Theatre Mirror Reviews - "A Raisin in The Sun"

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note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Larry Stark

"A Raisin in The Sun"

by Lorraine Hansberry
Directed by Heather Fry

Set Design/Technical Director Steve Orr
Lighting Design Don Bonner
Costume Design by Andrea Goodman
Costume Assistant Susan Harrington
Prop Mistress Allie Jameson
Poem Read by Rakaya El-Kasaby/Rosamura Kelley
Co-Producers Sandi McDonald/Susan Harrington
Assistant Stage Manager Kimberly Gretton
Stage Manager Susie Schutt

Lena Younger............Dosha Ellis Beard
Ruth Younger................Daria Johnson
Walter Younger..............Steven M. Key
Beneatha Younger...Karimah Saida Moreland
Travis Younger.......Nahshon E. Rosenfeld
George Murchison...............Eric Daley
Joseph Asagai....Emmett Ernest Bell-Sykes
Bobo...Joseph Lanair Burston (Eric Daley)
Karl Lindner.................Sam Botsford

It's unusual for a play to make history twice. In 1959 the first play written by a Black Woman (and the first with a Black director) was produced in Broadway's Ethel Barrymore Theatre. And on the 2nd of February The Footlight Club, in their 130th Community Theatre year, again produced Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in The Sun" with their first all-Black (well, all but one!) cast. Both productions made history in many ways, but primarily by presenting a stunning cast sensitively and movingly directed. The run for this beautifully nuanced show is much, much too short.

Mike Nichols was quoted saying "Theater is about where people stand; movies are about whose scene it is" and for some time I have been fascinated by how quick-cuts and close-ups can be achieved on the stage. Director Heather Fry has seen to it here that every single member of Hansberry's Younger Family has not a mere Moment but a Scene in which the character gets a chance to explain itself ---from the Matriarch to the eleven-year-old Hope for the Future. Scene after scene, this play seems "about" every single one of them while each holds center-stage.

The play begins with a morning alarm-clock, with each Younger introduced as they rise, bicker, fight the neighbors for the bathroom down the hall, and depart for the menial jobs in White people's homes that keep them alive. As Mother Ruth's feet grope for her bedside slippers Daria Johnson plays her as heavy with eleven years in the same walk-up, raising a son while doing other people's floors and ironing, living past a miscarriage, and watching her husband's deferred dreams of independence dry and fester. But the hope of owning a house of their own brings to her face and body bright flashes of the young, eager bride she once was.

Father Walter has spent his life in "a good job" as a deferential, subserviant chauffeur longing to be his own man, to be Somebody, to run a business and give orders. He is often boistrously, youthfully hopeful, but frustrated enough to join other gullible men (like Joseph Lanair Burston's Bobo) and seek success even at the sacrifice of self-respect.

As his younger sister Beneatha, Karimah Saida Moreland is The Flighty One --- a college girl flitting from one dream to another. She can marry rich Black George (Eric Daley) whom she cannot love or Joseph (Emmett Ernest Bell-Sykes) who wants to take her off to his native Nigeria, but both men see her more as a beautiful body than a woman. She wants to be a doctor, play the guitar, ride a horse, and save the world --- some day.

When his father asks young Travis what he hopes to be he's appalled at his answer --- "A bus-driver"! Nahshon E. Rosenfeld plays him as a kid, sleep-soddened one moment, down the stairs with his baseball-bat in hand the next, respectful yet observant, and learning to be Himself.

And then there's Mama. Dosha Ellis Beard (who played Beneatha when a little younger) plays a matriarch cautiously waiting before all decisions, asking wide-ranging questions, and bringing years of experience to bear when others try to gallop off in all directions. She knows that ten thousand dollars of insurance money, from the death of her hard-working husband, can mean the salvation and regeneration of the entire family; how and what and why, however, are always her main concerns.

The one White face in the cast is Sam Botsford. He plays a blandly red-neck lawyer years older than his real age --- a genuine smiling Satan pretending good wishes with fire-bomb subtexts.

Director Heather Fry has linked all these distinct moments into an unbroken whole. Every note in Hansberry's symphony is clearly sounded as these warring individuals work realistically together. This is a play in which a glance, or a pause, can speak volumes --- and flashes of fun and humor are stitched through it like lightning-strokes in a boiling storm-cloud. From the morning alarm-clock to the final slamming a door, a warm, engrossing slice of insightful life.

But it's not surprising that the oldest consistently producing theatre in America would do such a play, and do it so well. In multicultural Jamaica Plain this courageous Community Theatre has been sensitive to changes, in theater as well as in society. In 1996, I reviewed a play there called "Six Degrees of Separation" --- a play set in a rich New York apartment that had only one Black face in the cast. This week The Footlight Club opened one set in a poor family's Chicago walk-up with a nine-member cast with only one White face.

And both done so well Awards are in the future.

That's an unbroken Footlight Club tradition.

( a k a larry stark )

"A Raisin in The Sun" (2 - 17 February)
Eliot Hall, 7A Eliot Street, JAMAICA PLAIN MA
1 (617)524-3200

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