Theater Review - A Raisin in the Sun (NY)

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 August Wilson.


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!”


“A Raisin in the Sun” will play only through June 15 at the Ethel Barrymore on Broadway.

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