PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill is currently showing Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun, playing in rotating repertory with Bruce Norris's sequel-of-sorts, Clybourne Park. In some ways a period piece, and in some ways shockingly current, A Raisin in the Sun is a gutsy look at race in America, from a voice and perspective that had gone largely silenced until the play's original production.
Among a talented cast, the women are stars. Their performances are remarkable and memorable. These are strong women in strong female roles, and each woman is strong in her own unique way. Kathryn Hunter-Williams's Lena Younger is the matriarch of a family who is not afraid to say what she means and make decisions on her and her family's behalf. Dee Dee Batteasts's Ruth Younger is a woman facing conflict, who stands her ground. Miriam A. Hyman's Beneatha Younger is a young woman desperately seeking an identity, and who is not afraid to take risks in order to figure out who she is and what she stands for. These women are the foundation of the show, and the characters, as well as the incredibly talented actresses, will certainly linger on audience's minds for quite some time. Another noteworthy performance came from Victor Waddell as young Travis Younger. That young man has incredible grace and poise as an actor, especially for someone who is eleven. You'll be seeing him again soon.
Phenomenal scenic design is something of a hallmark for productions at PlayMakers, and this production's set, designed by Robin Vest, is no exception. The Chicago apartment set not only gives the feel of several different rooms, it also gives glimpses of what's outside and what the neighborhood looks like by using a few feet of space below the stage as the outside, and by having frames that give the idea of size and dimension, without encumbering the practicality of the space as a theatrical set. Every detail, right down to each prop, seems like it truly belongs in that apartment.
One of the most profound elements of the production is the inclusion of audio snippets of an interview with Lorraine Hansberry herself which put the play perfectly within context. It reminds those who lived it what life was like in the 1950s and gives a frame of reference for those who did not. Additionally, the direction, by Raelle Myrick-Hodges creates a show which is at the same time intellectual and accessible, subtle and profound.
A Raisin in the Sun is playing in rotating repertory with Bruce Norris's Clybourne Park, and runs through March 3, 2013. A review of Clybourne Park is forthcoming. For tickets and more information, visit www.playmakersrep.org.
Photo Credit: Jon Gardiner