Monday, January 28, 2019
Historical and Socially Important “A RAISIN IN THE SUN” at Ensemble
It is entirely appropriate that the songs of Nina Simone were heard before, during intermissions and following the Ensemble production of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.” Simone, an activist and singer, was strongly influenced by Hansberry, who was the first female African-American playwright to have a play performed on Broadway.
Hansberry, in turn, was influenced by Langston Hughes. Hughes, who spent his formative years living in the Fairfax neighborhood in CLE, was a force in the Harlem Renaissance, which was the African American artistic movement in the 1920s that celebrated black life and culture.
“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?” is a sentiment that has been seminal to the black liberation movement. It is a line from one of Hughes’ poems and inspired not only the title of Hansberry’s award winning play, but is at the center of the script’s message.
“Raisin” is, in part. based on Hansberry’s personal experiences of having been brought up in segregated Chicago. Her family challenged a restrictive covenant, similar those imposed upon the Forest Hills area of Cleveland Heights and parts of Shaker Heights, in which minorities were denied the right to buy homes in a specific area.
A lawsuit, based on the family’s desire to buy a home in a “restricted” area of Chicago, brought about the Supreme Court case of Hansberry v. Lee in which the Court held that “a restrictive covenant could be contested in court, even though some of the parties involved may have been included in the prior class of neighborhood landowner.” It opened the floodgates to suits that eventually overcame the covenants.
The plot of “A Raisin in the Sun” centers on Walter and Ruth Younger, their son Travis, along with Walter's mother Lena and Walter's sister Beneatha, who live in a dilapidated two-bedroom apartment on Chicago's south side.
Walter is barely making a living as a limousine driver and desperately wishes to become wealthy. His plan is to invest in a liquor store in partnership with Willy and Bobo, his street-smart acquaintances.
Walter and Beneatha's father has recently died, and Mama is waiting for a life insurance check for $10,000.
The question of how the money will be spent becomes the center of the Younger’s existence.
Eventually Mama puts some of the money down on a new house, choosing an all-white neighborhood over a black one for the practical reason that it happens to be much cheaper. Mamma gives the rest of the money to Walter to invest with the provision that he reserves $3,000 of it for Beneatha's medical school education.
What happens with the money given to Walter, whether the Younger family moves into the “white” area of Chicago, and whether their dreams, like the raisin in the sun, will dry up and die, fills out the remainder of the plot.
Ensemble’s production, under the focused direction of Celeste Cosentino, grabs and holds the audience attention. Though, at times, the acting levels dip below what they should, the over-all effect is powerful.
Angela Winbourn nicely textures the role of Lena Younger, creating a woman of strong convictions and an abundance of love and loyalty for her family, the kind of female figure who has, from slave times, been the backbone of the African-American family.
Nicole Sumlin develops a consistent Ruth, who has conflicted views of how her husband is role-modeling for their son, and the wisdom of some of his far-fetched dreams of being a “success.”
Zyrece Montgomery nicely develops the image of the “new” black woman who is not willing to follow the patterns of the past and wants to reach for a role as a doctor, not a domestic worker, while still being a dreamer.
The rest of the cast, Eugene Sumlin (Walter Lee), Easton Sumlin (Travis), Nnamdi Okpala (George Murchison), Leilani Barrett (Joseph Asagai), Chris Bizub (Karl Linder) and Bobby Williams (Bobo) all develop meaningful characters.
Capsule judgment: “A Raisin in the Sun” is a play about the need to keep fighting to make this a more just and free world. This is a play which is meant to counter those who believe that disdain for those who are different is what would “make America great again.” Ensemble does the script proud. It is a production very worth seeing!
“A Raisin in the Sun” runs through February 17, 2019 on Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 pm and Sundays @ 2. Ensemble is housed in the former Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights. For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to http://www.ensemble-theatre.org
Ensemble’s next production is A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN, Eugene O’Neill’s classic script in which Jodie, an amazon-like woman, finds herself drowning in a wave of self-pity and remorse that results in her facing a new challenge to her dauntless spirit from March 8 to 30, 2019.