puts them, ironically, on equal footing with Karl from Act 1, who also wanted to preserve his neighborhood, albeit for different reasons.
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The group begins by addressing terminology, discussing what a frontage is, and how the way frontage is defined will affect the renovations Steve and Lindsey want to make to the house. Kevin wonders if the language matters, but Steve says he doesn’t want to overlook a definition and get “screwed because of the language.”
The reason for the characters’ meeting in Act 2 is to discuss a document that will set the terms of the renovations. The language of this document is very important, as it will determine whether or not the house will violate certain standards. The true purpose of the document is to aid in the preservation of the history of Clybourne Park by prohibiting certain changes—a different kind of conservatism than the conservatism demonstrated by Karl in Act 1, but a type of conservatism no less.
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Kathy stands up to take a phone call from Hector, the architect, and Lindsey and Steve briefly argue about whether the perimeter of the house can be changed. Lindsey and Steve turn back to the rest of the group and apologize. They talk about the architect, who is upset that his plans might be rejected. While Kathy talks on the phone, Lindsey tells Kevin and Lena how much she loves the neighborhood, especially the location, which will radically reduce her commute. Kevin and Lindsey realize they work across the street from each other, and Steve and Kevin realize they have a friend in common, Kyle Hendrickson.
Here, communication breaks down for one of many times during this act. Kathy’s phone call distracts from the central conversation and the purpose of the meeting. The small talk echoes conversations from Act 1 about reduced commute times. It is unclear why Steve brings Kyle up, but the implication is that it is because Kyle and Kevin are both black men. The suggestion is that Steve, as a white man, feels that he has next to nothing in common with Kevin.
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Kathy passes the phone to Lindsey, who wants to talk to Hector. Steve makes a comment about Spaniards, like the architect, and how they are temperamental. Kevin agrees, but Tom says Hector seemed “cool”.
This is the first of many strangely racialized comments made during the second act. Steve, who is white and believes the world to be too politically correct, likely feels he is just speaking the truth, and Kevin, trying to get along, agrees. Tom pushes back, but doesn’t actually challenge Steve’s racially charged statement.
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The group discusses trips their families have taken across Europe and Northern Africa—Morocco, Spain, Prague, and Switzerland. Kevin and Kathy do most of the talking. Eventually Lena tries to make an announcement, but Steve cuts her off, wanting to wait for Lindsey. There’s a pause in the conversation, and then Tom suggests returning to the document while they wait. Steve immediately derails the conversation by pointing out that earlier Kathy had claimed Marrakech as the capital of Morocco, but in fact it is Rabat. Tom tries to get the conversation back on track, but Steve and Kathy continue to argue.  
The discussion of geography mirrors conversations in Act 1 about the capitals of various nations. Everyone is speaking but nothing important is being said, and when Lena, who does have an on-topic comment, tries to say her piece, she is made to wait while the small talk continues. Unlike in Act 1, where both race and class separated the black and white characters, here Kevin and Lena are of the same socio-economic bracket as the white characters, as evidenced by their extensive travels. This suggests that some social progress has been made since Act 1, but—as the play will go on to show—the characters still find themselves unable to communicate about sensitive issues.
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Lindsey returns. She explains Hector was upset that he wasn’t included in the meeting. Steve asks Lindsey what the capital of Morocco is, and he, Kathy, and Lindsey continue to discuss geography. Steve has the most extensive knowledge of geography and national capitals, and is offended when Lindsey confuses Bali and Mali, as they are “distinct countries.” 
Steve is offended by Lindsey’s geographic confusion, claiming that Bali and Mali are “distinct countries.” However, his indignation at Lindsey’s ignorance is ironic because Bali, while distinct from Mali, is in fact not its own country, but a province of Indonesia. It’s one of many moments in which his character is portrayed in an unsympathetic light.
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Lena tries again to make her announcement, but is again interrupted when Kathy asks to be reminded of Lena’s name, prompting everyone to reintroduce themselves. Before Lena can speak again, Dan, a contractor working in the backyard, enters from the kitchen. He’s digging a trench and announces there’s been an issue, and Steve gets up and goes outside with him to deal with it. 
Once again, the conversation is derailed before it can truly begin. Although Kathy is trying to be polite, it would in fact be more polite to allow Lena to speak. Dan, who is played by the same actor who plays Russ, is more explicitly (and literally) an outsider in this Act. Although the characters who are played by the same actors in different acts do not perfectly map onto each other, Dan spends the act focused on excavating Kenneth’s trunk, just as Russ spent Act 1 mentally immersed in the past.
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Tom briefly gets the conversation back on track. He explains that the neighborhood has tried to put together a set of guidelines for future renovations. Essentially, measurements are based on the average house in Clybourne Park, so that renovating a house to make it taller than average would require the volume of the house to be reduced in other places. Kathy becomes immediately defensive, and argues that there’s too much variation in existing house sizes to extrapolate into guidelines for future renovation.
Tom tries to explain that the regulations have been put in place to maintain the integrity of the original neighborhood. Kathy, and by extension her clients, are unwilling to compromise. Although they’ve come to this meeting, Kathy makes it clear that they have no real intention of changing their house or taking any recommendations unless they are legally mandated to do so. As in Act 1, what matters here is the appearance of civility and politeness, not the character’s actual willingness to change or their beliefs.
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Tom assumes the Landmarks Committee will pass the neighborhood petition to preserve the neighborhood, which Kathy again pushes back against. Tom doesn’t understand why she’s being so confrontational. Kathy feels it’s too late in the process to be making changes.
Although the group has gathered under the pretense of examining Lindsey and Steve’s proposed renovations, it becomes clear they have no real intention of changing their architectural plans, which means all of this has been wasted, ineffective communication.
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Lindsey explains that she thinks “these houses are so charming,” but the house was so run-down she would rather build a new one. Tom explains that Kevin and Lena called him when they realized Lindsey and Steve planned to build a house fifteen feet taller than the surrounding buildings. By pushing back, he, Lena, and Kevin are just trying to maintain the “integrity—the architectural integrity” of a “historically significant” neighborhood.
Lindsey likes the neighborhood superficially, but she and Steve are not interested in the same aspects of Clybourne Park as Lena and Kevin. Lena and Kevin, along with Tom, feel as though they are the stewards of the neighborhood, and want to preserve its historical significance, partially by preserving the physical houses themselves. The play suggests that it is natural for people to be attached to the history of a place regardless of their race, but that the impulse to preserve history repeatedly comes into conflict with the nature of the world, which is to change.
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Tom’s phone rings and he leaves the conversation to answer the call. Steve returns from the backyard, and explains the diggers hit something as they started working on a filtration system for a koi pond. Lena suggests everyone turn off his or her phone. Steve suggests getting back to business, but Kevin doesn’t want to start without his lawyer. Instead, they discuss Lindsey’s pregnancy and Kevin and Lena’s three children.
Once again, the conversation is interrupted by a phone call. Lena’s suggestion is an attempt to streamline communication and to actually accomplish something, but it doesn’t help get Tom back or restart the conversation the group gathered to have. It’s worth noting that Lena, like Francince (who is played by the same actor), has three children with Kevin.
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Steve and Kevin laugh about how they both know Kyle Hendrickson. Kyle told Steve a joke, which he wants to tell, but which Lindsey thinks is inappropriate. Lena interrupts again, more aggressively. Kathy, who has been checking her voicemails, and Tom, who was still on the phone, hang up and focus on her. She is frustrated that she’s had to wait for a turn to speak, and that nothing is getting done. Tom apologizes for being on the phone, and Lindsey apologizes for making so much small talk. Kevin tries to tell Lindsey she’s just being friendly. Lena, offended, says “I’m being friendly,” and points out it would be friendly “for us to respect each other’s time.”
Lindsey is much more sensitive than Steve. She understands that jokes have the potential to be offensive, whereas Steve seems unable to understand how anyone could be offended by something that made him laugh. Lena has finally become fed up with the cross-talking and chit chat of the past half hour. Like Francine before her, who is played by the same actor, she’s very aware of the amount of time that has passed and grows impatient with the idle and often offensive back and forth. However, she remains respectful—likely, in part, because she understands how quickly the dynamic could sour if she showed any resentment toward the white characters (another parallel between her character and Francine’s).
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Now that the room is finally silent, Lena can say what she’s been meaning to say. She explains that she grew up in Clybourne Park, and as a result is concerned with “a particular period in history and the things that people experienced here in this community during that period,” and says that she’s referring to people who faced obstacles but made a life. Because of this communal history that also, for Lena, is family history, she wants to make sure the neighborhood is respected.
Lena, a lifelong resident of Clybourne Park, feels an obligation to protect her neighborhood from harmful change. Lena’s love of her neighborhood is more nuanced than Karl’s in Act 1. Whereas Karl just wanted to keep his neighborhood white, Lena is concerned about preserving the history of the marginalized black families who lived in Clybourne Park. She wants to make sure their memory is respected. Nevertheless, both characters are motivated by a desire to conserve their neighborhood as it is.
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Steve immediately asks if when Lena discusses the value of the neighborhood she means historical or monetary. Lena clarifies that she means historical. Tom points out that if Steve read the neighborhood petition he should understand.
Even after Lena has explained herself, Steve can only think about the neighborhood in terms of its monetary value. Historical value isn’t important to him. Tom suggests that Steve is uninformed about the politics and the history of the neighborhood he’s moving into.
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Lindsey, trying to be diplomatic, explains she isn’t trying to change the neighborhood. In fact, she reveals, she was resistant to move in because of “the way it used to be.”
Lindsey, attempting to act as peacemaker, accidentally implies that the way the neighborhood used to be was undesirable because it was mostly African American. As in Act 1, however, the characters in Act 2 are equally as incapable of addressing uncomfortable subjects like racism directly or productively.
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Lena asks Lindsey to clarify, but before she can answer Steve and Kathy begin to talk about how the neighborhood was originally German and Irish. Steve brings up an article he read about changing demographics and neighborhood decline. Kathy describes it as “trouble,” but Kevin responds that drugs and violence are trouble, but that a neighborhood cannot be trouble inherently. He then jokes that he and Lena were crackheads, which offends Lindsey.
Steve clarifies on Lindsey’s behalf, but it’s a poor cover-up. Steve is interested in general facts and trivia about the neighborhood, but not the emotional value the neighborhood itself has to its current residents. Lindsey is uncomfortable with the conversation, and although Kevin’s joke doesn’t actually have anything to do with Lindsey, she acts offended perhaps because she feels she should.
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Lindsey, trying to maintain some kind of moral high ground, then explains how horrible she thinks policies that disenfranchise black neighborhoods can be. She goes on to discuss housing projects and their deleterious effects on children. Steve agrees that creating an “artificial semblance of a community” is creating a ghetto, a word Lindsey rejects, and which spins off into a conversation about Jewish ghettos in Prague, and then to Lena and Kevin’s trip to Prague and Switzerland. Kevin wonders if Steve skis, which makes Lindsey laugh. Steve is slightly offended that she finds the idea of him skiing so funny.
Lindsey attempts to be sensitive and politically correct. Like she criticized Steve for wanting to tell an off-color joke earlier, now she feels that his language and his use of the word ghetto is offensive as well. Although the conversation began seriously, once again it veers off into geographical trivia. The brief discussion of skiing calls back to a conversation in Act 1, where Karl argues that an essential difference between black and white people is that black people don’t ski. Here, the inverse is true: only the black couple skis. Again, the play suggests that some progress has been made, but that important gaps remain to be bridged between white and black people in terms of mutual respect and understanding.
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Lindsey tries to turn the conversation back to the document, but they immediately get off track. Lena apologizes for taking up time, and explains she wasn’t trying to “romanticize” poverty, she just has a personal connection to the house, as she grew up in the neighborhood and her great aunt lived in the house they are sitting in currently. Together she and Kevin explain her aunt worked hard for the house, and that during Lena’s childhood the neighborhood was predominantly black, with the exception of Mr. Wheeler at the grocery store. Steve and Lindsey are shocked at this revelation.
Lena reveals that she is related to the Younger family who purchased the house from the Stollers in 1959. Not only is she connected to the neighborhood generally because she grew up there and therefore recognizes its historical value, but she is invested in this house specifically because of the memories it holds for her. Steve and Lindsey’s shock shows how little they understand about the community they are about to enter into as new residents.
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Lena wonders if the house was affordable for her aunt because of the suicide of the son of the previous owners. Lindsey is offended on behalf of Lena’s family, but also horrified that she was not notified of the house’s history when she purchased it. Lindsey becomes increasingly agitated, and she goes to compose herself in the corner of the room. Steve follows, and although they are talking quietly, the audience can hear as Lindsey argues there should be a law demanding that sellers disclose the history of the home.
Lena’s revelation calls readers back to Act 1, when Karl revealed that the Younger family did not know why the house had been so affordable, and threatened to tell them about Kenneth’s suicide. For Lindsey, this is the first piece of Clybourne Park history that seems to affect her viscerally and emotionally—because it has to do with the house she just bought, and she therefore feels that it affects her directly.
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Dan interrupts again, emerging from the backyard through the kitchen, carrying the footlocker from Act I, now covered in mold and dirt. He jokes about it being buried treasure, but leaves when it becomes clear he is interrupting a tense moment. 
Just as the actors on stage begin to excavate the past, Dan literally excavates Kenneth’s trunk, which contains many historical artifacts, including Kenneth’s suicide note. It’s symbolic of the ways in which, even as residents change and racial dynamics evolve, the past is inescapable and returns to the scene in ways that nobody could have anticipated.
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Lindsey apologizes for losing her composure. She explains that the combined stress of the baby, the money, and receiving the neighborhood petition has sent her over the edge. Returning to the document, Tom suggests reducing the height of the house, but Kathy snaps that it’s too late to redesign the house. She reminds Lindsey and Steve that they are not under a legal obligation to change the designs.
Although the assembled characters have spent the past fifteen minutes discussing the importance of Clybourne Park’s history, and Lena’s personal connection to the neighborhood, when they get back to considering the renovation plans it seems that the conversation has had no effect whatsoever on Steve or Kathy.
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Tom disagrees with Kathy, and reminds her that the City Council has recognized the “historic status” of the neighborhood and its “distinctive collection of low-rise single family homes intended to house a community of working-class families.”
This is one of the few moments where the party interested in preserving the neighborhood is an actual legal entity, as opposed to a single person who has taken it upon themselves to conserve and protect the neighborhood.
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Lindsey argues that neighborhoods change with time, but Lena asks her to consider who is responsible for changing the neighborhood now, and what the political interests being served are. Lindsey misses the point, complaining that they are discussing single house, but Lena points out “it happens one house at a time.”
Lindsey’s ignorance here seems willful. She has been so careful to consider her and Steve’s impact on the feelings of everyone in the room, it seems absurd—but perhaps not surprising—that she would not be able to practice similar empathy when considering how her home could affect the entire neighborhood.
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Steve interjects that Lena should just come out and say what she’s trying to say instead of “doing this elaborate little dance around it.” He thinks her argument is informed by “the issue of…racism.” Lena and Kevin, feeling that Lena has been called a racist when their issue was the “inappropriately large house” Steve and Lindsey intended to construct, become angry, even when Steve points out his said the word racism, not that Lena herself was a racist.
Although their discussion of the neighborhood’s history presumably includes its racial makeup, all characters are hesitant to explicitly acknowledge they are discussing race. Lena is upset that Steve has insinuated she is a racist, feeling that it distracts from the subtle and complex ways in which race actually does play into the issue they are discussing. The exchange speaks to a more general tendency of privileged people to see their daily realities as personal rather than political, and to be upset when others remind them that the personal often is political.
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Lindsey attempts to distance herself from Steve as he continues to insist race was clearly a factor in the various issues Lena brought to the table. He mocks the “secret conspiracy” Lena has brought up, which she insists is real. Lindsey, apologizing for Steve, insists “half of my friends are black!” which Steve takes issue with, forcing her to name all her black friends.
Lindsey’s “secret conspiracy” may sound extreme to some, but history supports her claim that the government, both directly through zoning and indirectly through legislation that affected different race’s economic and geographic mobility, often decided the racial makeup of neighborhoods. The play is, in many ways, about the struggle of various characters to take personal responsibility for unfortunate realities for which they do not see themselves as being responsible.
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Tom tries to get the group back on task, but they’re too far gone. Steve believes “the history of America is the history of private property,” humans are naturally territorial, and individual “tribes” don’t like it when their territory is stolen. When Lena points out that her ancestors were literally private property, Steve offers a grand, insincere apology on behalf of white Americans.
Steve does not understand how the African American experience is different from the Caucasian American experience. He thinks Lena and Kevin are being too sensitive, even though they have spent a long time explaining to him why they feel the way they do about the Clybourne Park neighborhood.
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Steve feels like his free speech is being stifled. And complains that “you guys” can say the “n—word” but he can’t even tell one joke. Kevin and Lena insist he tell it if he wants to so badly, though Lindsey continues to protest that it offends her because “it’s disgusting and juvenile and traffics in the worst possible of obsolete bullshit stereotypes.” Steve finally tells the joke, in which a white man goes to jail and has a black cellmate. The cellmate asks if he wants to be mommy or daddy. The white man says he wants to be daddy, and the black man responds, “Okay, well then bend over ‘cause Mommy’s gonna fuck you in the ass.”
Steve has very little empathy for people of other races. Although statistically white men have faced the least amount of oppression of any group in America’s history, Steve nonetheless feels his free speech is being impeded because he cannot say every word he wants to say, or tell every off-color joke he wants to tell. Fed up with his whining, Kevin and Lena goad Steve into telling a joke they suspect will be offensive. They understand that there is no hope the conversation will get back on track, and likely understand that by encouraging Steve to tell an inappropriate joke they are only helping him humiliate himself.
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Lena says she’s not offended, but she finds the joke unfunny, while Lindsey continues to argue that it is offensive. Steve feels that Lindsey is not allowed to be offended, as it doesn’t concern her. Tom interjects that he’s gay, and therefore the joke offends him. Steve tries to argue the joke isn’t about sex, it’s about rape, and Kathy adds that her sister was raped, and therefore she’s offended.
Steve dismisses Lindsey’s claims that she is offended by the joke because she is not personally targeted by it. Still, even when Tom and Kathy point out that they are offended Steve remains unrepentant, and continues to defend his freedom of speech, demonstrating yet again his inability to see that the issue at hand may involve a history and scope that is larger than his personal viewpoint.
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The conversation continues to devolve. Kevin tells a joke about white men, and Steve responds with a joke about black men. Neither man is offended by the other’s joke, but Lindsey says that Steve can’t be offended, as he’s never been “politically marginalized” as a result of uninformed stereotypes like the ones these jokes traffic in.
Steve is not offended by Kevin’s joke because, as Lindsey points out, the joke is not about him. Offensive jokes can be actively damaging to minority groups who already have to deal with violence, both verbal and physical, because of their minority status. For a white man, however, a joke about his race or gender cannot traffic in the same kind of harmful stereotypes as a similar joke about a black man or a gay man.
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Lena ends the conversation when she offers her own joke—how are white women like tampons. Kevin encourages her not to tell it, but she does—white women are like tampons “because they’re both stuck up cunts.” Lindsey and Kathy are both offended at the “hostile joke.” Kathy says she feels that she is intelligent, not stuck up. Steve, frustrated, points out that in their earlier conversation Kathy didn’t even know the capital of Morocco.  
Lena’s joke is the final straw for the group. Although previously they had been able to unite against Steve’s insensitivity, her joke demonstrates that she feels no solidarity with Lindsey and Kathy. Like Francine in Act 1, Lena is more concerned with alliances based on her racial identity than her gender identity.
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Kathy begins to pack up to leave. Steve shares that one of the things that really offends him is “white suburban assholes still driving around with the yellow ribbon magnets on their SUVs in support of some bullshit war.” Kevin reveals he has three ribbons on his car, one for each of his family remembers in the military. He asks Steve if that makes him an asshole.
While the other characters are offended by jokes or comments that degrade groups of which they are a part, Steve, who does not face the same kind of discrimination is “offended” by much more innocuous behavior that does not personally affect him. It shows that Steve is much more willing to dole out potentially offensive jokes than he is to be the brunt of one, consistent with his generally inability to exhibit empathy for others. 
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Lindsey calls out Steve as an asshole and a “regressive.” She announces that she used to date a black guy, adding “so what?”
Although Lindsey means for her comment to show how progressive she is, it instead underscores that she is out of touch. Just because she once dated a black person does not mean she isn’t still racist, or at the very least still clueless about racial issues.
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Tom wraps up the conversation. No one has final thoughts except for Lindsey, who is hurt because she feels her “ethics” have been “called into question.” Lena says she isn’t questioning Lindsey’s ethics, but instead her taste. Tom and Kathy leave, making plans to talk about the house early next week. Lindsey, genuinely offended, asks Lena repeatedly what is wrong with her taste.
Although Lena and Kevin are concerned with larger issues of gentrification, and preserving the history of the neighborhood, the conversation has devolved into petty insults. Lena’s line about questioning Lindsey’s taste, not her ethics, is funny and cutting, but at its core it is not true: the conversation has not just been about questions of taste, it has also been about the ethics of white people moving into and altering historically black spaces.
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Kevin ushers Lena out, and tells Steve and Lindsey they should just communicate through lawyers from now on. Steve remarks to Lindsey, quietly, that Lena is a cunt, which Kevin hears. He barges back in and threatens to slap Steve. Lena urges him to let it go, Lindsey explains they’ve been under a lot of pressure, and Steve refuses to take any responsibility for what he said, saying “I didn’t do anything to you or her” and asking “why can’t you chill?”
Through to the very end, characters are unable to communicate in the ways they intend to. Although Steve means to whisper, Lena hears anyway—one unfortunate moment in which information is transmitted with crystal clarity after hours of conversational confusion. Although Lena told a rude joke, her behavior was ultimately no ruder than Kathy’s, and certainly no worse than that of Steve himself—suggesting that she is being held to a double standard because of her race.
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Dan has entered from the backyard with bolt cutters for the footlocker, and now comes forward to try and break up the fight, putting his hand on Kevin’s shoulder. Angry, Kevin says “don’t you touch me,”  and Dan backs off. Lena and Kevin turn to each other, as do Lindsey and Steve. The two couples engage in simultaneous arguments. Lena complains that Kevin is “trying to make friends with everybody,” while he complains that she’s been unnecessarily confrontational. Lena and Kevin exit as they continue to argue.
In a moment that echoes Russ’s dismissal of Albert in the first Act, Kevin is upset that Dan has touched him. It is unclear if Kevin just doesn’t like being controlled, if he is angry that a white man is trying to intervene, or if he is upset that someone like Dan, a day laborer of a presumably lower class, is trying to exert some control over him, but the moment complicates the play’s portrayal of race relations and shows that no hierarchy is rigid or stable.
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Meanwhile, Steve tells Lindsey that he thinks the planned house is too big, and Lindsey tells Steve he doesn’t have to move in if he doesn’t want to, but she plans on living in the house they’ve purchased. At this point Kevin and Lena have left, and Steve and Lindsey begin to gather their things and fold the chairs they had been sitting on. Steve complains that Lindsey is always privileging the baby’s needs over his, and reveals that before she got pregnant Lindsey had given him an ultimatum: have a baby with her or get a divorce. They leave, still arguing.
Although Steve has just spent the entire act arguing on behalf of himself and Lindsey, it becomes clear in the final moments that Steve is actually not on Lindsey’s side. He doesn’t want to divorce her, and so has compromised to make her happy. Unlike the more stereotypical husband-wife relationships of the first act, where the man was more domineering, this relationship flips the expected power dynamic. Again the play suggests that while the dynamics between men and women or black and whites may shift, the general dysfunctionality of dynamics across race and gender will remain tense as long as people remain unable to address important issues directly.
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As Lindsey and Steve were cleaning up, Dan opened the footlocker with his bolt cutters. Kenneth descends the staircase, dressed in a military uniform and carrying a transistor radio. He is invisible to Dan in the present day. He sits by a window and begins to draft his suicide note. From inside the trunk, Dan removes an envelope containing the same note Kenneth is writing by the window, and begins to read it aloud. It begins, “Dear Mom and Dad, I know you’ll probably blame yourselves for what I’ve done…”
The full suicide note is never read aloud, but it is addressed to Kenneth’s parents, and presumably goes on to tell them not to blame themselves, as it was not their fault that he felt the way he did. Ironically, although the play never shows his parents truly internalizing the contents of Kenneth’s note (it’s unclear if Bev has even read it), it is a complete stranger fifty years later who takes the time to sit calmly and read what Kenneth had to say. The suggestion here is that anyone can facilitate healing and catharsis through the simple act of listening attentively.
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Bev comes downstairs to see Kenneth. She wonders why he’s dressed up and he lies that it is for a job interview. Francine comes in through the front door, greets Bev and Kenneth, and disappears down the hallway. Bev goes back upstairs, but before she does she announces, “I really believe things are about to change for the better.” After she exits, Kenneth continues to write, Dan continues to read, and the lights fade to black.
Because the final lines of the play chronologically take place before any of the other events, Bev’s premonition can be immediately seen as inaccurate. She is likely referring specifically to her family and to Kenneth, who will not get better, but rather will soon kill himself. Her statement can also be abstracted from the context in which it was spoken to refer to the play’s subject of race relations more generally. However, given the fact that characters fail to communicate across racial divides in the first act as well as the second, the play seems to suggest that Bev’s prediction is just as naïve in the 1950s as it would have been if she had spoken it in the 2000s.
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