A Raisin in the Sun
Slow pacing aside, City Theatre's revival brings Hansberry's message home
Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., March 19, 2010
A Raisin in the Sun
City Theatre, 3823 Airport Ste. D,
Through March 21
Running time: 2 hr., 45 min.
A Raisin in the Sun is a play in which a family buys a house for the first time. I am currently facing a possible failure in my own quest to become a first-time homebuyer, and watching the
characters deal with their trials and sufferings – well, racism aside, you really get stuck on the notion that all Lena had to do was go downtown and drop $3,500. Jerks.
Of course, Lorraine Hansberry's play is about more than just buying a house. It's about identity. What does it mean to be black in America? What does it mean to be a woman, a man? What does it mean to be a parent? Most importantly, the play asks the price of living as someone who can hold his or her head up high with dignity, regardless of the cost.
It doesn't ask about credit scores.
Those of you not attempting to buy a house will enjoy a story that features three generations of the Younger family, squeezed into a cheap, tiny, rat- and roach-filled apartment. These are hard-working, working-class folks with dreams of what they can become, dreams that run up against the obstacles that mid-20th century society presents, as well as the ones that they create themselves. It's easy to love these flawed characters, because their hopes for the future are so honest: a house. A garden. A degree. A business. In watching the Younger family strive to achieve these marks of dignity and independence, you appreciate how it's no small thing to live proudly and rightly.
City Theatre Company presents a fairly strong cast of actors who understand the choices their characters make. As Ruth Younger, Kristen Bennett especially delivers the straightforward, realistic performance that Hansberry's play calls for. Compliments also to Gabriel Smith as Karl Lindner, the white guy in the suit who tries to buy off the Youngers' dignity and whose discomfort sits thick in the air. Of course, the success of Lindner's short scenes is as much to the credit of the ensemble as it is to Smith. An actor can only pull that kind of performance off if the other people onstage give him a real reason to squirm, and here they certainly do.
A strong actor can also have his or her work killed by too slow a pace, and to some extent that happens here, as moments drag out and gaps of silence stretch where they should be filled. The play runs almost three hours, and without cutting lines, it could go 30 minutes shorter if the actors were directed to pick up their cues. Even a play about a family and a home purchase needs the urgency that comes from not languishing in every moment.
Otherwise, director Lisa Jordan guides her cast through the play with a sound understanding of Hansberry's characters. My personal real estate issues aside, A Raisin in the Sun is a play with a strong story and a social message that echoes through to today.