In celebration of Black History Month at St. John’s, a four-day production of “A Raisin in the Sun” had its opening night at the Little Theater on Thursday, Feb. 2. Lorraine Hansberry’s play sprang to life on the stage, once again breathing life into a classic.
The story centers on the Younger family: matriarch Lena; her children Walter and Beneatha; Walter’s wife Ruth and Walter and Ruth’s son, Travis. The performances by the cast were electric, conveying the depth of the Younger family’s dreams, fears, sufferings and agonies.
The cast made optimal use of a minimalist set, consisting of a small eat-in-kitchen, a living room and two doors, one leading to an imagined bedroom, the other to an imagined bathroom or exit. The cast maximized use of the set, using gestures as simple as a door often slammed to further emphasize the extremes of the play’s atmosphere.
The audience had a lively response to the vibrancy of the cast’s performances: rollicking laughter and pained sighs emanated throughout the theater as audience members paid witness to a family dynamic in flux. The strength of the reactions was well deserved; from the moment the play began the audience was sucked into the Younger family’s world, and became as aware and emotionally invested in the affairs of the family as a fly on the wall, or a face pressed against the kitchen window.
The performance by the cast was undeniably riveting – audience members were compelled to revile, rebuke and praise the characters’ various actions and choices throughout the course of the play. The actors lifted the story from the script and translated it to the stage in such a way that none of its heart was lost. They bit deep into topics of generational divide, the ways in which race and class inevitably pervade and shape our lives and showed that families cling together in the face of tragedy and strife.
In one especially poignant scene, after Walter makes a decision with disastrous consequences, Lena admonishes Beneatha for forsaking her brother. She reminded her that it is most necessary to love someone not when they have done well, but when they have erred nearly beyond the point of forgiveness. Ultimately, the play ends on a note of redemption and uncertainty – one filled with hope and trepidation for the future.
As Lena leaves the house with her small plant, so symbolic of her hopes for her family’s future, and decisively shuts the apartment door behind her, the audience erupted into applause. The student production of “A Raisin in the Sun” crackles with a vitality boosted by its energetic cast who less play their characters than become their characters, forcefully pulling audience members into their world, shoving them onto an emotional rollercoaster, and then releasing them back into the world to process it all.
This excellently staged production proves the enduring relevance of “A Raisin in the Sun” – a work that evidently resonates with millennials, and that will doubtlessly continue to resonate with future generations to come.