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Center Stage: ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ at Theatre Conspiracy was must-see performance

By Staff | May 16, 2018

Marsha Wagner

“A Raisin in the Sun,” penned by Lorraine Hansberry, took the title for her award-winning play from a poem by Langston Hughes’ titled “Harlem.” The original Broadway production opened in March 1959 and starred Claudia McNeil as Lena “Mama” Younger, Ruby Dee as Ruth Younger, Sidney Poitier as Walter Younger, Diana Sands as Beneatha Younger, and Louis Gossett as George Murchison. I only mention these iconic theater and movie celebrities to assure you that the wonderful local actors who performed this final play of the Theatre Conspiracy’s season had big shoes to fill. But, fill them they did with one of the most powerful, well directed performances (Sonya McCarter) that will live long in the memories of any audiences that attend, including me.

The stirring drama that has been produced throughout the world is set in Chicago during the 1950s. The story unfolds as three generations of the Younger family envisions divergent paths to a better life. At the plot level is how the Younger family will spend a $10,000 insurance payment they have received after its patriarch’s death and about whether the family will move into a now affordable new home in a hostile, pure white neighborhood. But Hansberry’s real drama is the battle for the soul and identity of Walter Younger, the family’s son. Walter (Derek Lively) is a chauffeur in his 30s who wants to get rich by opening a liquor store. Without quite realizing it, he oppresses his wife Ruth (Cantella Canady), a domestic helper, and mocks the ambitions of his younger sister Beneatha (Rose Thomas), a fledgling activist and future medical student. “I’ve got a dream,” says Walter early in the play – but his dream is not to be confused with Dr. King’s. Walter wants “things,” and as he tells his horrified Mama, who no longer regards money merely as a “passport to freedom” but as the essence of the “good life.” In this sense Walter is not just the victim of white racism but also a victim of the materialistic American dream which can and does victimize all of us regardless of race or country of origin. Here is an American document that resonates with time, place and relevance. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the potent play and its message is not how much the world has changed, but how much it has remained the same for so many poor blacks.

“A Raisin in the Sun” was one of those must-see performances with incredible actors that make “live theater” a thrilling experience. I must credit each and every actor in the production by naming them, as well as their superb director Sonya McCarter:

– Patricia Idlette as Lena “Mama” Younger

– Derek Lively as Walter Lee Younger

– Rose Thomas as Beneatha Younger

– Cantella Canady as Ruth Younger

– Keehnon Jackson as Travis Younger

– Lenec Bernard as Bobo

– Janes-Robinson as Karl Lindner

– Sandra Dixon as Mrs. Johnson

– Peter Lange as George Murchison

– Kenneth Jones as Joseph Asagai

Only playing until May 13, hopefully you got to spend an evening seeing a meaningful play performed by superb actors. And hopefully when you phoned the box office, you reminded ’em Marsha sent you.