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A Raisin in the Sun

It could be any apartment waking up anywhere. The kids are slow to arise and get ready for school and mom and dad (Ruth and Walter Lee Younger) are arguing about money. The aspirations—for a nice house, better schools, and some discretionary income—are all familiar.

However, we're in a tenement on Chicago's South Side in the '50's and such things are not readily available to African-Americans in the North or South. Events and persons conspire against hope; the poor prey upon each other and the better-off prey on them as well.

Russell Hornsby as Walter Lee Younger
Russell Hornsby
as Walter Lee Younger
Photo by Terry Shapiro
Hansberry's masterful script contains all the essential elements for representing these forces and more, including intergenerational conflict. Grandmother Lena Younger (Marlene Warfield) is about to get a $10,000 settlement from her deceased husband's insurance policy and the family is in turmoil over how to spend her money.

Walter wants to become part-owner in a liquor store; Ruth is opposed to that; and Walter's sister, Beneatha, needs money to go to medical school. When Lena finally decides what she wants to do, a number of issues, within the Younger family and between the family and outside forces, come to a head.

Dawn Scott as Beneatha Younger and Sheldon Woodley as Joseph Asagai
Dawn Scott as Beneatha Younger
and Sheldon Woodley as Joseph Asagai
Photo by Terry Shapiro
At the crux of the conflict is Walter (Russell Hornsby), who struggles with what it is to be an African-American man in a society that is hell-bent on emasculating him. Hornsby succeeds in balancing seething anger and frustration, engendered by the prejudice and dishonesty he encounters, with expressions of tenderness towards Ruth (Kim Staunton) and his son, Travis (Tyler Palmer). Hornsby repeatedly takes us to the brink before he finally delivers us from the depths of despair.

We see an entirely different set of concerns arise from the same seeds of discontent in Stauton's well-measured and alternately biting and tender portrayal. Palmer's portrait of young Travis is impressive in its relaxed and natural manner.

(Left to right) Marlene Warfield as Lena Younger and Kim Staunton as Ruth Younger
(L to R) Marlene Warfield as Lena Younger
and Kim Staunton as Ruth Younger
Photo by Terry Shapiro
Though it is Walter who delivers the catharsis, it is his mother, Lena, whose heart drives the play. She is Hansberry's precursor to August Wilson's Aunt Ester, the collective memory one generation removed from slavery. Marlene Warfield finds the fire in the old woman's wisdom and repeatedly ignites us with that old time righteousness, the voice of a prophet that exemplifies the lyricism of Hansberry's dialogue.

The sub-theme of assimilation and roots is explored through Beneatha's suitors, from the bourgeois George Murchison (a spiffy Tyee Tilghman) to the Nigerian, Joseph Asagai (a regal Sheldon Woodley). Dawn Scott dynamically mines the humor, curiosity, and strength in Beneatha.

(Left to right) Tyler Palmer as Travis Younger and Russell Hornsby as Walter Lee Younger
(L to R) Tyler Palmer
as Travis Younger
and Russell Hornsby
as Walter Lee Younger
Photo by Terry Shapiro
Harvy Blanks as Walter's homeboy, Bobo, and Mike Hartman as the Caucasian homeowners association representative, bring intense depth and archetypal significance to the major crisis that stand between the Youngers and a new day, when the sun ripened raisin delivers its sweet song.

Looking back 55 years on Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun and the strong statement made by Walter in the final scene, we see an eloquent connection to the Chicagoan who sits in the Oval Office.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's production of A Raisin in the Sun runs through October 31st. 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.

Bob Bows

 

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