Powerful A RAISIN in the SUN

(Left)Ruth (Leontyne Mbele-Mbong) begs husband Walter Lee (Todd Risby) to be happy about new home.

(right)Lena Younger (seated, Eleanor Jacobs) receives a check from the insurance company while daughter in law Ruth (Leontyne Mbele-Mbong) and grandson Travis (Zion Richardson) look on.

(Lower) Beneatha (front, Siaira Harris) does a dance of celebration as Ruth (back, Leontyne Mbele-Mbong) looks on.

A RAISIN IN THE SUN by Lorraine Hansberry. Directed by L. Peter Callender. African-American Shakespeare Company, Buriel Clay Theater at the African American Art & Culture Complex in San Francisco, 762 Fulton Street, San Francisco, CA 94102. (415) 762-2071 or www.african-americanshakes.org.

May 12 -27, 2012

Powerful A RAISIN IN THE SUN at Buriel Clay Theater

The African American Shakespeare Company had planned to close the 2011-2012 season with the high tension drama Xtigone by Nambi E. Kelley that uses Chicago as it locale. When that production was scraped artistic director L. Peter Callender elected to mount A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry that is also set in Chicago. Considering the well-deserved opening night standing ovation, the choice was a wise one.

The title is taken from a Langston Hughes poem “A Dream Deferred”: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore—.” Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play abounds with dreams for the Youngers, an African American family who despite living in Chicago’s run down South Side in relative poverty struggle and persevere keeping their individual dreams afloat.

Three generations of Youngers share a cramped two bedroom flat with a shared apartment bathroom. The living room couch doubles as a bedroom for grade-schooler Travis (a charming Zion Richardson the part to be shared with Sav’ion Green) the youngest family member.

From the opening scene tension abounds as Travis awakens from the sofa and his father Walter Lee (Todd Risby) bickers with his wife Ruth (Leontyne Mbele-Mbong) and his sister Beneatha (Siaira Harris). The family matriarch Lena (Eleanor Jacobs) is awaiting a $10,000 life insurance check following her husband’s death and each family member has ideas on how to spend it, thus creating internal family disagreements.

Hard drinking Walter is totally unhappy as a chauffeur and tries to influence his mother arguing that he should invest the money in a liquor store thus fulfilling his dream to be financial independent. Lena will not hear of it. Her dream is to move her family from its roach-infested flat to a real home and set aside money to assure Beneatha of her dream to become a doctor.

Matriarch Lena devises an equal three-way split of the money. Walter gets one third for his liquor store and one third is to be banked for Bneatha’s medical education. The real unexpected kicker is that Lena has put a down payment, thus legally purchasing, her dream house in the exclusively white Clybourne Park. Daughter-in-law Ruth is thrilled especially since she is pregnant and elected not to have an abortion. Walter’s elation is short lived when a trusted partner has absconded with the money entrusted to him.

With the specter of shattered hopes and dreams leading to heartbreak the play at times is gut-wrenching to watch. It is to Hansberry’s credit that her writing is a brilliant blend of tragedy and comedy into which she integrates sociality themes that make the play almost timeless.

The five members portraying the Younger family perform superbly with Eleanor Jacobs as the matriarch leading the way. Leontyne Mbele-Mbong gives Ruth dignity and strength to match the diatribes of Todd Risby as Walter. One criticism could be a directorial faux pas since Walter enters the stage in an intense presence. His rage is believable but playing the part in such a high level does not leave any room for nuance in two key scenes in act two.

The supporting cast members who come in and out of the Younger flat perform admirably. A special accolade goes to Erik Banks as Beneatha’s Nigerian friend Asagai who stirs up her desire to reaffirm her African roots. Kegan Wethington as the Bneatha’s rich suitor who turns out to be a colossal bore invests the role with panache as if he were born to it. Lance Huntley as Karl Linder the member of the Clybourne Park “welcoming committee” is perfect for the part and one wants to cheer on his forced exit.

The triumphs and tragedies of the younger family come to life on the stage at the Buriel Clay Theater at the African American Art & Culture Complex in San Francisco. Be aware that the running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes with a 15 minute intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com