Sunday, March 12, 2006


I spent a lovely afternoon at Hartford Stage attending a matinée performance of their terrific revival of A Raisin in the Sun, and giving an invited lecture at the end of the performance. Even before that alarm clock sounds and the action begins amidst deceptive sleepiness, this is a strong production: the set is superb, cheerfully dingy if that makes sense, and deftly detailed. The actors are a strong group, especially Billy Eugene Jones' lucid but empathetic take on Walter Lee, who says some terrible things and is too easy to dislike in the hands of lesser interpreters (and, perhaps, too easy to like in the form of Sidney Poitier). Lynda Gravátt and April Yvette Thompson are also standouts as Lena, the play's dowager empress, and Ruth, Walter's subtly incisive wife. In fact, only Albert Jones, who is much too eager to telegraph the superficial vacuousness of the gentleman caller he plays, sounds a wrong note in this impressive and engaging ensemble.

The real star, though, as it should be, is Hansberry, an utterly underrated playwright and enormously promising intellectual who died at age 34, as her criminally short-shrifted play The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window was closing its unsuccessful Broadway run. Hansberry was a brilliant writer, an inspired sketch artist and painter, a librettist, a witty correspondent, a real in-the-trenches activist, a proud Marxist (and this in the 1950s, before she had any celebrity to insulate her from attack, and when celebrities themselves weren't insulated anyway), an associate editor of Paul Robeson's radical leftist magazine Freedom, a reputed bisexual and dues-paying member of the Daughters of Bilitis (offering regular columns to their journal, The Ladder), an aspiring novelist, and an articulate grasper of global systems and political complexity. She thought and understood at the same level as James Baldwin or Tony Kushner, and she was able to get her audience to think at that level, too. Raisin is her most conventionally realist work, but it is layered, ambiguous, and fine-tuned as few American dramas are—it's better, I think, than anything by Miller—and hearing its impeccable dialogue and its stunning syntheses of familial, racial, local, sexual, sociological, and international tensions ring through the electrified air of a sold-out theater is a great way to pass a day.

And a lucky day it is, if you live in Hartford, or near it, since the show has been extended an extra week, through March 26. So pony up!



Blogger Raisin in the Sun said...

where'd ya get thatt pic!!??

7:03 AM, May 12, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

I think it came from the website for the Hartford Stage during the run of the production I was reviewing. I should have marked it and somehow seem to have goofed on that.

I see it's up on your blog now, so if I find a source, I'll let you know (and maybe vice versa?).

8:59 AM, May 12, 2009  

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