Theatre Mirror Reviews - "A Raisin in The Sun"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark

"A Raisin in The Sun"

by Lorraine Hansberry
Directed by Brian McEleney

Set Design by Michael McGarty
Costume Design by William Lane
Lighting Design by John Ambrosone
Sound Design by Peter Sasha Hurwitz
Speech & Vocal Coach Thom Jones
Production Director Laura E. Smith
Assistant Stage Manager Melissa Miller
Production Stage Manager Buzz Cohen

Ruth Younger.............Lynette R. Freeman
Travis Younger...Dustin Isom/Nigel Richards
Walter Lee Younger..........Joe Wilson, Jr.
Beneatha Younger...........Angela K. Thomas
Lena Younger...................Barbara Meek
Joseph Asagai....................Jude Sandy
George Murchison.........Charlie Hudson III
Karl Lindner..................Mauro Hantman
Bobo...................Johnny Lee Davenport
Moving Man........................Will Shaw

Lorraine Hansberry's historic play concerns three generations of a five-member Black family living and bickering in an overcrowded Chicago walk-up apartment --- all of them with hopes that money from their dead father's insurance will transform their lives. The major conflict is between grandmother --- who wants to buy a house --- and her son, with his eyes on starting a business, or at least opening a bar. He is sick of being a chauffeur, unhappy when his own young son hopes to become only a bus-driver, and scoffs when his sister expresses her desire to become a doctor --- while dating yet rejecting two very different kinds of Black young men. When the family matriarch makes her decision, he feels it as an emasculation, retreats into drink, and when trusted with money sees it stolen by a trusted drinking-buddy. That's a bare and uncomplimentary precis of the Trinity Repertory Company's current production of the play.

Last Sunday at Trinity's huge stage --- with a spacious set-design by Michael McGarty --- the audience rose to a man to applaud a ringing performance and I joined them to acknowledge the actors' efforts --- but despite my applause I had severe misgivings. Perhaps seeing another production at The Footlight Club here in Jamaica Plain spoiled me for this bigger, more professional production.

Handberry's people, as they bicker and argue, speak their minds to one another often in flights of rhetoric. As Heather Fry directed the show, she took pains to keep these emotional outbursts in check, so they seemed personal expression of people's characters. Down in Providence, Director Brian McEleney has recognized these passages as actual Speeches: he has moved each character to center-stage and had them speak directly to the audience instead of their family-member adversaries. They are, I admit, eloquently vivid passages worthy of quoting out of context. But here, when so many are actually removed from it, the context of a family in crisis and conflict suffers.

At least, that was how I saw it. In particular, Joe Wilson, Jr's squabbling and drunkenness, carried as it was to emotional extremes, exaggerated his meanness and failures to such an extent that I could see no dignity left to him as the family soldiered on at play's end to no real resolution of their conflicts. It was their ringing declamation of those Hansberry speeches, it seemed to me, that the standing ovation celebrated.


"A Raisin in The Sun" (30 January - 8 March)
201 Washington Street, PROVIDENCE RI
1(401) 351-4242

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide