A Raisin in the Sun

UpRise! Productions' revival of this trailblazing drama layers movement onto the script in distracting ways

Pondering a dream deferred: Zell Miller III and Jolia Jones
Pondering a dream deferred: Zell Miller III and Jolia Jones

A Raisin in the Sun

The Vortex, 2307 Manor Rd., 512-478-5282
Through Aug. 17
Running time: 2 hr., 15 min.

I rarely pass up the opportunity to engage in a postshow talkback; the work that the audience members have experienced together has had the opportunity to speak for itself in production, and now it's time to flesh it out in conversation. But the case of UpRise! Productions' revival of A Raisin in the Sun was unique for me – it's the one time I found myself wishing that a talkback had preceded a performance.

A Raisin in the Sun is canonical dramatic literature. Lorraine Hansberry's story of an impoverished black family in 1950s Chicago placed its indelible stamp on the history of American theatre in trailblazing fashion, making Hansberry the first black woman playwright on Broadway and Lloyd Richards, who staged the original production, the first black director on the traditionally "Great White Way." So when I heard that Zell Miller III's company, UpRise! Productions, would be mounting the work under acclaimed director Laurie Carlos, I set aside an evening far in advance to attend.

I'd seen the work of UpRise! previously, most notably a performance of Hip-Hop Theater Explosion (also at the Vortex, where Miller is a resident artist), which remains to this day one of my fondest theatrical experiences as a spectator. I knew from this and other encounters with Miller's company that Raisin would be told from a new vantage point, one that would probably meld movement into the narrative fabric in some way. It was, and it did. Unfortunately, though, the rationale for this lens was difficult to detect, and the execution less than convincing.

Basically, this Raisin is a sort of (inconsistent) dance concert overlaid onto Hansberry's script. The purpose of the movement element remains both unrevealed and unasserted throughout the performance. As I watched the work, I wanted so much to be convinced that this heightened movement would eventually bring some understanding to the text, that a new insight would at some point be realized through it; I ultimately surrendered – sadly – to the realization that these epiphanies were not to come, at least for me. One of my favorite aspects of theatre is its capacity for (and encouragement of) the exploration of interpretive modalities; even the attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole in theatre is wildly successful in some instances. But in many others, as with this Raisin, that act simply results in distraction.

I don't like for productions to be prefaced to too great a degree, but perhaps I could have at least approached this seminal work through Carlos' new vision had I been supplied with some dramaturgical pretext prior to taking my seat. Even the postshow talkback teetered on shaky terrain, though, serving more to confirm my distracted experience than to enlighten it.

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A Raisin in the Sun, Austin theatre, UpRise! Productions, Zell Miller III, Laurie Carlos, Lorraine Hansberry, Lloyd Richards

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