Anyone who was educationally living through the sociological 1960s read or saw Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.”
There were no television shows to represent any social class of black families in the ’50s or ’60s. This play struck a chord in the hearts of its readers or viewers because it was real enough to have been a family of any ethnicity; it just happened to be black.
Encore Theatre brought this production to this season without the knowledge of a resurgence of violence and the movies that return us to the civil rights movement. It is appropriate, educational and entertaining. It is, however, not fun. The level of intensity starts on high, and three hours later it goes through the roof.
Matriarchs are a fearsome breed of humanity, and Catherine “Stormy” Munday in the role of Lena gave us the feeling that she might have been playing this role for a long time before she got the part. She was everybody’s mother with a few variations. From nuzzling her grandson to restraining herself from beating her son, she was always a force to be reckoned with.
Maria Perkins, as Ruth Younger, is the best stage crier we have seen for quite some time. She is the heart and soul of the play. When she hurts we all hurt, and her joy is shared just as easily. Caught between husband and mother-in-law, her struggles are real and timeless.
Her 20-something sister-in-law Beneatha, played by Jaimie Lewis, is the comic relief in spite of the fact that she is so serious. Playwright Lorraine Hansberry knew that the audience needed this character to survive the tension. Those who wrote about Hansberry suggested that she was Beneatha. I would say that if Michelle Obama had lived in the ’30s and ’40s she would have been Beneatha. Lewis even sounds like Obama at times. She brightened a lengthy evening.
Rounding out the four main characters is a local theatrical treasure. Everett Collier plays Walter Lee Younger with a self-assurance that lets us know that he understands this character and will help you understand him too. He played an 80-year-old when he was too young, in “Driving Miss Daisy” and convinced us that it was OK. He is doing that in reverse. He is older than Walter Lee. We don’t care because he does it so well.
Two of the remaining six characters must be mentioned. Jaden Reed plays the young son comfortably. Although we didn’t hear some of his lines, we knew what he said because of the responses. More importantly, he was cute. A. J. Lamoreau plays the resident bigot with just the right amount of smugness. His timing was perfect.
You will need a little patience. Our attention spans have shortened since the ’50s. It requires about 20 minutes to set up the family dynamics so you can appreciate the rest of the show. There are a few too many dramatic pauses. Cue pick-up would probably help. However, none of this provides a reason to stay away.
African-Americans should see it to remind themselves of how far they have come. Caucasians should see it to recognize that we still have a long way to go. Even if neither of these apply, it is a good theatrical experience. If I were still teaching, my students would have read it and I would have offered 100 bonus points if they saw it.
There are four more performances of “A Raisin in the Sun.” Please put it on your schedule. Prepare for the fact that it is more than three hours long, think football game. It is worth it.
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