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CSC’s Raisin in the Sun‘s Universal Story of Persistence and Hope

Burgess Byrd in “Raisin in the Sun”

Review by Liz Eichler of Raisin in the Sun: Cincinnati Shakespeare Compan

Two themes arise from Cincinnati Shakespeare’s fantastic production of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic A Raisin in the Sun, playing now through April 15. The first, is that this play is Hansberry’s answer to poet Langston Hughes question “What happens to a dream deferred?” so this is a powerful look at sacrifices and hope. The second theme is so vibrant and fresh it feels like the play, written in 1959, was a response to the meme “Nevertheless, she persisted.” Either way, it is an uplifting, powerful presentation of family dynamics, and hope for something better, despite obstacles.

A Raisin in the Sun is about a struggling multigenerational family in early civil rights Chicago, who has received a windfall after the death of the patriarch, and all have competing hopes and plans for the money. Ultimately it is about matriarch Lena Younger, who receives this insurance check after the death of her husband, deciding the best way to invest her hope in the family’s future is a bold move to the suburbs. Directed by Christopher V. Edwards, the play is filled with laughter and tears, as this family is Every Family (Black, White, Asian, Muslim, etc.) surviving through conflicting goals and limited resources.

Burgess Byrd fuels Lena Younger with energy. She is the keeper of hope for the family, tending it, protecting it, like her little plant on the windowsill. Byrd makes her sweet, indulgent, proud, protective, unyielding in turns, but is clearly the glue that holds the family together.

After the father passes, there is a vacuum formed, to be filled with either Byrd or her adult son, Walter Lee (Geoffrey Warren Barnes II). Barnes fully explores this character, giving his audience the petulant boy, the smooth mover, the angry drunk, the petty sibling, the indulgent dad, the naive entrepreneur, and finally, the man of the house. He’s married to Ruth (Torie Wiggins). Ruth is sweet, capable, giving and loyal, sagging under the weight of carrying more than half her load. He is a chauffeur, she is a maid. Both quietly stifle their dreams while enabling others’, turning their love into a festering anger.

The play belongs to Rika Williams as Beneatha Younger, Lena’s 20-year-old daughter. She embodies a girl struggling to define a new possibility for women in the world. “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted,” (Mitch McConnell’s directive about Elizabeth Warren) is Beneatha’s theme. The world of 1959 was stacked against young black women, but she is determined to be a doctor. She approaches the world with an appetite to do and to be, not to obey.

Beneatha’s suitors are excellently played by Darnell Pierre Benjamin (Joseph Asagai) and Crystian Wiltshire (George Murchison) who represent the spectrum of men, African or not. One is wealthy and social climbing, without substance, who tells Beneatha to look good and stop thinking; the other is an educated man from Nigeria, with sophistication, and shares Beneatha’s dreams.

The opening night audience loved Shanessa Sweeney as Mrs. Johnson. Jeremy Dubin portrays the “welcoming committee” for the suburb, and is named Karl Lindner (yes, Hansberry’s original name). Shadow Avili’ from SCPA is a darling Travis, and Silvester Little, Jr. portrays a fine Bobo.

The set (designed by Shannon Moore) depicts the crowded conditions in the apartment, but it is comfortable and homey as well, with open walls to see off-stage action, warmly lit by Justen N. Locke. Amanda McGee’s costumes are appropriate to the era and in a tight palette. Doug Borntrager creates a rich soundscape.

Call or go online today to get your tickets for this must-see production. It is a full three hours, with 2 intermissions. All student shows are sold out, with limited tickets remaining for the run. www.cincyshakes.org or 513-381-2273.