BWW Review: A RAISIN IN THE SUN Shines at Omaha Community Playhouse
A RAISIN IN THE SUN, the 1959 play by Lorraine Hansberry breaks hearts as it breaks ground. Hansberry was the first African American female author to have her work performed on Broadway. She won the New York Drama Critic's Circle Award at the age of 29, making her also the youngest playwright to win it. Sadly, Hansberry died when she was only 34. But her story lives on.
A RAISIN IN THE SUN derives its title from Langston Hughes' poem, Harlem: "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?" The story is all about dreams-those deferred and those that will never be.
Omaha is fortunate to have Tyrone Beasley to direct this classic piece that captures the human spirit in a defining period of history. Mr. Beasley is himself an accomplished actor, teacher, and artistic director with a wealth of experience serving those in underserved communities. His insight and particular proficiencies lend the needed touch to this story of struggle.
The Younger family lives in a run down two bedroom Chicago apartment which is brilliantly recreated by Scenic and Lighting Designer, Steve Williams. The condition of the apartment is suggested by horizontal wooden slats with just enough spacing for light to peek through. The back 2/3 of the stage consists of risers, a novel concept which makes visibility of all action possible. Because of the large size of the house and the small cast, this is especially effective in ensuring the audience misses nothing.
Walter (David Terrell Green) and Ruth (Faushia R. Weeden) Younger live in these cramped quarters with their young son Travis (Brodhi McClymont), Walter's mother Lena (Karen S. Fox), and Walter's sister Beneatha (Olivia Howard). They are a close family under Lena's firm matriarchal hand, but they have very different dreams. Walter dreams of having what the rich white guys have and owning a liquor business. Beneatha dreams of becoming a doctor, while she dabbles in guitar, drama, and other side pursuits. Pragmatic Ruth dreams of nothing more than being content-eating your eggs is enough for now. Lena dreams of owning a house with a little patch of dirt for a garden.
When a hefty life insurance check arrives, these dreams grow feet. The actions each family member takes toward achieving those dreams reveal their true selves. Help others or serve self? Grow a plant or a garden? Sustain life or end it? The interplay of motivations is compelling. Complicating the family's contentious wrestling for control of the money, outsiders question the Youngers' acceptability within a white neighborhood or cause them to choose between cultural assimilation or embracing their African heritage.
Not only is this a remarkable work with layered messages, it has everything a great play should have. It is rich in character development, morality questions, conflict resolution, and it ends with a satisfying conclusion. The show runs a good three hours, which makes it a challenge to remain alert through the lengthy conversations, but Beasley's direction manages to bring out a progression in character while keeping it real. The actors, notably Fox and Howard, are effortlessly natural, giving me the impression that I am eavesdropping rather than watching a performance. The tug between them during their discussion of God is especially impactful and culminates with Fox's declaration, "In my mother's house there is still God!" Green initially appears to be two dimensional, but he soon becomes a crescendo that levels out to a peaceful harmonic.
Speaking of harmonic, Tim Vallier's musical compositions are eerily melodic, catching the ear but not grabbing the spotlight. Beautiful!
OCP's production of A RAISIN IN THE SUN is one of those plays that lingers in your mind. It is a powerful story powerfully told.
Photo Credit: Collin Conces
Seated: Karen S. Fox; Back Row: Faushia R. Weeden, David Terrell Green, Olivia Howard, and Brodhi McClymont