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Everyman Theatre puts own spin on A Raisin in the Sun

By ALEXA KWIATKOSKI | September 14, 2011

Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote A Raisin in the Sun, died when she was only 32 years old.

But she left behind an inspiring masterpiece that stands out from the canon of other great 20th century American theater.

Hansberry's remarkable play, A Raisin in the Sun, is now showing at Baltimore's Everyman Theatre.

Inspired in part by the Langston Hughes poem, "A Dream Deferred," A Raisin in the Sun shows the hopes and torments of a black family trying to thrive in 1950s Chicago.

It speaks to the difficulties faced in achieving the American dream, and how racial obstacles make this ideal seem even more unattainable.

At the center of A Raisin in the Sun stands Lena Younger who is played by Lizan Mitchell. She embodies  the Younger family's strong-willed matriarch.

Lena, also called "Mama," has done everything for her children but also needs to fulfill her own long-deferred  hopes and dreams.

Living with her in a crumbling apartment are her two feuding children, Walter Lee (played by KenYatta Rogers) and Beneatha (played by Fatima Quander).

Walter unhappily works as a chauffeur for a rich white man, but he dreams of being the one with the mansion and the limo.

His sister, Beneatha, is a headstrong college girl stubbornly determined to actualize herself and become a doctor.

Lena's household is further packed with Walter's long-suffering wife, Ruth (Dawn Ursula) and their son Travis (Jaden Derry).

Close quarters and financial concerns have brought tensions in the Younger family bubbling to the surface.

The main conflict revolves around a life insurance check Lena gets for her recently deceased husband.

She dreams of buying the family a better home and setting aside tuition for her ambitious daughter to attend medical school.

But Walter, long frustrated with his inability to succeed and provide for his family, desperately wants to invest the money in a liquor store business.

Ruth, the quietest and most practical character, is troubled by the situation but hesitant to get involved.

The actors each excel in their roles. They seem to delve energetically into the characters, unafraid to experience their passion and pain. They even manage to deliver a bit of relieving humor in this intense play.

Mitchell, as Lena, is especially magnetic. She is entertaining to watch, conveying a powerful woman who is both caring and overbearing.

Roger's Walter Lee is compelling as the play's self-described "giant surrounded by ants." He is a bit wild and not always the ideal family man, but his character is easy to relate to and sympathetic nonetheless.

Quander manages to make his haughty intellectual sister endearing as well. Beneatha is equally as stubborn as her brother, and Quander convincingly delivers her many strong-willed diatribes.

Even among these more forceful characters, Ursula's Ruth does not get lost in the shuffle.

Ursula beautifully conveys Ruth's quiet suffering, dignity and hope.

Even when the other characters are busy stomping around and yelling at each other, Ursula's face is what really pulls the audience into the scene's emotional undertow.

Also joining the cast are Calvin McCullough, as the pompous George Murchinson, and Eric Berryman, as the charming and exotic Joseph Assagai. Both present conflicting options for Beneatha's future.

Everyman Theatre seems to have a good feel for the atmosphere of A Raisin in the Sun.

Before the show and during the two 10-minute intermissions, they played many blues standards. Dinah Washington's "This Bitter Earth" seemed especially fitting. The choice of music heightened the pain and beauty of the Younger family's story.

The set at Everyman is designed very attractively, although this has the unintended effect of making the Younger's apartment seem more charming than it is perhaps supposed to be.

The characters constantly bemoan its cracked walls and cockroaches, but, in actuality, it looks rather nice.

Yet certain clues, like the thin curtain separating Walter Lee and Ruth's bedroom from the rest of the house, effectively emphasize the cramped living conditions.

With Baltimore's talented actors and Hansberry's unparalleled writing, it would be difficult not to enjoy Everyman Theatre's production of A Raisin in the Sun.

It is a heartbreaking but ultimately inspiring play that should appeal to anyone who enjoys great American theater.

So take the trip down to 1727 N. Charles Street to see a fascinating story about a black family's struggle to make good in a world that does not want them to succeed.

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