A Raisin in the Sun - Theater Reveiw

A Raisin in the Sun - Theater Reveiw

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Recently PBS aired an American Masters program on Lorraine Hansberry, the author of the watershed play, A Raisin in the Sun. Hansberry was the first African American woman to have a play on Broadway. Tragically, Hansberry had a very short physical life, but her play lives on and on and on.  A Raisin in the Sun is not only one of my favorite American plays, but it is one the best made plays of all time. Its faultless structure is still impressive, and remarkably, sadly, its themes on racism, the American Dream and housing discrimination are still topical.

Set in the grim Southside of Chicago in the late 1950’s the story opens shortly after the death of the patriarch of the Younger family. The family: Matriarch Lena Younger (Kim Staunton), son Walter Lee (Chike Johnson), Walter’s wife Ruth (Dorcas Sowunmi), Walter and Ruth’s son Travis (Robert RJ Murphy) and Walter’s sister and Lena’s daughter Beneatha (Stori Ayers) are waiting for a check for the life insurance policy that will change their lives.  They know it will arrive at 10:30 am the next day Saturday, and much of the first scene is discussion of what they are going to do with it. Walter Lee wants to use the money for a business investment, as he realizes that a working black man cannot get ahead in the world unless he works for himself.

The play is bristling with conflict, as each character has their own dream they want to come true, and stakes are constantly raised. But dreams are all they basically have, that and pride. Hope comes in the form of a new house, even if the new neighborhood (all white) could prove a challenge.

Beneatha, an exceptionally intelligent and thoughtful twenty year old, is sometimes too smart for her own good.  Her natural curiosity and desire to learn many things, including the guitar could derail her focus in Medical School and ome of the insurance money is earmarked for her medical school tuition. Themes of assimilation run throughout the play and are symbolically represented in Beneatha’s two suitors: rich, successful light skinned George (Jordan Bellow) and Asagai (Elisha Lawson) who is visiting Chicago from Nigeria. As the story unfolds the question of who Beneatha chooses becomes her bigger decision of assimilation or her roots. This is one of the play’s greatest assets, it asks a lot of questions, and continuously keeps you interested, intrigued and emotionally engaged.

The Syracuse Stage production is deftly staged.  Director Timothy Douglas lets each character shine vividly, while never losing any member of the ensemble; at the same time the family is its own character. There is a claustrophobic, trapped, feel to the action: Tony Clark’s amazing scenic design helps this immensely. The feel of the characters’ trying to get out, is enhanced by a sense of looking in, and watching history, humans in history. The play cannot be separated from its historical context, and wisely Syracuse Stage has not attempted this. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

This production highlights the play’s stirring power and I guarantee you will be moved and roused if you see it.  Now at Syracuse stage, through March 11 only.

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