- “Raisin in the Sun,” a landmark play, opened on Broadway in 1959, the
first script written by a black woman to make it to Broadway.
In 1961, Sidney Poitier
starred as Walter in the film. Playwright Lorraine Hansberry died at 34 and was
never fully aware of the greatness of her work and the furor of change that
would follow. Her own family’s move to Clybourne Park, an exclusively white
neighborhood in Chicago, when Lorraine was 8 years old, provided the inspiration
for this drama.
The Milwaukee Rep opened its
stunning production of “Raisin” as its season closer. The direction under
Ron OJ Parson, the incredibly gifted cast, the carefully delineated characters
and the beautifully realistic tenement apartment designed by Jack MaGaw unite to
keep us rapt for almost three hours, an experience we won’t soon forget.
The world of the Younger
family awakes slowly, reluctantly. An air of tension and anticipation pervades
the atmosphere. (Great lighting design by Heather Gilbert, by the way.) Today,
the money from Mamas’ late husband’s insurance policy is to arrive and how
she will choose to spend the money is the big unanswered question. Will it pay
for her daughter Beneatha’s med school expenses? Will it be given to her son,
Walter, so he can invest in a liquor store, or does Lena have some ideas of her
own as to its best use?
Greta Oglesby as Mama Lena
is the bedrock of this family. She exudes strength and integrity. We are aware
of her every moment that she is on stage. Three generations live together
crammed into a small apartment with the young Travis, Walter and Ruth’s son,
representing the third. Lena’s son, Walter, has dreams of leaving his job as a
chauffeur to make it big in business. He is unrealistic and angry, projecting
his frustrations upon his long-suffering, hardworking wife, Ruth, or lashing out
at his sister Beneatha or at anyone else who happens to cross his path at the
wrong moment. ChikŽ Johnson is masterful in conveying the complexity and
intensity of Walter.
Beneatha represents a young
black woman on the cusp of the civil rights and feminist movements. She is
strong, determined and edgy as she struggles to carve out her identity in a
world that has pigeon-holed her as a servant who cooks and cleans for others,
slots that both Ruth and Lena have dutifully filled. Mildred Marie Langford
inhabits this character with spunk and fervor. One senses that nothing will stop
Several of Beneatha’s
suitors also figure into the story: George, an educated successful young man,
but one who lacks depth and idealism, and Asagai, a Nigerian who provides a
sharp contrast to the Younger family in terms of his positive attitude and his
dreams of returning to Africa and making a difference there. Christopher Abiel
is powerful in this role.
Somehow in this one story we
witness the problem of the assimilation of blacks in a largely hostile white
society. James Pickering as the wily landlord aces his role as Karl Lindner. We
sense his condescension and his menace hidden beneath a thin layer of courtesy.
I enjoyed “Clybourne
Park,” a recent production that mirrors the reverse side of the same
situation, but “Raisin in the Sun” is incomparably more powerful.
Intellectually, I got the thrust of the companion piece, but the characters in
this one seared my soul. If you see nothing else this season, see this.
“Raisin in the Sun”
continues through April 14 at the Quadracci Powerhouse, 108 E. Wells St.,
Milwaukee. For show times and tickets, call 414-224-9490 or visit