California Shakespeare Theater Opens 40th Anniversary Season with A RAISIN IN THE SUN Tonight
California Shakespeare Theater begins its 2014 season with one of the true trailblazing works in the American theater, A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry, directed by Patricia McGregor. A Raisin in the Sun plays at the Bruns Amphitheater from tonight, May 21 through June 15.
Raisin marked the first time a play by an African-American woman about the struggles of African-American families appeared on the Broadway stage. Set in 1959 Chicago, the Younger family dreams of moving up and out of their rundown Chicago neighborhood; their longing for a better life cause each of them to confront their own feelings about security, wealth, and their obligations to family.
The company of A Raisin in the Sun reunites director Patricia McGregor and Bay Area powerhouse Margo Hall, last seen at Cal Shakes in A Winter's Tale and American Night: The Ballad of Juan José, as Lena, the matriarch of the Younger clan. The other members of the family, many of whom are making their Cal Shakes' debuts with this production, include: Marcus Henderson, who appeared in the 2013 Oscar-nominated Django Unchained and the 2014 Sundance Grand Jury prize-winner Whiplash, as Walter; Cal Shakes Associate Artist Ryan Nicole Peters, co-author of Hamlet: Blood in the Brain, as his wife, Ruth; A.C.T. third-year MFA student Nemuna Ceesay, as his sister, Beneatha; and Zion Richardson, who appeared in last season's A Winter's Tale, and new-comer Ajani Barrow as Walter's son, Travis. The rest of the cast includes York Walker, also from A.C.T.'s MFA program, as George Murcheson and Bobo; Nigerian-born Rotimi Agbabiaka, a veteran of SF Mime Troupe and his own one-man show, Homeless, as Joseph Asagai; Liam Vincent, last seen at Cal Shakes in The Taming of the Shrew (2011), as Karl Lindner, and Drew Watkins and Howard Johnson, Jr., as the moving men.
Cal Shakes Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone says, "Lorraine Hansberry wrote with such a rare and beautiful blend of brutal honesty and profound hope that her work stands as an example of American writing at its finest-enduring, resonant and ripe for a fresh look by this incredible group of actors, designers and especially director Patricia McGregor. I'm so proud to share this deeply human, richly told, and relevant story with our communities."
From BlackHistoryNow.com: Lorraine Hansberry (Playwright) was born May 19, 1930, in Chicago, Illinois, the youngest of four children. Her mother, Nannie Perry, was a schoolteacher active in the Republican Party. Her father, Carl Augustus Hansberry, was a successful real estate entrepreneur involved with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Urban League. When Hansberry was eight years old, the family moved into a primarily white neighborhood with restrictive covenants preventing African Americans from buying homes. Hansberry's father challenged the restrictions, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor in 1940. After graduating from Englewood High School in 1948, Hansberry attended the University of Wisconsin, furthering her interest in theater and becoming involved with the Young Progressives of America. In 1950, she left college for New York City where she studied at the New School for Social Research, and became a staff writer and eventual editor for Paul Robeson's progressive black newspaper, Freedom. In 1951, Hansberry met Robert Nemiroff, a white graduate student and songwriter, at a New York University anti-discrimination rally. They married June 20, 1953. Hansberry worked several jobs until 1956 when she began writing full time. She finished A Raisin in the Sun in 1957; it opened at Broadway's Ethel Barrymore Theatre on March 11, 1959, running for 350 performances over 19 months. Variety named her the season's "most promising playwright." Writer James Baldwin later wrote: "Never before, in the entire history of the American theater, had so much of the truth of black people's lives been seen on the stage." Nemiroff and Hansberry moved from New York City's Greenwich Village to Croton-on-Hudson in 1961 where Hansberry lived until her death. Hansberry was diagnosed with cancer in 1963, but she continued to write and participate in political causes. In 1964, Hansberry and Nemiroff divorced, though they remained close. He helped produce The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window-the only other completed work produced in Hansberry's lifetime-which opened at Broadway's Longacre Theater to mixed reviews. It closed January 12, 1965, the day Hansberry died of pancreatic cancer at age 34. Her early death was mourned in many circles, and more than 600 people attended her funeral where tributes from government, arts, and civil rights leaders accompanied Robeson's eulogy.
Patricia McGregor (Director) is a Harlem-based director, writer, and deviser of new work; her previous work at Cal Shakes includes the critically-acclaimed Spunk (2012) and A Winter's Tale (2013). Recent directing credits include the world premieres of Marcus Gardley's The House That Will Not Stand at Berkeley Rep, and Katori Hall's Hurt Village at the Signature Theater company (NYC); Juan and John (CTG/Douglas and Public LAB); Yerma (SMU); Blood Dazzler and Holding it Down with Grammy nominee Vijay Iyer and Mike Ladd (Harlem Stage); In the Cypher (Drilling Company) and Burnt Sugar Freaks James Brown (the Apollo Theater and Summer Stage). As Associate Director of Fela! on Broadway, she coached Patti LaBelle in the role of Funmailayo. Other directing credits include Jelly's Last Jam, Romeo and Juliet, Four Electric Ghosts, Cloud Tectonics, Eleemosynary, The French Play, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, Sidewalk Opera, Dancing in the Dark, The Covering Skyline, and In the Meantime. She has worked at venues including Broadway, NYSF Shakespeare in the Park, BAM, Second Stage, the Public Theater, the Kitchen, the O'Neill, Lincoln Center Institute, Exit Art, and Nuyorican Poetry Cafe. She cofounded Angela's Pulse with her sister, choreographer Paloma McGregor. Angela's Pulse creates vital choreoplays and fosters collaboration among artists, educators, organizers, academics and other diverse communities in order to illuminate under-told stories, infuse meaning into the audience experience, and animate progress through the arts. Ms. McGregor attended the Yale School of Drama where she was a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow and Artistic Director of the Yale Cabaret.
The creative team for A Raisin in the Sun includes set designer Dede M. Ayite, who holds an MFA in Design from Yale School of Drama and a BA in Theatre and Behavioral Neuroscience from Lehigh University; costume designer Katie Nowacki, who created the dichotomous looks of darkly tailored Sicily and boldly colorful Bohemia for last season's A Winter's Tale; lighting designer Gabe Maxon, whose previous work at Cal Shakes includes 2011's The Tempest, and whose work has been seen at Shotgun Players, MTC, Magic Theatre, and A.C.T., to name a few; and sound designer Will McCandless, who has provided numerous soundscapes at Aurora Theatre Company, Magic Theatre, and The San Francisco Mime Troupe, among others.
Single tickets for A Raisin in the Sun range from $20 to $72, with discounts available for seniors, students, military families, persons age 30 and under, and groups. Prices, dates, titles, and artists are subject to change. For information or to charge tickets by phone with VISA, MasterCard, or American Express, call the Cal Shakes Box Office at 510.548.9666. Additional information and online ticketing are available at www.calshakes.org.
California Shakespeare Theater's 2014 season is supported in part by the generosity of California Shakespeare Theater's 2014 season is supported in part by the generosity of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Dean & Margaret Lesher Foundation, The Andrew Mellon Foundation, The Bernard Osher Foundation, and The Shubert Foundation. Presenting corporate partners for Cal Shakes' 40th anniversary season include BART, City National Bank, Lafayette Park Hotel and Spa, Meyer Sound, Peet's Coffee and Tea, and San Francisco magazine; production sponsors for A Raisin in the Sun include The New R&B 102.9 KBLX and United Airlines. A Raisin in the Sun is presented by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc.