A RAISIN IN THE SUNby Lorraine Hansberry
Dallas Theater Center
Directed by Tre Garrett
Assistant Director – Dr. Anne Healy
Scenic Designer– Bob Lavallee
Costume Designer– Karen Perry
Wig and Hair Designer – Valerie Gladstone
Lighting Designer– Seth Reiser
Sound Designer – John Flores
Stage Manager – Leslie S. Allen
CAST (as performed on the day of the review)
Christopher Adkinsas Travis Younger
Hassan El-Amin asBobo
McClendon Gilesas Moving Man
Tiffany Hobbs as Beneatha Younger
Liz Mikel as Lena Younger(Mama)
William Sinclair as Moore/Moving Man
Jakeem Powell as Joseph Asagai
Oluwaseun Soyemi as George Murchison
Jacob Stewartas Jim/Tom
Ptosha Storey as Ruth Younger
Steven Michael Waltersas Karl Lindner
Bowman Wright as Walter Lee Younger/Brother
Photo credit: Karen Almond
Reviewed Performance: 9/20/2013
Reviewed by Joel Taylor, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The title is inspired by the poem Harlem, also known as A Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes. Hansberry used her own life experiences as the basis for this powerful story.
When she was a young child in the 1930’s, Lorraine’s father, in hopes of providing better opportunities for his family, moved them out of their over-crowded and dilapidated neighborhood and into a home he had purchased in the Washington Park area of Chicago. In this time period, restrictive neighborhood covenants and bank-lending practices such as red lining were practiced, and to some it is argued these practices still exist. The tactics are designed to keep certain cultural groups from moving into primarily white, homogeneous neighborhoods. A concern in the neighborhoods being that with the influx of other cultures, the property values will decline.
In her book, To Be Young Gifted and Black, Hansberry describes her life as her parents, each in their own way, fought for the family’s personal and property rights, "[My father] spent a small personal fortune, his considerable talents, and many years of his life fighting . . . Chicago’s ‘restrictive covenants’ in one of this nation's ugliest ghettos. That fight also required our family to occupy disputed property in a hellishly hostile ‘white neighborhood’ in which literally howling mobs surrounded our house… My memories of this ‘correct’ way of fighting white supremacy in America include being spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school. And I also remember my desperate and courageous mother, patrolling our household all night with a loaded German luger (pistol), doggedly guarding her four children, while my father fought the respectable part of the battle in the Washington court.”
A Raisin in the Sun debuted on Broadway in 1959, and Lorraine Hansberry became the first African-American woman to be produced on Broadway and, at 29 years old, the youngest American playwright and only the fifth woman to receive the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play. That production was also the first play on Broadway with an African-American director, Lloyd Richards. Despite receiving both popular and critical acclaim, conflicting reviews argued about whether the playwas universal or particular to African American experiences. The New York Times, however, stated that the play “changed American Theatre forever”
A Raisin in the Suntells the story of the Youngers, an African American family in the 1950’s, living on the South Side of Chicago. With the anticipation of soon receiving a large sum of money, their hopes and dreams for a better life seem almost within reach at the beginning of the story. Despite the check being made out to Lena Younger, each member of the family has individual plans on how to use the money to make their lives better. But as each member of the family tries to put their own plans into action, the overall dream for a better life for the entire family becomes jeopardized.
About an hour before curtain at each performance, Dallas Theater Center’s ticket holders have the opportunity to attend a free thirty minute informative talk designed to enhance the story they’re about to see. One of the play’s actors, Steven Michael Walters, conversationally talked about the history of the story, how the story and the production developed and the inspiration for the story, including history about Lorraine Hansberry and her untimely death.
This production is the directing debut for Tre Garrett at the Dallas Theatre Center. Garrett uses his several years of experience at the directing helm of Jubilee Theatre in Fort Worth to deftly and sensitively bring this production to life. Sitting in the audience watching this show, I was experiencing the conflicts, emotions, joys and sorrows of the Youngers, as the actors believably performed a story on a set that is so realistically designed, you will think you are in their living room.
The performance space at the Wyly Theatre can be configured to almost any type of performance area. For this production, the set is designed on a thrust stage. I have seen several previous productions in which Bob Lavallee excelled in his stage design and this production is no exception. The design is superb, with a unique surprise with the set in the final moments of the play. Lavallee creates in unbelievable detail the over-crowded, dingy apartment in which the Youngers live. The colors he uses on the set are primarily dirty brown, giving the feel of old and well used. The apartment includes a small kitchen with a style of kitchen sink and refrigerator that I recall my grandmother having so many years ago. A small window is located by the kitchen sink. Outside of the window is a brick wall. On either side of the living room are doors that lead into the two other rooms in the apartment. One room is shared by Lena and Beneatha, the other is shared by Walter and Ruth, while young Travis sleeps on the worn-out sofa that sits in the middle of the room.
Costume DesignerKaren Perry adds another piece of excellence to this production. The clothing for each character, in each scene, adds to the reality of the performance. Perry’s design pays attention to detail and the appropriateness for both the time period and socio-economic positions of each character.
Lighting DesignerSeth Reiser uses a variety of shades and colors that enhance the settings, emotions and actions taking place in each scene. All of the design elements have an exceptional attention to detail, including the gradual change of lighting through the kitchen window from early morning, throughout the day and into the night, reflecting on the ever present brick wall.
Wig and Hair Designer Valerie Gladstonejoins the rest of the outstanding creative team in their collaboration to create environments and items that allow the actor to step into their character’s personality and reality within the story. Gladstone creates and designs the various hairstyles of three generations of people throughout this production, including the altered hairstyles of the more “worldly” and modern young Beneatha experiences through the show.
Christopher Adkins shows a lot of talent and potentialas the family’s young son and grandson, Travis Younger. Being on the stage, particularly in a production of this magnitude, can be daunting for a young actor. Adkins handles his time onstage with ease and plays his young character truthfully. There are scenes in which Adkins as Travis demonstrates a genuine and touching connection with his grandmother Lena, showing their special grandmother/grandchild relationship. An emotionally touching scene between Travis and his father Walter shows that Adkins is able to handle the different emotional levels of his role without under or overplaying the role.
Oluwaseun Soyemi’s performance as George Murchisonreminds me of a stereotype of the nouveau riche who have very little depth of character and sees people and circumstances as things to be used but not overly appreciated. Costumed in white shoes, white pants, blazer or sweater, Soyemi embraces this character in his mannerisms and interactions with the others. In his scenes with Beneatha, Soyemi shows the shallowness of Murchison through the way he forces his attentions on Beneatha, demeaning her by the way in which he both sees and treats her - as on object. As well as the way that he talks down to Walter, who works as a chauffeur and does not have the college education of Murchison.
Jakeem Powell’s performance as Joseph Asagaiis as a character on the other end of the humanity spectrum. Powell presents Asagai as warm and accepting, though mildly chastising at times. Powell does very well in the consistency of his character and the accent he uses as Asagai. His accent and mannerisms remind me of the foreign exchange students from Africa I have met over the years in Seattle, Washington D.C. and Toronto.
Tiffany Hobbs is highly energetic and passionate as Beneatha Younger. She is focused and a part of everything that is the character of Beneatha. Hobbs nails the passion of Beneatha, whether it is arguing with Walter on what is important for the family, discussing the rights of women with Murchison or on African-American assimilation with Asagai. The play has her performing traditional African dances in a scene that includes Walter, Ruth as they embrace their African American heritage, and in which Murchison arrives and expresses his disapproval of their lack of willingness to be assimilated into the white world. Hobbs’ energy is contagious on stage with the other characters and crucial for the success of the character of Beneatha.
Bowman Wright is captivating as Walter Lee Younger/Brother. Wright accurately and consistently connects with the conflicting goals and emotions of this man. Not being the accepted head of the household, Walter has different conflicts with each of his family members as well as within himself. This role, as with most of the roles in this story, is multi-layered and complex. It would exceedingly easy to play Walter as a constantly angry and bitter man who feels the world has conspired to keep him down. Wright weaves his understanding of the character and his considerable talent to successfully share the complexities of this man and believably show the anger, bitterness, and disappointments that affect Walter’s life, interwoven with the hopes and dreams that also keep him going.
Ptosha Storey is delightful as Ruth Younger. Storey brings a wealth of understanding to her character and is able to portray Ruth as the long-suffering and almost always hopeful wife, mother, sister-in-law, and daughter-in-law, that helps hold the family together. One could easily take the character of Ruth for granted and overlook the place this character has in many of the subplots of the script. Storey brings a depth to this character. She is able to have the audience laugh with her, cry with her, and empathize as she alternately argues with Walter, reasons with Beneatha, supports and receives support from Lena, while being a very believable mother to Travis.
Lena Younger is the matriarch of the family, the mother and grandmother that guides the family through the events of the story, and Liz Mikel is brilliant in the role. Mikel is a natural fit who uses her considerable talent to share with the audience, and the other actors on stage, the depths and range of emotions that make Lena/Mama both the strong, guiding force for Beneatha and Walter and the doting grandmother for Travis. Lena is the type of caring and loving woman who is not afraid to exert her strong force of will when she thinks her adult children need correcting. Mikel connects with all aspects of Lena. It is as if I really am watching the epitome of the best aspects and the spirits of all grandmothers.
On a side note - The Wyly Theatre, where this play is being performed, feels impressive from the moment you walk into the lobby. The contemporary, architectural design of the building and the performance space is a marvel that should be experienced even if it is merely a tour of the facilities.
There are so many reasons why this production of A Raisin in the Sun is something that should be high on your must see/do list in Dallas, starting with the theatre space itself and the opportunity to see a well-directed, designed and performed piece of American history that includes generational issues, racial issues, the ongoing struggles for civil rights, universal questions of self identity, social acceptance, and the responsibilities and struggle for the pursuit of one’s dreams. Take an evening or an afternoon, go for lunch or dinner at the Arts District’s nearby restaurants or food trucks, and then see a play that will leave you with a sense of appreciation for the importance of dreams and struggles in life. This is a show that really should be experienced. I would also recommend that you follow this story with Clybourne Park. This is also playing at the same location and tells more of the story from the perspective of the white neighbors
after the Youngers move into their new home.
Dallas Theatre Center
2400 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201
Runs through October 27th in repertory with Clybourne Park, starting October 5th
Tuesday - Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday - Saturday at 8:00 pm, Saturday - Sunday
matinees at 2:00 pm, and Sunday evening at 7:30 pm
Tickets range from $15.00 to $85.00 depending on the performance date and time.
For information, go to http://www.dallastheatercenter.org/ or call the DTC box office At 214-880-0202.