When Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun debuted on Broadway in 1959, she became the first black female playwright to achieve such noteworthy success. With a tale that examines not only evolving family dynamics, but also the ever-changing racial, ethnic and societal ideals of success, the work is as volatile and timely today as when it made its historical debut over half a century ago. Featuring some of our most talented actors, majestically lead by Jackie Welch, one of Nashville’s true grand dames of theatre, Nashville Rep‘s A Raisin in the Sun wraps a successful month-long run at TPAC’s Johnson Theatre with shows through Saturday, April 22.
While the title is never uttered within the dialogue of the play, Hansberry took the name from a line in Langston Hughes’ 1951 poem Harlem, which begins “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?” The idea of dreams, some realized, some deferred, is the cornerstone of A Raisin in the Sun. First there’s Welch’s recently widowed Lena, the matriarch of the Younger family who, thanks to an inheritance from her late husband, dreams of a better home life for her family with hopes of using the money to move them from a rented apartment in the South Side of Chicago to the more affluent Clybourne Park. Welch’s Lena is everything a black mid-century woman who grew up in the tougher part of Chicago should be. She plays the role part no-nonsense, part dreamer, and all heart, moving the audience to cheer and tears during various scenes.
Then there’s Eddie George as Lena’s strong and strong-willed son, Walter Lee Younger, who dreams of a better life by becoming the man his father was, the patriarch of the family. Wounded by his station in life, Walter Lee has a tendency to turn to the bottle, rather than his family for support. George, who in recent years traded a playbook of a certain kind for a play book theatrical in nature, brings an outward strength, but inward sadness to the role of Walter Lee, a fine balance for the seasoned actor, let alone one who’s spent twice as much time on the football field as he has the stage. With this role, and this performance, George should henceforth be known as Eddie George, actor, not Eddie George, former football star. The flirtations between George and his on-stage wife are playfully perfect, as are darker moments when George’s Walter Lee squanders the family money in pursuit of a dream of success.
Speaking of George’s on-stage wife, Tamiko Robinson Steele, plays Ruth Younger. Of all the dreams within Raisin, Ruth’s might be the most surprising as she sets out to defer it in an effort to save the family from additional financial and emotional stress, for you see, early in the story, it’s revealed that Ruth is pregnant and planning on aborting the child. Robinson Steele has long been one of my ‘theatre crushes’ and her turn as Ruth absolutely reinforces my adoration. She is at times charming, stern, empathetic and sympathetic, a woman any man would love and any woman would admire.
Another of my favorites, Lauren F. Jones is cast as Beneatha Younger, Walter Lee’s sister who dreams of becoming a doctor, while struggling with the financial means to do so, as well as being torn between the security of one male suitor—the wealthy, but self-loathing George Murchison (smartly played by James Rudolph) and the freedoms offered her by another—the self-aware and self-affirming Joseph Asagai (Brandon Hirsch). Jones approach to Beneatha’s sometimes haughty airs, most noticeably in her very precise, almost aristocratic enunciation brings a charm to the role that reveals the paradox of a young girl longing to be taken seriously as a mature woman.
Rounding out the Younger family are Russell Jacques Acklin, Jr. and Zechariah Brown, who have been alternating in the role of Travis Younger during the run of the show. Like the rest of the characters in Raisin, Travis too has dreams. Like any young boy, he dreams of playing and enjoying his childhood. The night I attended Raisin, Travis was played by Acklin who held his own alongside the stellar cast.
Lastly there’s Matthew Carlton as Karl Linder, a thinly veiled white supremacist who visits the Younger household under the guise of being a concerned member of the Clybourne Park neighborhood. As the physical manifestation of a dream deferred, Carlton’s Linder is a frightening mirror of hidden agenda, prejudices and simple fear of what we don’t understand that’s perhaps more prevalent in today’s world that it has been in recent history.
As always, the talent behind the scenes, from director Rene D. Copeland to scenic designer Gary C. Hoff is just as brilliant as the talent on-stage. Everything, from Copeland’s realistic staging that occasionally places characters with their backs to the audience as they carry on a convincing conversation onstage, to subtle design choices from Hoff, like the Younger’s apartment number—B4, a seeming nod to the fact that we are watching their lives ‘before’ major changes are set to occur, every detail, every movement, every line of dialogue is delivered with purpose and thought, resulting in a thought-provoking night of theatre.
Remaining showtimes are Thursday, April 20 at 6:30 p.m., Friday, April 21 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 22 at 2:30 p.m. AND 7:30 p.m. Friday’s performance will include a post-show Talkback during which cast and creative take to the stage following the show to chat with the audiences, giving a behind-the-scenes take on the show, their characters and their thoughts behind them. Saturday’s performance conclude with a Meet and Greet in the lobby, offering patrons the chance to chat one-on-one with the cast.
Tickets to Nashville Rep’s A Raisin in the Sun range in price from $45 to $55 and may be purchased by phone (615.782.4040), on line (Click Here) or in person at the Box Office (505 Deadrick Street).
Up next for Nashville Rep is their annual Ingram New Works Festival May 10-20 during which staged readings of new works by Stacy Osei-Kuffour, Andrew Rosendorf, Gabrielle Reisman, Nate Eppler and Ingram New Works Fellowship recipient Christopher Durang will be presented. For reservations and more, Click Here. Be sure to follow Nashville Rep on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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