"A Raisin in the Sun"
Hartford Stage, Hartford
Though Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” first made its dynamic appearance in 1959, on Broadway, it continues to wield the same power today. This tale of a black family, struggling to survive on Chicago’s South Side, still grabs and involves its audience completely. Such is the nature of a masterpiece.
And now, fortunately, Hansberry’s classic is blessed with a fine revival at Hartford Stage. Seret Scott, who played the young sister in the original show, directs the piece with a sure hand. She gets solid, believable characterizations from each player. Unlike the recent Broadway revival, which was essentially a star vehicle, this production features a company of working pros. It is ensemble work at its best, carefully guided by Scott. Though the show runs for almost three hours, there is never a moment when it lags.
Hansberry’s play was well ahead of its time, leading the way to a new depiction of blacks. Stereotypes are replaced by reality. These fully-fleshed characters have pride, dignity, weaknesses, fears—all the conflicting emotions which go to comprise a human being. In a rundown old tenement, this family of five struggles not only with cockroaches, grueling low-level jobs, but also a lack of privacy. Yet each harbors his and her personal dreams. The mother yearns for her own house, the sister dreams of medical school, the brother longs to launch his own business. When the mother receives a $10,000 insurance check (a legacy from her dead husband), each has a different plan for the money.
It is Lynda Gravatt as Lena Younger, the family matriarch, who provides the strong core to this production, keeping all the elements and family conflicts from spinning out of control. Gravatt personifies the woman, with her own strong values and a pride in family background. When the family, about to move to an all-white neighborhood, must choose between money and principles, Gravatt makes clear that Lena Younger’s values have their impact. Others also turn in thoroughly satisfying performances—Crystal Noelle as the daughter, Billy Eugene Jones as the son, and April Yvette Thompson as the son’s wife. Warner Miller is right on target as the African visitor (his Nigerian accent impeccable, it would seem), and Khaleef Pemberton, as the grandson, is remarkably professional for a fifth grader.
A minor criticism must be aimed at the stage set, which offers a far too comfortable apartment, given the story of the Youngers’circumstances. Worn rugs and shabbier furniture would be more appropriate. But all told, Seret Scott and company deserve kudos for this fine revival.
-- Irene Backalenick
Feb. 25, 2006