April 10, 2017
Smack dab in the middle of the civil rights era, African-American playwright Lorraine Hansberry’s classic play “A Raisin in the Sun” premiered on Broadway and it’s just as relevant today as it was in 1959. This sensitive, often humorous, and searing drama based on African-American life in Chicago’s Southside ghetto still resonates, though today’s real world challenges may read differently. As Lena (Lizan Mitchell), the matriarch of the family, tells her son Walter, “It used to be about freedom.”
Walter (Will Cobb) is a 35-year old man trying to find his place in a white man’s world that offers little hope of his success. His sister Beneatha (Joy Jones) is a radical feminist and pre-med student whose idea of defining her culture is to deny her American heritage and embrace her African roots guided by her adoring suitor, Joseph Asagai (Bueka Uwemedimo) a Nigerian transplant. His wife Ruth (Dawn Ursula) is a loving wife and supportive mother to their boy, Travis (Jeremiah Hasty), and together with Lena they live in a modest apartment carving out a respectable existence on their meager salaries while toiling in service to wealthy whites.
Hansberry was ahead of her time, looping in issues of feminism with Ruth’s dilemma of whether to have an abortion to avoid the expense of another child, Walter’s disapproval of Beneatha’s desire to be in a man’s job, Beneatha’s desire to be a free spirit in a strict religious household, and Lena’s position as moral leader of the family.
Taken from the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes, the title is a metaphor for the family’s dashed dreams – the slow withering of hope. As Walter says, after he has squandered the insurance money Lena’s late husband left them to pursue a better life, “I didn’t make this world. It was given to me.”
Director Tazewell Thompson guides a brilliantly interlocked cast to powerful performances – most especially from Mitchell who is the centerpiece of the play. Her gestures and facial expressions are both economical and meaningful and her delivery is pure magic reflecting a time when Southern gentility could dominate with an iron hand in a velvet glove.
Donald Eastman’s 1940’s one room kitchen/dining/living room set in the round frame the humor, tough love and inspiration that take the family on a journey from poverty to the promised land.
Through May 7th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024. For tickets and information visit www.ArenaStage.org or call 202 488-3300.