A RAISIN IN THE SUN
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
Writer, Lorraine Hansberry, was only 34 when she died of cancer in 1965 but her works live on and continue to provide new meanings concerning human nature. Had she lived a normal life span, Hansberry would have seen many of the social changes that she helped to promote by her writings and maybe even witnessed the inauguration of the first black president of our United States. Never-the-less, in her short life-span, Hansberry gained some personal satisfaction from her works and made history herself when she was the first black woman to have her award-winning play, “Raisin in the Sun,” produced on Broadway, in 1959.
“Raisin in the Sun” is about a black family’s struggle for a better life -- as the play’s cynical title suggests, a place in the sun. However, this play is so well written, it could very well have been about any poor family of any cultural background. Perhaps, that’s why Broadway audiences were able to identify with it. Many recalled their own family’s struggles against restrictive living conditions and discrimination in work places -- only this was the first time anyone ever wrote a successful play about these injustices from the black perspective. Hansberry was able to show that despite culturally-fractured slave history in America, there are hard-working black families coming up the ranks with dreams of a better future -- just like anybody else in this “Land of opportunities.”
And so, here we have the “Younger” family headed by the matriarch Lena, who manages to keep her daughter, Beneatha, son Walter, his wife Ruth, and their young son Travis on a straight course. They live in a dark, poorly furnished, cramped, two-bedroom apartment. The married couple occupies one bedroom, Lena sleeps with the college daughter in the other, and Travis sleeps on the couch. The bathroom is outside the apartment and shared with others. Life is hard but Lena is due to inherit insurance money from her late husband and before the check even arrives, the question is how to best use it. Beneatha hopes to become a doctor and needs money for college, Ruth suddenly finds she is pregnant, Walter is determined to invest it in some business scheme, and Lena always wanted a house of her own. While some very dramatic circumstances ensue over the money, Lena daringly takes a stand towards a brighter future for her family.
Phylicia Rashad, who was “Lena” in the play’s recent, Broadway revival, directs this great cast. Linda Gravatt won a 2006 Connecticut Critics Circle Award for her portrayal of “Lena” at Hartford Stage and is even better here. Billy Jones as her son, “Walter,” is tender and tearful as well as furious when his dream is delayed, his pregnant wife, Susan Watson, emits genuine warmth and understanding, and Edna Hines as “Beneatha” is society’s cynical rebel. Edward Bubridge’s set depicts a typical tenement, complete with unmatched furniture, peeling wallpaper, and a kitchen window facing a dark alley. Lighting, by Xavier Pierce further indicates that this is a sunless apartment. You will certainly enjoy this very moving production.
Plays to November 3