There have been many
productions of “A Raisin
in the Sun, “but this may be the best!
In its original production, “A Raisin in the Sun” presented many
firsts. By happy coincidence, it is now playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre
on Broadway, the same theater it premiered in 55 years ago. The year was
1959. Written by Lorraine Hansberry,
this meaningful play, which won Drama Critics Circle award for Best Play, was
the first produced on Broadway by an African-American woman; it was directed by
an African American, Lloyd Richards, who many years later, became the beloved
artistic director of the Yale Drama school and the Yale Rep, and discovered
Sidney Poitier played the
role of Walter Lee Younger in the original. He was 32 years old. Even though
Denzel Washington is 60, he has taken the same role and made it his own. He
really is a wonderful actor, and has found ways to develop a younger posture
with an agitated rhythm to his movements.
Kenny Leon directs a
production that would make Lorraine Hansberry proud. She died too young at the
age of 35. Leon has an interview with her running as a broadcast, while the
audience is filing in. Projected on the front curtain is the poem on which the
title is based.
Set in Chicago sometime
between WWII and 1960, the large Younger family is living in very cramped
conditions. On a set designed by Mark Thompson, lit by Brian Macdevitt, they
fight for the only bathroom, the only sofa, where the youngest, Walter's son
Travis, a bright Bryce Clyde Jenkins making his Broadway debut, sleeps, and a
bedroom, which mother and daughter share.
Even a lonely plant that Lena, the Matriarch depicted magnificently by
Latanya Richardson Jackson, tries to keep alive, fights for breath. But things are about to change. There is a struggle going on over the $10,000
insurance check Lena is due to receive.
Her son, Walter, who works as a chauffeur, is determined to invest in a
liquor store. He has no patience for his loving wife, Ruth (Sophie Okonedo),
who discovers she is pregnant with her second child. His young sister, Beneatha, the perky Anika
Noni Rose, who is being courted by two young men, wants to go to medical
school. Lena has decided that her family
needs a house with a yard and supports Beneatha's aspirations.
When Lena puts a deposit on a
house in a white neighborhood, Clybourne Park, Walter is furious, and then
loses his investment. A representative of the Clybourne Park association,
played well by David Cromer—yes the same man who directed that unique version
of “Our Town”--- tries to buy
them out. And it looks like things are pretty dismal. But the family rallies
and comes together in positive ways.
By the way, those suitors,
who play their roles perfectly, are Sean Patrick Thomas' Joseph Asagai, an
engaging Nigerian, and Jason Dirden's wealthy George; Jason's twin brother,
Brandon is giving a superb performance as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in
another Broadway play, “All the Way!”
Raisin in the Sun”
will play only through
June 15 at the Ethel Barrymore on Broadway.