BWW Review: Classic RAISIN IN THE SUN at Rep Spotlights How Far We Haven't Come

A Raisin in the Sun
Mia Ellis and Richard Prioleau in
A Raisin in the Sun at Seattle Repertory Theatre.
Photo credit: Alan Alabastro

There are certain plays out there that remain enduring classics. Maybe they're just that good. Or maybe they still pack a punch all these years later and resonate with attitudes of today. Well the Seattle Rep is presenting one on those classics with Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun" and while it falls firmly into that first category of "just that good" unfortunately watching it last night I also felt how far we have and haven't come since it debuted in 1959 as many of the themes of inequality and prejudice on display are still all too prevalent today.

In the play the Younger family is no stranger to hard work. Walter Lee (Richard Prioleau) works all day as a chauffeur while his wife Ruth (Mia Ellis) wears herself ragged keeping both their house in order as well as that of her employer. And they live in a small two-bedroom apartment in Chicago with their son Travis (played on alternate nights by Jalani Clemmons and Catalino Manalang), Walter Lee's sister Beneatha (Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako) who goes to medical school and their mother Lena (Denise Burse). Life is tough and crowded but they get by. But when Lena gets $10,000 from her late husband's life insurance settlement they have the chance to get out. Walter Lee sees an opportunity to go into business with some friends but Lena takes the money and puts a down payment on a house. This creates enough conflict in the family by itself but then we add into that the fact that the house she wants them to move into is in a white neighborhood and their soon to be neighbors are none too happy about a black family moving into their area.

This honest and real classic could be looked on as a period piece and it is but unfortunately we still hear far too many of these attitudes today. Sure we can nervously laugh and gasp at the inequality these people face in the 50's and 60's but we must remember there are still places in America where dramas like this still play out in real life. And as difficult as that may be to watch, director Timothy McCuen Piggee has crafted a solid production of it keeping it all very grounded and real and it's that honesty from the entire cast and crew that makes this production shine.

Prioleau delivers a very raw portrayal of a man desperate to find a way out and is balanced perfectly by the grounded yet seething portrayal of his wife by Ellis. Burse makes for a powerful force of nature as the matriarch of the family and on the opposite end of the spectrum Nako delivers a beautiful portrayal of an idealistic young dreamer who's not quite sure what she wants. And I have to mention a few small but hard hitting scenes from Andrew Lee Creech as Walter Lee's would be business partner and Charles Leggett as the emissary from the white neighborhood sent to handle the family.

So while I applaud Piggee's solid production and enjoy the Rep's remount of this stirring classic, which leads me to put forth a powerful YAY with my three letter rating system, part of me wishes it felt more dated. Maybe someday it will.

"A Raisin in the Sun" performs at the Seattle Rep through October 30th. For tickets or information contact the Seattle Rep box office at 206-443-2222 or visit them online at www.seattlerep.org.

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