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Set in the dilapidated “projects” of Southside of Chicago, in the Not So Good Old Days, when de facto segregation barred black families from white suburbs, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry is a searing portrait of the deleterious effect that thwarted dreams and frustrated ambitions have on an African-American inner-city family, circa 1959, who hope to parlay the $10,000 proceeds of their recently deceased patriarch’s life-insurance policy into a better life for his widow, two children, daughter-in-law, and grandchild. The current Raleigh Little Theatre production, provocatively staged by RLT youth theater and education director Linda O’Day Young, unfolds on a wonderfully detailed recreation of a cold-water flat designed by Rick Young, in eye-catching Fifties costumes by Vicki Olson, under moody lighting by Roger Bridges.
In addition to its savvy staging and striking design elements, RLT’s rendition of A Raisin in the Sun greatly benefits from crisp characterizations by an all-star cast headed by Joan J. as indomitable matriarch Lena Younger and Joseph Callender as her resentful son Walter Lee Younger, a big-talking dreamer who pressures his mama to give him the lion’s share of the money for his latest get-rich-quick scheme.
Joan J.’s Lena and Joseph Callender’s Walter Lee have nice chemistry. They are formidable adversaries as they bicker over the family’s future. Jackie Marriott is also excellent as Walter Lee’s hard-working and long-suffering wife Ruth, and Juston Alford is good as their son—and hope for a brighter future—Travis.
Lakeisha Coffey is effective as Walter Lee’s studious sister Beneatha, who wants to parlay her brains and determination to rise above her surroundings into a medical degree; and Preston Campbell and especially Rob Bryant provide a nice contrast as Beneatha’s two very different suitors: the well-heeled but dull businessman’s son George Murchison and the more exciting Nigerian college friend Joseph Asagai, respectively. Corey Banks is good as Walter Lee’s hapless business associate Bobo, and Shawn Smith is thoroughly hissable as the play’s villain, white Clybourne Park Improvement Association chairman Karl Lindner, who wants to keep the Youngers from moving on up to his racially exclusive neighborhood.
Although some of these performances have rough spots, taken together the RLT cast does a good job of breathing life into these colorful characters whose frustrated ambitions drive Lorraine Hansberry’s masterpiece of African-American theater. Last Saturday night’s performance of A Raisin in the Sun received a rare (for RLT) standing ovation, and should only get stronger and more polished as its run progresses.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents A Raisin in the Sun Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 15-17 and 22-24; and Sunday, Feb. 18 and 25, at 3 p.m. at 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $17 ($13 students and seniors 62+). 919/821-3111 or via etix @ the presenter's site. Note: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive listening devices are available for all shows. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/performances/raisin.html [inactive 3/07]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=1252. 2004 Broadway Revival: http://www.raisinonbroadway.com/. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0055353/.