Thursday, November 13, 2008

Raisin in the Sun

Outstanding ‘A RAISIN IN THE SUN’ at Play House

It seems ironic that the week that this country elected its first African American President, the Cleveland Play House opened ‘A RAISIN IN THE SUN, considered by many to be America’s number one Black-themed play.

What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun?
This segment of the poem A Dream Deferred by Clevelander Langston Hughes is the underlying theme for Lorraine Hansberry’s ‘A RAISIN IN THE SUN.’

On March 11, 1959, ‘A RAISIN IN THE SUN’ opened on Broadway. The play had already negotiated a long and troubled road just to find its way to the opening. It was the first major on-Broadway play by a Black female author. It thrust many of its rookie Broadway cast members into major entertainment roles including Cleveland-born Ruby Dee, and future superstars Sidney Poitier and Claudia McNeil.

No one could foresee that the play's imminent triumph would mirror the changing role of Blacks in this country and the role the play’s themes would play in African American culture in the years that followed. Though the restrictive covenants have been eliminated, even with Obama’s election, the hatred in the voices and words of some at the McCain-Palin rallies, still warns of racial hatred.

The New York Drama Critics Circle named the Hansberry play the best American play of 1959. Ironically, the play failed to receive either a Pulitzer Prize or a Tony for Best Play.

‘A RAISIN IN THE SUN’ relates the story of the Youngers, a Southside Chicago family trying to survive in cramped ghetto quarters. When Mama gets a $10,000 check from her husband's life insurance, they consider moving to a house in a white suburb. A suburb in which the residents warn that they don’t want a Black family as their neighbors.

A RAISIN IN THE SUN’ is somewhat autobiographical. Chicago, where Hansberry was born in 1930, was self-segregated along racial lines at the time. As a child, Hansberry's family became one of the first blacks to move into a white neighborhood. When their neighbors rebelled, both with threats of violence and legal action, the family defended themselves. The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court where the Hansberrys prevailed, thus changing segregation in housing laws.

The Cleveland Play House’s production, under the watchful eye of director Lou Bellamy is superb. He delves into each deep corner, carefully guiding his cast to not over-play their roles. The production hits all the right notes. The humor and the pathos run in parallel lines. The mood is right…serious, but not depressing.

Franchelle Stewart Dorn is wonderful as mamma. She walks the fine line between family matriarch and mother figure with precision. Erika LaVonn is totally believable as Ruth. Young Aric Generette Floyd, who has recently given some excellent performances, continues to impress! This is one very, very talented kid! David Alan Anderson has the difficult task of playing Walter Lee. This is a part that can so easily be over-done. Anderson keeps his emoting in check. His drunk scene is masterfully done. Bakesta King gives a realistic quality to Beneatha. The rest of the cast is equally impressive. The only negative were some problems with projection and slurring, which caused some speeches to be unintelligible.

Vicki Smith’s scenic design adds to the era-correct feeling of the play. On the other hand, Mathew LeFebvre’s costumes are much too numerous and grand for a family living on the border of poverty.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Combine Hansberry’s superb script with a well thought out production, and the result is an impressive evening of theatre. If you haven’t seen ‘RAISIN IN THE SUN’ before, this is THE production to see. If you have, a return visit is well worth your time. Go! (Be aware that the production is close to three hours in length.)