BWW Review: A RAISIN IN THE SUN at Downtown Cabaret Theatre

BWW Review: A RAISIN IN THE SUN at Downtown Cabaret Theatre

On Friday, February 9, I had the pleasure of seeing a truly spectacular show called A RAISIN IN THE SUN, at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre, in Bridgeport, CT. This play that first debuted on Broadway in 1959 was written by Lorraine Hansberry and is directed by Brian Crook. It depicts the plight of an African-American family, in Chicago, in a brilliant manner that is universally relatable to people of all colors and backgrounds. The Downtown Cabaret Theatre has shown me, with this play, that in addition to the first rate musicals they are known for producing, they can also put forth top quality straight plays.

The set depicts the living room and kitchen in the Younger Family's apartment. There is a door that leads to two bedrooms in the back, and a stage left door that leads to the bathroom, and ultimately the exit of the apartment. The full stage is utilized well, the living room also serving as the bedroom for the youngest character, Travis Younger who is excellently portrayed by Sana "Prince" Sarr. The kitchen also contains a small closet and open cabinets.

The family consists of mother Lena Younger, her college aged unmarried daughter Beneatha Younger, Lena's thirty-five year old son Walter Younger, Walter's wife Ruth Younger, and Walter and Ruth's young son Travis Younger. They all live together in this Chicago apartment that is sometimes infested with roaches. Lena's husband has recently passed away and has left her ten thousand dollars, which was a fortune for a poor family back in 1959. At the opening of the show, the Younger family is waiting for the check to arrive in the mail, and discussing what the money could be used for.

Jahi Kassa Taharqa is phenomenal in the role of Walter Younger. While some of what Walter says can be crude and unkind, Walter remains the type of character who the audience pulls for throughout the play. He is very relatable to all people from all backgrounds who ever felt as if despite their genuine hard work and effort, they still struggle deeply to meet the economic demands required to live comfortably in society. Walter also struggles to feel heard and understood by his wife, sister, and mother. His pain is real as are his dreams of someday getting out of poverty, and giving his son the opportunity to go to any college he wants. Best of all, Walter's desires to get out of poverty are through noble and honest means like hard work, investments, and entrepreneurship. Will Walter's valor and principles hold up if deeper economic plight puts them to the test? Come to see the show to find out.

MaeTay Harge shines in the role of Beneatha Younger. Beneatha is a principled person with dreams of becoming a doctor. We see two different men who have romantic interest in her, but both of whom have very different personalities. One of the men is George, a wealthy African-American man who Avery Owens portrays well. Beneatha sees through his money, and looks at his personality that is deliberately very off-putting. The other man is Joseph Asagai, wonderfully portrayed by Garth West. Joseph Asagai is from Nigeria, comfortable with himself, and genuinely interested in the entirety of Beneatha, clearly making him the more likeable of the two men. In rough economic times, which of the two will Beneatha choose? Come to the show to see which one she outright rejects and why.

Noel Ginyard brings Ruth Younger to life, successfully conveying a gamut of emotions. Ruth struggles in her relationship with Walter, feeling a disconnection that she wants so desperately to heal. We see her experience joy, pain, and anger, all emotions that Noel Ginyard successfully sells. We also see Ruth faced with a life or death decision. Will Walter encourage Ruth to choose life? Regardless of whether Walter is a positive, negative, or indifferent voice on the inherent value and dignity of the life of his own second child, will Ruth make the only moral, only loving, and then only legal choice, or will she succumb to emotional and spiritual darkness, and choose death for her own child? Come to the show to get a strong implication of the answer.

LaMarr Taylor truly brings the house down in her strong portrayal of Lena "Mama" Younger. Lena is a devoutly Christian woman who always seeks the best for her children and grandchildren. Her strong faith in God and her undying love for her late husband are highly admirable positive influences, even though Walter and Beneatha do not always reflect the virtue that their parents raised them to display. Lena decides to invest part of the ten thousand dollars into buying a home, a chance for the family to escape the poverty they feel in the apartment. This choice is met with joy and optimism by Ruth, but disappointment by Walter who was hoping Lena would invest the money as startup capital for a business venture that Walter wanted to embark upon.

The plan for the Younger Family to move into the house, however, is marred by an indecent proposal from a representative of the community in which the house is located. Claiming to speak for that all white community, a white man named Karl Lindner tells the Younger Family that the community was willing to buy the house from them, for more money than Lena had paid for it, just to keep this African-American family out of the community. Karl Lindner's lack of comfort in making the offer and dismissive attitude towards what Walter has to say are realistically portrayed by Eric Dino, as Karl Lindner manages to even outdo George in being the most deliberately dislikeable character in this show. Will trying economic times lead to the Younger Family accepting Karl Lindner's despicable offer? Come to the show to find out.

Part of what makes this story so powerful and so universally appealing is that, despite the understandable anger and resentment that Walter shows towards white people who have more than he does, Walter never blames his situation on white people, police, America, any politicians, or any political party. He does not have the off-putting and divisive attitude that the government owes him, and must therefore pass laws to give him what he feels is his entitled due, even if such laws require taxing other families into poverty, which would breed resentment from those families. Instead, Walter strives to improve his own situation through honest hard work, investments, and determination, while Beneatha also admirably wants to improve her situation through education and sound choices that elevate love over money. Ruth shows a willingness to work long hours if that is what it takes to make their dreams come true. Lena, meanwhile, puts her faith and trust in God, believing that His will ultimately triumphs. These are attitudes and goals that all audiences can stand behind, relate to, and admire, while genuinely wanting to see these characters' dreams come to fruition. Shows like this promote racial harmony, and avoid the political ills that create racial division. America could definitely benefit by more shows like this one, shows that convey our common humanity, our common struggles, and our common dreams.

I highly recommend A RAISIN IN THE SUN which is scheduled to continue to run at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre, in Bridgeport, CT, through Sunday, February 18. For tickets and times, please go to http://dtcab.com/show/a-raisin-in-the-sun/.

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From This Author Sean Fallon

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