A Raisin in the Sun
Year’s best production is a glorious labor of love
|TimeLine Theatre presents|
|A Raisin in the Sun|
Review by Lawrence Bommer
What Boys in the Band was for mainstream audiences in 1969, A Raisin in the Sun anticipated 10 years before–the first time that Broadway saw a black story by a black author and black director. A breakthrough then, 54 years later, Lorraine Hansberry’s ever bold drama needn’t prove a thing. Simply and devastatingly, with wrenching appreciation of the details and sacrifices of poverty, this two-act treasure delivers the human stuff–arduous, hilarious or wondrous–that makes this family saga at once as universal and as specific as racism in Chicago. Seeing this show, you realize how utterly absurd is the phony standard of “separate but equal.”
With every minute a revelation conveyed with conviction and received with delight, Ron OJ Parson’s devoted staging recreates the Younger family in 1950 from the inside out. Ground into the rut of squalor, these South Siders endure a starved-for-sunlight tenement where the boy lacks a bed and the family share a bathroom with neighbors and cockroaches. Things must change: A $10,000 life insurance payment on the late grandfather–a man who widow Lena laments “could never catch up with his dreams”–will make it happen.
Walter, a restless and frustrated chauffeur, wants to use the money to open a liquor store. His idealistic and Afro-centric sister Beneatha wants it for her medical education. Lena, the family matriarch, yearns to escape the ghetto and own a house with a yard, even if it’s in all-white Clybourne Park. Meanwhile, Walter’s wife Ruth works overtime as homemaker and peacemaker, warily protecting her 10-year-old son Travis from real and imaginary perils.
A fortune from the past will shape their future. Hansberry brilliantly contrasts the seemingly irreconcilable demands for that bequest–wounded Walter’s need to prove his manhood, proud Beneatha’s quest for independence and Lena’s mission to push beyond survival to happiness.
It’s as real as Brian Sidney Bembridge’s battered apartment (with the lobby now a tenement corridor leading to the dingy digs) and Janice Pytel’s lived-in clothes. Perfect in her reactions and dead-on with every emotion, Toni Martin’s magnificent Ruth, as authentic as the breakfast she cooks, blends care and hope into some powerful tough love and thanklessly serves as peacemaker between mother and children and brother and sister. As Walter, Jerod Haynes kinetically depicts a haunted dreamer who needs this family to keep (the dream) from exploding: His hunger for happiness is almost enough to excuse all the excesses he can’t quite avoid. (Forget Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee: This play lives again right here in Lakeview.)
As the rebellious Beneatha, Mildred Marie Langford is a life force as a proto-feminist wrestling with the future; Daryl Satcher is magisterial and understanding as her wise Nigerian lover. In trenchant supporting roles, Justin James Farley is poignantly ineffectual as Beneatha’s “assimilationist” boyfriend and Chris Rickett, portraying a white man from the white neighborhood’s watch committee sent to bribe them to stay put, portrays the banality of bigotry. On opening night Alex Henderson delivered the future as the 10-year-old boy who justifies all their divergent dreams. (He alternates the role with Oscar Vasquez III.)
A powerhouse in any play, Greta Oglesby is an almost Biblical Lena, a right but never righteous tower of strength who pours out love for everything from her children to the scrawny little plant that will follow her to “freedom.” That fact that Lena is religiously righteous only shows just how much strength she’s gathered to fight life’s storms.
It feels very, very right that TimeLine Theatre Company debuted this, the most perfect production of 2013, on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. If ever an American classic, written by a tragically short-lived author, epitomized Dr. King’s dream in all its details, it’s this once-and-future, profoundly prophetic A Raisin in the Sun. Theater can do no more than be this true. It’s up to you to return the compliment.
A Raisin in the Sun continues through November 17th at TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington (map), with performances Wednesdays/Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 3pm and 8pm, Sundays 2pm. Tickets are $35-$48, and are available by phone (773-281-8463 x6) or online through OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at TimeLineTheatre.com. (Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes, includes an intermission. View/download production study guide and back story here.)
Photos by Lara Goetsch
Greta Oglesby (Lena Younger), Mildred Marie Langford (Beneatha Younger), Wardell Julius Clark (Bobo), Justin James Farley (George Murchison), Jerod Haynes (Walter Lee Younger), Alex Henderson, Oscar Vasquez III (Travis Younger, alternating), Toni Martin (Ruth Younger), Chris Rickett (Karl Lindner), Daryl Satcher (Joseph Asagai).
behind the scenes
Ron OJ Parson (director), Brian Sidney Bembridge (scenic design, lighting design), Janice Pytel (costume design), Joshua Horvath (sound design), Nicholas F. Jackson (props design), Tierra Novy (lobby design), Alexis Jade Links (dramaturg), Elise Kauzlaric (dialect coach), John Kearns (production manager), Jinni Pike (stage manager), Tyla Abercrumbie (asst. director), Cordie Nelson (production assistant), Lara Goetsch (photos).