Members of this African-American family, living in a tenement-like apartment in Chicago’s South Side, are over-worked, underpaid, struggling to make it through the day and hoping for a better, more rewarding and enriching existence. Seeking a slice of the American Dream—a better house, an education, acceptance into the larger community—they bicker, challenge each other and themselves, and confront their own beliefs and values.
The story features the Youngers, who, following the death of their father/grandfather, argue over how to spend money from the insurance payment they receive. Mama (Denise Burse), the family matriarch, wants a new house; her son, Walter Lee (Richard Prioleau), would like to invest in a liquor store, and Walter’s sister, Beneatha (Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako), needs the money for her medical school tuition. As pressures mount and dreams begin to fizzle, the family finds a way to unite and ultimately move forward. The year: 1959.
It is difficult to watch the Seattle Repertory Theatre’s production of A Raisin in the Sun without drawing correlations between the fictitious Younger family, who grapple with issues such as racism, poverty, class and discrimination, and our own very current political and cultural climate.
The inescapable truth? For some of us, life hasn’t changed much at all. Wants, desires and goals remain mere fantasies for many Americans, yet drive, hope and ambition prevail. “Your daddy’s going to make a business transaction that’s going to change our lives,” Walter Lee promises his young son, Travis (Jalani Clemmons). “Just tell me where you want to go to school and you’ll go. Just tell me what it is you want to be and you’ll be it. You just name it…and I hand you the world!”
Maybe that’s one reason this iconic play, written by Lorraine Hansberry, still resonates. During the opening night performance of this excellent production, directed by Timothy McCuen Piggee, audience members could be heard reacting with laughter, tears and the occasional gasp. The outstanding performances by every cast member (special shout-out to the versatile, pitch-perfect Richard Prioleau) kept the audience mesmerized throughout this three-hour and two-intermission play, no easy feat in today’s multi-media, limited attention-span environment. A Raisin in the Sun, universal and timeless, is well worth your time.
Through October 30; Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer Street; seattlerep.org, 206.443.2222.