The first act of “Clybourne Park” is set in 1959, when a black family’s forthcoming move creates uproar in a white neighborhood. The second act of the Bruce Norris play opens in the present day as a white couple prepares to settle into the same neighborhood, which is predominantly black but quickly gentrifying.

The play is edgy, even uncomfortable. And that’s exactly why Santa Monica High School’s theater group chose it.

“It’s incredibly provocative,” Samohi Theatre director Kate Barraza said. “There’s some [cursing] and obscene jokes, and I imagine there might be a little pushback. But I do think it’ll spark conversations. People will maybe look at things in a different way.”

The school’s adaptation of “Clybourne Park,” which opens tonight at the school’s Humanities Center, comes at a time of rumbling racial tensions in Santa Monica and across the country.

The Santa Monica-Malibu school district has hired educator and sociologist Pedro Noguera to address longstanding achievement gaps, which continue to drive debate on the issue of racial equity in access and performance.

The play, a spinoff on Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” tackles race relations not through the lens of education but instead through a study of complex characters who make major life decisions amid changing community demographics.

Samohi Theatre chose to produce “Clybourne Park” following discussions among its governing council. A student had come forward and pitched the idea of performing the Norris play, Barraza said.

“We decided that people will probably enjoy it and that they’d think it was funny,” she said. “We could engage a large group of people.”

There are 23 students involved in the production, including more than a dozen in the cast. Barraza, who studied educational theater at New York University, noted that several of the students in her large senior class are interested in pursuing theater after high school.

“We haven’t really done anything like this,” she said. “But … a lot of them want to do theater around social change, and that guided the group to be interested in this.”

Barraza’s class has had extensive discussions about its reasons for performing the play and why it’s an important addition to the artistic landscape. Some wondered how it would be received by the student body and whether people would think the actors are racist for portraying certain characters, including the often-inflammatory Karl Linder.

“Karl Linder is pretty much a jerk, but we talked about, ‘In what ways is he a decent guy?’” Barraza said. “We have to find ways to like him on some level. People are complex.

“[The playwright] is just making people look at these issues. He doesn’t say anything. He just says, ‘Look at it, learn from it and laugh at it.’”

Barraza said the play, which originally premiered in 2010, remains relevant, as evidenced by the dialogues held this week between theater students and English students who saw a preview of the production.

“In act two, you have people that you would probably know,” she said. “They think they’re being good. They think they’re doing the right thing. Everybody in that play think they’re doing in the right thing. But they’re someone else’s villain.”

The play runs Nov. 6-7 and Nov. 13-14 at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $10 for students and $15 for adults. For more information, visit