Scott Rudin, Roger Berlind, Eli Bush, Jon B. Platt,
Exec. Producers: Joey Parnes, S.D. Wagner, John Johnson
A Raisin in the Sun
(A Raisin in the Sun Website)
By Lorraine Hansberry
Directed by Kenny Leon
Latanya Richardson Jackson
Sophie Okonedo, Anika Noni Rose
David Cromer, Bryce Clyde Jenkins, Jason Dirden
Sean Patrick Thomas, Keith Eric Chappelle,
Billy Eugene Jones, Stephen McKinley Henderson
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47th Street
Scenic Design: Mark Thompson
Costume Design: Ann Roth
Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt
Sound Design: Scott Lehrer
Music Curation: Branford Marsalis
Casting: Heidi Griffiths
Hair Design: Mia M. Neal
Production Stage Manager: Narda E. Alcorn
Company Manager: Penelope Daulton
Production Management: Aurora Productions
Press Representative: Philip Rinaldi
Assoc. Producer: Joi Gresham
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 4, 2014
Denzel Washington, as Walter Lee Younger, walks side to side, heavy in step and fatigue, a private limo driver, looking for a windfall. Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 masterpiece, A Raisin in the Sun, is about an African-American family in Chicago’s crowded South Side. It’s filled with inspirational, compelling dialogue, and designed, under Kenny Leon’s direction, to draw the audience into that tiny living space, no larger than most apartment hallways. All the stage action takes place around a dated couch, table, and chairs, amidst dingy cabinets and shelves, faded knickknacks, mismatched wallpaper, and a dying green plant. But, that plant, like this family, will make a journey to the core of its soul and to a future filled with bold hope. Money, racism, culture, flirtation, romance, identity, fear, loss, and longing are just some of the elements unpeeled, as this story evolves with humor, pathos, music, physicality, and familial regeneration.
Latanya Richardson Jackson, as Lena Younger, the matriarch, anxiously awaits a $10,000 life insurance check from her late husband’s policy. Her son, Walter, has made it known he wants to invest this fund into a neighborhood liquor store with two buddies, and he’ll have his family’s future secure, because he’s done research. Liquor is another of Walter’s buddies. Walter’s wife, Ruth (Sophie Okonedo), is worn and weary, like Walter, doing chores in her bathrobe and rising early for her two children, and all she wants is some quality time with her husband, away from the crowd. This crowd also includes Walter’s sister, college-age Beneatha (Anika Noni Rose), and Walter and Ruth’s grade school son, Travis (Bryce Clyde Jenkins), who needs space to run. But, back to the insurance money, Lena yearns for a safe neighborhood and sun, her sun-starved plant as a metaphor on the counter. She runs to place a down payment on a small home in Clybourne Park, a genteel neighborhood, that, in her mind, will be safe for the family. When Walter hears that much of the insurance payout is gone, Mr. Washington sinks down into his own body, with visibly shrinking muscles, his dream disappearing.
Soon Lena concedes and gives Walter the remaining cash to partially deposit into a medical school account for Beneatha, who plans to be a doctor, with instructions to invest the rest for his dreams. Walter instead entrusts buddy, Bobo (Stephen McKinley Henderson), with all of it, and other buddy, offstage Willie, takes off with the Younger’s long-awaited security. Additional characters include theater director, David Cromer, as the all-white, Clybourne Park neighborhood representative, sent to buy off the Youngers not to integrate their space. Also, a fine Jason Dirden is the upwardly mobile, but controlling George Murchison, one of Beneatha’s suitors. The other suitor is Sean Patrick Thomas as Joseph Asagai, a proud African college friend of Beneatha. Joseph wants to take her home to Nigeria, where she can open her medical practice and celebrate her heritage, a notion foreign to George, creating a complex sub-plot. This extraordinary ensemble fits like a glove, with sparks and palpable chemistry between Ms. Okonedo’s Ruth and Mr. Washington’s Walter. Maternal angst and unconditional love flow from Lena, for the future of her children and grandson. She offers wise advice on the two men in Beneatha’s life, while hot and cold arguments explode between the two aspiring siblings, Beneatha wanting graduate school and Walter wanting a slice of society.
Kenny Leon has directed to unpeel the characters to their psychic and emotional viscera, through gesture, posture, and vocal cadence, as the stage space is so tight that much of the dialogue happens in a closet-like arena. As mentioned above, the ensemble is tightly woven and charismatic. Mark Thompson’s set is detailed and replete with iconic symbolism, like the yellowing plant and 1950’s family souvenirs. Ann Roth’s costume design includes Beneatha’s colorful African wraps, as well as Ruth’s comfortable robe. Brian MacDevitt’s lighting was purposefully dim, but warm, and Scott Lehrer’s sound was crisp, with the dialogue meaningfully showcased. Branford Marsalis chose exceptional jazz for moody interludes. Kudos to all, and kudos to Lorraine Hansberry.