Lorraine Hansberry may or may not have known what monumental effect her play A Raisin in the Sun would have on American theatre and on conversations of race and equality for many years to come. As the first play by an African-American woman on Broadway, A Raisin in the Sun, with a cast dense in dynamic characters both African-American and female, the production opened many doors for populations with limited opportunities on stage prior to its opening in 1959. In honor of the truth and simple poignancy of Hansberry’s award winning work, PlayMakers Repertory Company pulled out all the stops. Scenic designer Robin Vest provided a workable space, beautifully worn and aged to reflect housing that at one time represented an independence that Black Americans had never had, but now only cramps and stifles a family from obtaining a higher standard for themselves. Kathy A. Perkins augmented the aesthetic with an outstanding lighting design. Specials that cast warm light, as if from high windows, inspired the sensation of a dream almost within reach. In Act III, as the characters’ dreams seemed to be spiraling out of their grasps, isolating pools of light reinforced their loneliness for a beautifully tragic effect. Aptly timed to run through Black History Month and thoughtfully performed in rotating rep with Clybourne Park, Raisin transcends race, gender, and generations to speak to the heart of all humanity. In his comprehensive and thoughtful reflection in the program, PlayMakers Dramaturg Mark Perry refers to Langston Hughes’ idea of a “dream deferred,” from his poem “Harlem,” from which A Raisin in the Sun derives its name. “What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun?” In Hansberry’s play, each character struggles to attain a dream that society would defer.
Lena Younger, the familial matriarch, played by Kathryn Hunter Williams, lived through slavery and raised children with pride, knowing they were to have more opportunity than she could have dreamed of as a child. With the sensitive craft of a fine actor, Williams portrayed Mama Younger’s strength, cultivated by difficulty; her faith, wrought by deliverance from the prejudice she endured; her weariness, brought on by the changing world of her children’s generation; and ultimately her hope and trust in God and her family that their dreams were not in vain. As Lena struggled to obtain a dream of independence, her children, Walter Lee Younger (Mikaal Sulaiman,) his wife Ruth (Dee Dee Batteast,) and Beneatha Younger (Miriam A. Hyman) wrestle with different dreams deferred. Walter Lee, crippled by alcoholism, dreams of owning his own business; Ruth dreams of raising children who see themselves as equals in a society that suggests otherwise; Beneatha seeks a career as a doctor in a time when the profession looked down not only on African-Americans, but also on women.
Sulaiman portrayed Walter Lee with all the complexity of a man wounded by himself as much as his circumstances. His volatile outbursts gave all the more danger to his quiet rage, and the totality of his brokenness gave due significance to his replacing his father as the patriarchal head of his family.
Dee Dee Batteast brought enduring grace to the role of Ruth Younger as she raises her son Travis, played by Victor Waddell, a promising young talent, and copes with an unpredictable husband and a failing marriage.
Miriam A. Hyman was fearless in her approach to the independent Beneatha, providing an alternative, career-oriented female perspective to Ruth’s and Lena’s priorities as mothers and homemakers.
As the tables turn and Karl Linder, played by Matt Garner, a minority Caucasian in the plot, audiences got a look into the sentiments of the time. Garner played Linder with such honesty and genuine good intention, but with each utterance of “you people” he made our skin crawl.
J. Alphonse Nicholson delivered a compelling speech as Joseph Asagai, who perhaps summated Hansberry’s hope of progress for hers and future generations.
A Raisin in the Sun deals with universal truths that apply to all races, genders, and ages, and PlayMakers has drawn each of those truths with honesty and craft.
This production continues through Saturday, March 2. For more details, please view the sidebar.