Langston Hughes taught us in the poem ‘Harlem’ saying sometimes deferred dreams dry up like raisins in the sun.
Deferred dreams were present, but there was nothing dry about Tazewell Thompson’s (director) “A Raisin in the Sun.” It’s showing now through May 7 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater.
Let’s set the stage of the 1950s. Life in America was characterized by the beginning of the civil rights movement, Brown v. Board of Education, and the Cold War. For the Youngers, an African-American family living in a cramped apartment in the slums of Southside Chicago in the 1950s, life revolved around big dreams of good jobs, familial love and home ownership, among many things.
Arena Stage’s “A Raisin in the Sun” contains some one of the strongest team of actors and actresses that I’ve seen in the DMV area in years. It was simply powerful. The casting and passion of the performers were spot on and drew the audience in in a way that is hard to accomplish for some popular plays. They took us back into the 1950s and we sat with them, in the living room on that old couch – and they were family.
Like in many African-American families, the glue of this production was the grandmother, Lena Younger, played by Lizan Mitchell. She was intense, strong, resonating. It was as if we all offered her the reverence we give to our own elders. There were two powerful ovations – one at the very end of this outstanding play and the other, after one of Lena’s emotional moments.
Simply put, I loved Lizan Mitchell’s performance and each cast member’s own contribution made this play a true delight and a must see.
Something to look forward to is the 360-degree stage – a challenging concept in theater. The audience is seated around all sides and that means at times, the actors’ faces and voices may be projecting away from certain parts of the audience. Arena Stage does well at keeping the audience connected at all times and seamlessly working the logistics of a very challenging story.
Not only is new life brought to an American classic, but the creative liberties (ex. Placing emphasis in certain places) were very well done and makes this a worthwhile experience. The resounding takeaway from “A Raisin in the Sun” is that we are all the Younger family – no matter what our race or location may be, because we all share the hope for a life where we have equal opportunities.
A Raisin in the Sun plays through May 7, 2017, at Arena Stage – 1101 Sixth Street, SW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 488-3300 or purchase them online. Play Time: ~2.5 hours with a 15-minute intermission.