“A Raisin in the Sun” is a stellar example of what excellent theater is! Between Lorraine Hansberry’s timeless script, ingenious, brilliant direction by Robert O’Hara and a stunning cast that is lead by Tonya Pinkins, there is no stopping this play from being relevant to a modern audience and speaking the same truths it did when it was first done 65 years ago. The story of the Younger family in Chicago is a story of Black America! Of course, what is the most poignant aspect to this play is that the racism spotlighted in the ’50s is the same and in some cases there is worse racism going on today.
Tonya Pinkins takes the role of Lena Younger, the matriarch of this struggling Black family, to new heights. Pinkins inhabits this role with every fiber of her being. For those two hours and 40 minutes she truly is Lena Younger, with all the emotions, anger, stress and hope that a mother can have for her children. She is there to guide them, though they don’t always want to hear what she has to say. She is the person to see what is happening and change the situation by doing something, anything to keep her family together. Pinkins takes on the physical dynamics of this role in a way that is captivating and powerful to see.
This play about a Black family lets each of us clearly see all the dynamics that go into a family’s life, from struggling to make it, to arguing with each other, but when it comes down to it, also being there for each other. There are also times that as family we find ourselves not being understanding but instead thinking about how we are affected by what someone else does and playing the blame game. Walter Lee Younger is so excited that his late father Walter Lee Younger Sr.’s $10,000 insurance check is coming in the mail that he has made plans for the entire check in his mind. This character epitomizes the Black man’s frustration with his lot in life and his dreams of doing something better for his family. Dreams that may not be supported by his loved ones and what that does to a man. Francois Battiste brings a strength, frustration and a certain tenderness, but also despair to this role. You feel everything that Walter is feeling. Mandi Masden hits the ground running as Ruth Younger and never lets up. She embodies a loving mother, wife, daughter-in-law, and a Black woman trying to be there for a man that she doesn’t recognize anymore. The chemistry between Battiste and Masden is electric! They bring levels of conversation and passion to such heights you feel your emotions stirring within!
Paige Gilbert is spunky, outspoken and determined as Beneatha Younger. Her character believes in challenging everything and doing so with great spirit. Her wanting to be a doctor is something she is relentless about, though it was not a career that women held in those days. John Clay III is absolutely charming as Joseph Asagai, the Nigerian college student who Beneatha hopes will show her the way to her identity. Mister Fitzgerald does a suitable job as George Murchison, the rich college student who finds Beneatha’s dream to be a doctor unimportant.
The Youngers hoped that the $10,000 would change their lives for the better. As we see what happens to this family, there is a character in the play that I wasn’t familiar with, Mrs. Johnson. Apparently Hansberry wrote her in as a noisy neighbor, but she is more than that. She represents the Black person who does not want their neighbor to try and do better. She is the person who comes into your home, eats and drinks your food and offers their criticism of your lives. Perri Gaffney is outstanding in this role, bringing all the sass it requires and then some. Another aspect to this production which was fascinating is what happens when Lena recalls things that Walter Younger Sr. used to do, but I won’t say anymore about that. The role of Travis Younger was played by Touissant Battiste, son of Francois. This is his son’s first professional role and their chemistry on stage is wonderful. Calvin Dutton is marvelous in his dual roles as Bobo and Ghost. Jesse Pennington is amazing as Karl Lindner, as he comes to the Youngers to let them know where they will stand if they come out to the Clybourne Park White neighborhood they have purchased a home in.
There are so many scenes with rich dialogues that one can’t name them all. But one thing that I can attest to is how often audience members could be heard crying softly. The emotional ride that this family goes on is something that we willingly accompany them on. “A Raisin in the Sun” is worthy of your time, praise, appreciation and admiration! All the technical aspects of it also fall in line as there is a detailed period set by Clint Ramos, costumes by Karen Perry, delicate and timely lighting choices by Alex Jainchill and sound design by Elisheba Ittoop. You must make plans to see this production. It will open your eyes and heart in so many ways!