“Raisin” Shines at Westport Playhouse
by Tom Holehan
Two plays: one a classic, one new and each dealing with the African-American experience are currently on the boards at two Connecticut theatres. Lorraine Hansberry’s family drama, “A Raisin in the Sun”, is in revival at the Westport Country Playhouse while Terry Teachout’s one-man show about Louis Armstrong, “Satchmo at the Waldorf”, is the season-opener for New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre.
“A Raisin in the Sun” is, of course, Lorraine Hansberry’s much-produced and admired play about the black experience in 1950s Chicago. In a dreary tenement apartment lives the extended Younger clan headed by matriarch Lena, her children Beneatha and Walter Lee and his wife, Ruth and son, Travis. Phylicia Rashad, who played Lena in the most recent Broadway revival, directs with a firm hand in Westport and establishes an excellent sense of time and place as the aspirations of the Younger family become that dream deferred so memorably evoked in Langston Hughes’ poem. It’s a play that still rings true.
The role of Lena usually dominates any production of “A Raisin in the Sun”, but the cast at the Playhouse is strong and well-balanced. Linda Gravatt, who was honored by the Connecticut Critics Circle when she played Lena at Hartford Stage in 2006, has only grown in the role. The actress never plays the obvious, letting moments breathe and register. She’s a marvel. I also greatly admired Billy Eugene Jones’ Walter Lee, full of fury and impatience in seeing his dream fade from view. Mr. Jones resists the play’s inherent melodrama and makes his character more three-dimensional and sympathetic. Susan Kelechi Watson has a quiet assurance as Walter’s pregnant wife and Edena Hines’ Beneatha exhibits fiery passion throughout.
Edward Burbridge’s apartment setting has well-worn wallpaper to match the furniture and Xavier Pierce’s lighting effectively demonstrates how little sunlight reaches this part of town. Ms. Rashad delivers a solid, very moving production of Lorraine Hansberry’s seminal classic. Go.
“A Raisin in the Sun” plays through November 3 at the Westport Country Playhouse. For information call: 227.4177 or visit: www.westportplayhouse.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.