Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Raisin in the Sun

by Pa Rock
Drama Critic

A Dream Deferred
by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

I have been fortunate to have seen some wonderful theatre in my lifetime, stretching from London's West End, to Broadway, to regional productions in places as diverse as Kansas City, Missouri, and Coronado Island, California. The stage fascinates me because it is so dependent on, and inclusive of, the audience. When a production is exceptional, the audience itself has become an integral element of the performance. A great play is comprised of a talented playwright extrapolating a basic conflict into a compelling story, a director skilled at interpretation and presentation, a cast to breathe life into the characters and the script, and an audience to react to the work of all of those others.

This afternoon I sat entranced through the Arizona Theatre Company's presentation of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, a family drama set in a tenement apartment on Chicago's Southside during the 1950's. Although it can now pass as a period piece, it was an uncomfortable examination of the issues of immediate relevance to society when Ms. Hansberry authored the script over a half-century ago. And while the references are mid-twentieth century, the topics remain timely: gender roles, race, poverty, crime, parenting, integration, block-busting, evil housing associations, and abortion.

The production began with a cast member sitting on the edge of the stage and giving the audience some historical insight into what we were about to experience. He gave a biographical sketch of the playwright who died of pancreatic cancer at the tender age of thirty-four, a view of Black America in the 1950's, and a brief history of the play and the famous people who have inhabited it characters.

A Raisin in the Sun is the story of the Youngers, a cross-generational Black family sharing a two bedroom apartment on Chicago's Southside. There is a recently widowed grandmother, her grown son and his wife, their young son, and the grandmother's barely adult daughter. The conflict revolves around the arrival of a $10,000 life insurance check covering the death of the grandfather - and how best to spend it - whose dreams to honor?

I knew that this was going to be an extraordinary theatre experience early in the first act when the mother was fixing breakfast in the tiny kitchen and the smell of frying bacon began wafting through the theatre. From that point on, it just got better and better. All of the actors were believable, completely believable, eliciting a full range of emotions from the audience. At times it was hard to remain seated when it seemed so much more logical to jump up and offer advice to those whose struggles were playing out on stage.

Every player was a standout, every single one! They included Erika LaVonn, Aric Generette Floyd, David Alan Anderson, Bakesta King, Franchelle Stewart Dorn, Adeoye, Kyle Haden, Patrick Thomas O'Brien, Damron Russell Armstrong, Lorin F. Akers, and David Tinsley.

I heard a review of this play on National Public Radio last week. The reviewer said that this was one of the rare times that he was part of a standing ovation that was truly deserved...and he was correct!

Unfortunately, most of the audience looked like me, old and guilty-white. The $50 to $65 ticket price and the $12 parking kept out many of those who could have been the descendants of the characters on stage. The House was less that five percent Black, and of those few, only two were children. Maybe now that we are blessed with a President who himself is Black and from the Chicago's Southside, some of that will begin to change. It's's past time.

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