The classic theater production A Raisin in the Sun, written by the late Lorraine Hansberry, is running at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City. The original play debuted in 1959 and was the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway.
At the age of eight, Hansberry and her family moved to a primarily white neighborhood where they were constantly harassed by neighbors. In protest, Hansberry learned to fight segregation at a young age and was inspired to write.
Directed by Phylicia Rashad, this piece illustrates the racial and economic peril many blacks faced during the ’50s, an issue that still resonates today.
Unlike other plays, A Raisin in the Sun does without fancy special effects, staying true to the time period with an authentic, simple set and strong acting that ensures the narrative is the focal point.
Set in the south side of Chicago during the 1950s, the play follows the lives of a black family, the Youngers, in their pursuit of the American Dream.
When the play opens, the Youngers are awaiting an insurance check for $10,000 from the deceased Mr. Younger’s life insurance policy. Each adult member of the Younger family has his or her own idea as to how to use the money. The matriarch of the family, Lena Younger (Kim Staunton), wants to buy a house to fulfill a lifelong dream that she and her husband shared before his passing. But Walter Lee Younger (Kevin T. Carroll), Lena’s son, would rather use the money to invest in a liquor store he believes will solve the family’s financial problems.
One of the most impressive things about the show is the talented ensemble’s ability to recognize the depth of each character and to embrace their emotions to take their characters to the next level.
Carroll has appeared in various Broadway shows (Angels in America), and here he truly captures the intense frustration and uncertainty Walter Lee is experiencing when attempting to invest in a risky business deal. He eloquently communicates the inner struggle Walter Lee is enduring while attempting to change his circumstances.
But even those with less experience shine. Newcomer Kenya Alexander portrays Beneatha Younger, the younger sister who dreams of becoming a doctor. Alexander excels in her role as an outspoken Afro-centric 20-year-old, and her outrageous antics and comedic timing adds a unique mixture of seriousness and comedy to a complex role.
In the role of Lena, Staunton gives an impressive, bold performance. Though the character is not as multifaceted and emotionally complex as others, Staunton brings experience and charm to the role.
Deidrie Henry stands out as Ruth Younger, a young wife burdened with the responsibility of trying to keep the family together while managing her own personal issues. Henry gives an impressive performance as she takes the role originally portrayed by acclaimed actress Ruby Dee and gives it a new and energetic perspective that audiences will find entertaining.
Smaller roles are also executed expertly. Scott Mosenson plays Karl Linder and does a marvelous job portraying him, speaking with a self-righteous undertone that makes his performance believable.
Amad Jackson and Jason Dirden also excel in their roles as Beneatha’s persistent suitors Joseph Asagai and George Murchison.
Rashad’s direction gives thematic meaning not only to the characters but also to all aspects of the play.
The Youngers’ home setting, for instance, is used to symbolize the galvanizing force that keeps the family together.
And the lighting cleverly changes with the mood of the scene, adding to the realism of the play. Even the details are on point: The actors are perfectly dressed for the time period, which, combined with their acting, creates an atmosphere that feels genuine.
A Raisin in the Sun takes a beautifully executed look at the hardships that many black families faced during the segregated ’50s. It’s inspiring to see that, despite all the obstacles the characters face, hard work and family unity keeps them focused on achieving the American Dream. In fine form under Rashad’s direction, A Raisin In the Sun continues to be a literary treasure that is crucial in illustrating an appalling period in American history.
A Rasin in the Sun is running at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in downtown Culver City through Feb. 19. For more information visit the Kirk Douglas website at CenterTheatreGroup.org.