A RAISIN IN THE SUN theatre review

Jacksonville’s Stage Aurora Theatrical Company is presenting a revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s acclaimed 1959 play “A Raisin in the Sun.” The final two performances will be Saturday April 5th at 6:00 PM and Sunday April 6th at 3 PM. All shows are at the Stage Aurora Performance Hall, inside the Gateway Town Center at 5188 Norwood Avenue. For additional information, see stageaurora.org; for tickets, call (904) 765-7372 or see www.ticketleap.com.

At the turn of the century in 2000, the 300 critics who made up the American Theatre Critics Association voted for the 25 most significant American plays of the past century. “A Raisin in the Sun” was #7 on the list and rightfully so.

This play, while set in the 1950s, is not only a timeless and intense family drama but also a strong statement against racial discrimination. The title comes from “Harlem,” a poem by Langston Hughes: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up…Like a raisin in the sun?

The story concerns an African-American family, the Younger’s of Chicago, who are awaiting the arrival of an insurance check of $10,000, payable to the Lena, the family matriarch, after the death of her husband. For the widow, the money could mean owning a decent home out of the ghetto, or tuition for medical school for her daughter Beneatha. Her son Walter Lee dreams of investing in a liquor store and leaving his job as a chauffeur, which he considers demeaning.

Hansberry brought up many issues in her play. It covers racism, class clashes, cross-generational differences, and African Nationalism, all a decade or two before they became national issues. As serious as this sounds, the play includes a lot of humor, as the family members, while impoverished, can find comfort in being together and are able at times to laugh at themselves and their struggles.

Kathy Sursey is marvelous as Lena (Mama), the strength and guiding hand of the family. Teresa Smith as Beneatha gives a fine and very animated performance as the attractive and intelligent daughter who has two suitors and a burning ambition to be a doctor. Sam Brown, as Asagai, is the first suitor to appear; he is a Nigerian visitor who introduces the subject of black ethnocentric pride and questions whether the race would be best served by returning to its native Africa. His performance is very believable. The second suitor is Dante Buckson as George Murchison, a rich kid from a rich family who dresses in only the finest suits. Chelsea Hunt is Ruth Younger, Walter’s obsequious and oppressed but loving wife. Most of the major roles have been double cast and when you go to see the show you may be seeing Staci Anderson as Lena, Alvenia Derban as Ruth Younger, Abraham Gonzalez as George Murchison, or Lance Hunt as Asagai.

Others in the cast include Post to Post Links II error: No link found for term slug "James Simpo, Jr." playing Travis, the young son of Ruth and Walter Lee. Travis. Ruth Charlene Davis made a cameo appearance as Mrs. Johnson, a local gossip and busybody. Joikin Foster has some dramatic moments as Bobo, one of Walter’s partners in a business deal gone wrong.

A long time Jacksonville theatre veteran, Leonard Alterman, the only cast member who is not African-American and with over fifty shows on his resume locally, is Karl Linder, the soft-spoken, dignified man who represents the homeowners association in an all-white neighborhood where Mama is in the process of buying a home. The homeowners do not want blacks living in their neighborhood, and Linder comes to the Younger home to offer them a buyout.

“A Raisin in the Sun” as a play rises and falls on the character Walter Lee. His decisions and actions generate the drama on stage. The tall, muscular, and handsome Phillip Mitchell Polite was an inspired choice for the leading man. He prowls around the stage like a caged lion who is foolish, desperate, and embittered as he sees his dreams dying.
The set was designed by Stage Aurora’s founder Darryl Reuben Hall, assisted by Edward Hall, Jeff Wagner and Thomas Laws. It fit the picture of a low-income ghetto rental, neat and clean, but with shabby, unimpressive furnishings. The costumes by Sandra Levy-Donawa and reflected the era. Two for Teresa were particularly interesting, one in printed cotton from Nigeria, the second a fitted silver-gray evening gown.

The superb direction was by Jack Barnard, another Jacksonville theatre veteran. We have seen a number of his excellently directed plays over the years on the stage of Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre. In addition to his directing talents, he is an award-winning actor and one of the finest character actors to ever grace the local stages.

Is this play dated? No, despite strides and laws, discrimination in housing continues. However, If written today, no doubt AIDS, drugs, and violence would have to be a part of the plot.

As we write this review, the play is in a well-received revival on Broadway, so if you have a few extra hundred bucks, you could hop on a plane and hope that you could find tickets. Or even better, you could support our local theatre scene and see this excellent production and perhaps even sit in the front row; seats are first come, first served, so get there early. And all of this for a $20 dollar ticket, and only $15 if you are a senior or a student.

No one should miss the chance to see “A Raisin in the Sun” a play that is mesmerizing.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.