I wasn’t sure what to expect from A Raisin In The Sun. I was familiar with the importance of Lorraine Hansberry as an American playwright, but was embarrassed by my missing knowledge of the play. In retrospect I feel that that missing knowledge served me exceptionally well as the meaning of the play, the nuances, the humor, the tragedy, the racism, the cultural confusion, and the redemption all came across more clearly for me. So with that being said, there are probably going to be some spoilers here in my response to the play…so if you want to go into it fresh you may want to wait until after seeing it to read this. Well except for this BUT:
This is an incredibly meaningful and relevant play…and you shouldn’t miss it. period. Now on with the story.
During the first scenes as we meet the Younger family and get an early rather superficial feel for the family dynamics. It is rather difficult to determine who the prime character is. In many a traditional play, that may fall on Walter Lee Younger Jr., the only adult male in the family. But in this version, driven and directed by Tasia A. Jones, that wouldn’t be correct.
In her notes, Jones states “Though most productions place Walter Lee Younger Jr. at the center of the story because of the depth of his passion, I see two mothers, Ruth and Lena, quietly holding their family together and carrying the weight of the world as they do it.”
This certainly makes sense too but in her production of A Raisin In the Sun at the American Players Theatre, the focus, the main character is Lena Younger, played by Deanna Reed-Foster who is simply a force of nature in this role! As the family matriarch, Lena actually is the glue that holds the play and the family together. A passionate woman with a solid religious faith, she sees the total environment very clearly. And provides guidance to all through her life experience and vision for the future. And this despite typical family tensions and a number of major family stressors and squabbles and a shocking turn of events. Lena keeps the love of her family at the focus of her decisions and interactions…always…and Reed-Foster is never never in doubt the strongest presence in the family and on the stage.
Now back to Jones’ note on Walter Lee Younger Jr. “…at the center of the story because of the depth of his passion”. True, but I don’t feel that his passion was necessarily a positive force for either Walter or the rest of his family. It often seemed to be the root of the stress and turmoil in the family. And as dramatically played by Gavin Lawrence, this is a character that you just can’t find much empathy for even in his final and dramatic redemptive moments in the last act. I just couldn’t find my way to liking Walter.
And Charence Higgins, as Beneatha Younger, gives us a picture perfect portrayal of a college aged student…who is searching for herself…sorting out her suitors…seeking her culture and place within it…and pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor despite all of the societal issues that are in her way. You can feel her own passion and her intense searching soul.
And the other principal character, Ruth Younger, Walter’s long suffering wife, as played by Gina Daniels…is an unfortunately typical housewife plus of the late 1950s to early 1960s. Struggling to raise a ten year old son, support her husband, keep house, and work as a maid to bring in needed income. Ruth suffers from more than a bit of misogyny and indifference from Walter…not because he doesn’t love her…but he is a slave to his passions and the economic realities of the time.
Now on the surface, if simply read, this may seem like a period piece…and some of it is era specific. But there are significant undercurrents that are wholly relevant today. Certainly the pervasive human destruction due to poverty and the continued social and cultural evils that result from continued racism and misogyny. The immediate circumstances are certainly different but the continued results are just the same. And those lesson are something that I brought away from this production that may not have been as apparent if I knew the story ahead of time.
Director Tasia A. Jones is really the power here…taking a play that seems to be placed in the mid-century 20th Century and playing all those aspects to the hilt…while bringing those same issues to the forefront of our own era. A magnificent story telling experience that should not be missed. Thank you!
A Raisin In The Sun is being presented in The Hill Theatre and runs in repertory through October 7th, 2022. If you want more information or want to order tickets, follow this link: A RAISIN IN THE SUN