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BWW Review: A RAISIN IN THE SUN is Compelling at Syracuse Stage

BWW Review:  A RAISIN IN THE SUN is Compelling at Syracuse Stage
L-R Dorcus Sowunmi, Robert "RJ" Murphy, Kim Staunton, Chiké Johnson, and Stori Ayers in Syracuse Stage's production of A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Michael Davis.

Syracuse Stage has once again brought an intense and gripping production to the local stage. This time around it is Lorraine Hansberry's American classic play A Raisin in the Sun (in a co-production with Indiana Repertory Theatre) captivating audiences.

Hansberry's play, brilliantly directed by Timothy Douglas, continues to resonate with theatergoers because it is about a family in search for a better life. The idea of having a chance to pursue a dream and have it become a reality is one that will continue to be relatable for generations to come.

The story takes place Younger family's apartment on the Southside of Chicago in the 1950s. Lena Younger (Kim Staunton) has received $10,000 as the beneficiary of her late husband's life insurance policy. She wants to use the money to buy her family a better home in a nice neighborhood where they can enjoy simple things like a garden and a yard for her grandson Travis Younger (Robert "RJ" Murphy) to play in and explore. Two wrinkles emerge. The home Lena wants is in a predominantly white neighborhood. They are an African American family and, well, it's the 1950s. Additionally, her son Walter Lee Younger (Chiké Johnson) has other ideas about how to best spend the money. He wants to open a liquor store. The struggle between Lena and Walter unfolds center stage. Which dream becomes a reality for the Younger family?

Scenic designer Tony Cisek has designed a breathtaking set that fills the entire stage. The Younger's small apartment is at the center, but behind their small apartment are multiple levels of staircases that extend from floor to ceiling. This makes for some very smart staging. His attention to detail is noteworthy. For example, the ceiling, from which a light hangs above the Younger's kitchen table, is noticeably cracked.

Peter Maradudin's lighting is dramatically effective, especially in the final scene as all the actors come on stage and stand on different levels of the staircases. It works in tandem with Michael Keck's sound design.

Four local actors appear in the production. Donovan Stanfield portrays Bobo and one of the moving men and Syracuse University Drama student James "Jay" Mack portrays the second moving man. A local fifth grader, Robert "RJ" Murphy, plays Travis Younger.

All of the actors, both local and non-local, give emotionally captivating performances. They demonstrate that they truly understand their characters wants, needs, and past experiences, which makes the portrayals even more compelling. The entire cast works together beautifully to create a very believable family.

Dorcas Sowunmi as Ruth Younger, Walter Lee Younger's hardworking and very tired wife, gives a brilliant portrayal of a woman who feels stuck in life. Sowunmi makes you feel the struggles that this poor woman must endure, including not being able to provide a decent home for her son, having to work even when she is not feeling up to it, scraping by on very little, and dealing with the challenges of marriage. She gives her all in the performance and is a real and raw actor personified.

Chiké Johnson is intense, passionate, and brilliant as Walter Lee Younger. His line delivery reflects the situation. He can be comedic at all the right moments, emotional and dramatic when needed, and intense when his character hits rock bottom. He is a true standout performer.

As Lena Younger, Kim Staunton is truly compelling as a woman who wants nothing more than to give her family a better life and home. The chemistry she has with her fellow actors adds so much to the performance and story. Her acting is some of the finest I have seen - a true talent.

Stori Ayers is spunky, charming, intelligent, and confident as Beneatha Younger, a young girl yearning to find herself and become a doctor. Kara Harmon's costumes shine as Ayers struts across the stage in full on African garb given to Beneatha by her friend Joseph Asagai (the talented and likeable Elisha Lawson). Her performance is most memorable.

Jordan Bellow plays full-of-himself George Mutchison with perfection. First time actor Robert "RJ" Murphy portrays Travis Younger with the perfect amount of sweetness and charm; he seems very comfortable on the stage. Paul Tavianini delivers a memorable performance as Karl Lindner, the man looking to keep the Younger family out of the white neighborhood. Donovan Stanfield, has great line delivery as Bobo.

A Raisin in the Sun is a definite must-see with its gripping story, compelling acting, and breathtaking scenic design. On opening night people couldn't jump out of their seats fast enough for a very well deserved standing ovation. Director Timothy Douglas has brought together a group of very talented actors to perform this timeless and class American play.

Running Time: Three hours with one twenty-minute intermission.

A Raisin in the Sun runs through March 11, 2018 at the Syracuse Stage/Syracuse University Drama Complex in the Archbold Theatre, 820 E. Genesee St., Syracuse. For tickets and information on this production and upcoming productions at Syracuse Stage, click here.

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From This Author Natasha Ashley