Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is not merely performed by a phenomenal cast at the PlayMakers Repertory Company—it is brought to life.
The classic American play, which debuted on Broadway in 1959, feels no less relevant today, as the black family onstage finds out what happens to “a dream deferred,” the title of the Langston Hughes poem from which Hansberry drew her title. A five-person family crammed into a two-bedroom apartment, the Youngers anxiously await the $10,000 life insurance check of Lena Younger’s recently deceased husband. How the money should be spent and where it actually goes during the course of the play force these characters to their breaking points.
The natural acting and creative direction remind audiences why plays are performed and not just read. Desperation is palpable as the head of the household Walter Lee (Mikaal Sulaiman) gets down on his knees to beg for money, a yellow spotlight isolating him from the rest of the cast. The final 30 seconds, focusing on a lone and silent Lena Younger (Kathryn Hunter-Williams) have the impact of a bomb, and Beneatha Younger’s (Miriam A. Hyman) seductive walk to the door draws out such laughter from the audience and speaks so much to her youthful spirit; the play wouldn’t be the same without such detailed characterization.
Director Raelle Myrick-Hodges added a unique touch to the transitions as well. As the lights dim, an onstage radio brightens and plays old sound bites, including an interview with Lorraine Hansberry herself, grounding an already truthful play more firmly in reality. And there isn’t just gut-wrenching drama here; there are wonderful moments of subtle smiles, echoing laughter and resounding kinship—the full range of emotions that should come across in a story ultimately about love and family. Originating in canonized material, the performance does Hansberry’s play more than justice. Just as Beneatha contemplates her place in the world, an affected audience leaves with similar questions.
Additionally, PlayMakers’ intimate venue and Robin Vest’s detailed set help draw the audience into the Youngers’ world. A Raisin in the Sun takes place in one location: the family apartment, a place which itself is symbolic of one generation’s decay and the other’s restlessness. By the end of the two-and-a-half hours, the audience is acquainted with every aspect of this room, from the dated wallpaper to the cheap tray table that sits on the edge of the stage. The props act as additional characters that each member of the family interacts with in a distinctive way.
This show feels acutely authentic, and the chemistry onstage reaches out to the audience and draws them in. Hansberry’s timeless words, delivered by a talented cast, make PlayMakers’ A Raisin in the Sun a professional performance that connects to today’s crowd as much as it did 50 years ago.
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents A Raisin in the Sun until Mar. 3. The play will be performed in rotating repertory with Clybourne Park, which will be reviewed in next week’s issue. Check www.playmakersrep.org/raisin for show times and ticketing information.