Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe presents A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Don Daly.
Theater fans may have heard of the new Broadway-bound play Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris, which is a modern-day response to Lorraine Hansberry’s groundbreaking A Raisin in the Sun, about a black family that integrates a white Chicago neighborhood. Without having seen it, it sounds like an intriguing continuation of some of the issues at play in the original, which is now onstage in a Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe production here.
In case you’ve somehow never seen Hansberry’s powerful piece, it centers on the Younger family, living in a South Side Chicago tenement of the late 1950s. As the play opens, all the members, for different reasons, are eagerly anticipating the arrival of an insurance check for $10,000—money due to them upon the death of the family’s father, and money which can radically change their lives for the better, depending on whose decision for its use prevails.
For daughter Beneatha (Dhakeria Cunningham), it’s a chance to go to medical school. For her brother Walter (Will Little), embittered by his job as a white man’s chauffeur and hungry for his independence, it’s an opportunity to open his own business. For his hard-working wife Ruth (Jasmine McAllister), it could provide a real home, one where her young son Travis (Bryson Gregory) would have a real bedroom, instead of sleeping on the couch. And for family matriarch Lena (Alice B. Gatling), the money could both honor her late husband’s memory and give her family a future.
For the play’s first act, these dreams—long deferred, as in the Langston Hughes poem that inspired the title of the piece—are discussed, with some context provided by Beneatha’s two beaux, the wealthy George (Emmanuel Avraham) and the Nigerian activist Joseph (Joseph Nwankwo). But it’s in the second act when the definitive action occurs, as one of the Youngers’ potential new white neighbors (David Abolafia), comes to visit with an offer that threatens to divide the family even further.
More than 50 years after its debut, Raisin is still relevant and compelling, and the cast, under the direction of Jim Weaver, rises to the task of presenting this family with all of its flaws and dignity intact. Gatling (who’s been seen with both FST and WBTT here before) is no surprise in her strength and presence, but other cast members may be more of a revelation to audiences. Cunningham, who’s been seen in smaller roles elsewhere, is totally believable as Beneatha, struggling to choose not only between men but between destinies; McAllister is touching as a mother who quietly goes about her endless chores without complaint, but finally gets a chance to express her own buried emotions at the prospect of a real home.
As Walter, Little has the challenging job of making us see the suffering behind a character who is sometimes far from likable. Occasionally his more dramatic scenes feel a little forced, but we care enough about him to stick with him on his painful journey. And that goes for the rest of the Younger family as well.
A Raisin in the Sun continues through Feb. 19; for tickets call 366-1505 or go to wbttsrq.org.