A Raisin in the Sun is the story of an African-American, inner-city family living in the Chicago Woodlawn neighborhood in the 1950s. Walter Lee Younger (Ethan Henry) is a limousine driver struggling to find a way to make a better living for his wife Ruth (Shirine Babb) and their young son Travis (Mekiel Benjamin). Walter and his immediate family live with his mother Lena (Pat Bowie), who is the matriarch of the family, and his younger sister Beneatha (Joniece Abbott Pratt), who is studying to become a doctor. All of them anxiously await the arrival of a $10,000 life insurance check issued after the death of the late Mr. Younger, who was Walter and Beneatha's father and Lena's husband. Though the check is to be issued to Lena, each member of the family has ideas on what the money should be used for. The family must deal with painful issues of prejudice and the tumultuous coming of age of Walter Lee as he struggles to assume his role as the head of the Younger family.
A small apartment with faded wallpaper sets the stage; Travis' bed is the living room sofa, and Lena shares a bed with her daughter Beneatha. The edges of brick walls climb the sides of the stage, with traces of fencing overhead, and the occasional sound of a dog barking complete the feel of the Woodlawn neighborhood in which the Youngers live. There they share a bathroom in the hallway with their neighbors, scrambling to get to work and school on time.
Shirine Babb is steadfast as the dutiful Ruth, patiently tending her family while holding fast to her dreams of them breaking free of their surroundings. Joniece Abbott Pratt is an eager Beneatha, born it seems to question and challenge everything around her. She dares to dream of being a doctor, explores her African roots, and lets her hair go natural. Pratt captures the infectious energy of Beneatha that makes her so appealing. After all, she is courted by two men. There is Joseph Asagai (Marckenson Charles), an intelligent fellow medical student from Africa who wants her to come to Africa with him, and George (Jordan Tisdale), a wealthy but shallow man who would make her his stay at home wife. Charles has a warmth and sincerity as Asagai that is a nice contrast to the slick, used-car-salesman personality of Tisdale as George. They represent clear 1950s images of African Americans attempting to balance assimilation and success while honoring their ethnic and cultural identities. In Lena and George that battle is made even clearer.
Pat Bowie is a heartfelt Lena, driven by every mother's desire that her family thrive. She will not, however, have them compromise their morals to survive. Bowie provides many layers to Lenasternness, wisdom and anguish mixed with humor that makes her highly relatable. She is the survivor we want to see succeed. Ethan Henry turns in a glorious performance as Walter Lee. He is impatient and petulant at first, giving himself over to the turmoil of the character, and coming out a man on the other side. The only flaw in this entire show is Mcley LaFrance as Bobo, who seems to throw away his performance by delivering devastating news to Walter Lee in an explosive part of the show with so little emotional investment that it diminishes its significance. Henry propels himself through the scene none-the-less in what is the best performance in the show, taking us on an emotional journey well worth the ride.
Born in 1930, Lorraine Hansberry was an African-American playwright and author of political speeches, letters and essays. A Raisin in the Sun was inspired by her family's legal battle against racially segregated housing laws in Chicago during her childhood. Her 1965 Broadway play The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window ran for 99 performances before closing on the night Hansberry died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 34. She left behind an unfinished novel and three unfinished plays. Her brilliantly written A Raisin in the Sun lives on as a testimony to a talented life that was cut far too short.
The Palm Beach Drama Works production of A Raisin in the Sun will be appearing at Don & Ann Brown Theatre through March 3, 2013. Palm Beach Drama Works is a professional not-for-profit theatre company hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors and actresses. Their goal is to engage and entertains audiences with provocative and timeless productions that personally impact each individual. The theatre is located at 201 Clematis Street, West Palm Beach, FL 33401. For tickets and information you may reach them by phone at 561-514-4042, or online at www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.
*Indicates a member of Actor's Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.