BWW Reviews: The Black Rep's Timely Production of A RAISIN IN THE SUN
Sometimes I'm amazed at the synchronicity that can occur when you see as many plays as I do. For instance, I've had weekends of shows in the past that appeared to be theme related, even though theatre companies are often mapping out their production schedules up to at least a year in advance, and tend to go in their own directions regardless of what other groups are doing. Which brings us to the Black Rep's powerful production of playwright/activist Lorraine Hansberry's work, A Raisin in the Sun. At a time when our community finds itself fractured and unable to come up with solutions that can bring us together and make us whole again, we have the opportunity to see a play that shines a light on just how far we've come, and how far we still have to go.
Inspired by a poem by Langston Hughes called "Harlem"(also known as "A Dream Deferred"), Hansberry's play chronicles events that transpired in her own life regarding restrictive housing covenants in white neighborhoods, and combines these ideas with an ingenious plot device that drives the action. In this case, it's the $10,000 payout matriarch Lena Younger is expecting after the death of her husband. She has her own ideas of how the money should be spent, but her son, Walter Lee, sees it as a potential down payment on a risky business proposition that he and his friends have cooked up. Lena has visions of a home in Clybourne Park (see the companion play of the same name for another take on the story), a predominately white suburb that would prefer things remain as they are, rather than welcome in a black family. The elements are all there to provide a compelling and moving story that resonates in astounding ways.
Andrea Frye is just phenomenal as Lena, standing by her commitment to her family and her faith even when pushed to the brink. It's a performance that's matched by Ronald L. Connor's tempestuous Walter Lee, who seethes like a tiger in a cage when his ideas are rejected. Connor projects an attitude that perfectly meshes with his character's idea that his dream has, indeed, been deferred. But, even though he's in his middle thirties, it's clear that he has a lot of growing up to do, It's the eventual progress in the maturation of his character that delivers us hope in the end.
Thyais Walsh does a really nice job as Walter's hard-working wife, Ruth. She wants to stand by her man, but she also knows that he hasn't quite become one yet. Sharisa Whatley is a perfect choice for Walter's sister, Beneatha, who wants to become a doctor. She's the most educated member of the family, and her outspoken views find her often at odds with her mother and brother, but she's also struggling to find herself as a person. On the one hand she dates the affluent, but arrogant George Murchison (Nicholas G. Tayborn), whom she seems to despise. On the other hand she's also seeing Joseph Asagi (L.A. Williams) who's a genuine African who loves her deeply, but decries her materialism where the money is concerned.
Keshon Campbell is very good as Ruth and Walter's son, Travis, who finds himself sleeping on the couch each night in their cramped South Side apartment. Joe Hanrahan does marvelous work in the thankless role of Karl Linder, a member of Clybourne's community, who offers the family a considerable sum of money to give up on their ideas about moving into the neighborhood. Philip Dixon rounds out the cast nicely as Walter's friend Bobo.
Ed Smith's direction allows the tension to build at a pace that keeps the audience fixated on the events that occur to this family we've come to know and care about. His work with the actors is impeccable as well, and it make this ensemble really rise to the occasion. Jim Burwinkel contributes a scenic design that captures the claustrophobic nature of their dilapidated surroundings, and he lights it all with a genuine feel for the dramatic atmosphere presented. Linda Kennedy's costumes fit the characters well, and Austin Beal's props add to the overall period look.
The Black Rep's excellent production of A Raisin in the Sun continues through December 21, 2014 in the Emerson Performance Center on the campus of Harris-Stowe University.