Chicago Theatre Review
A Most Appropriate ‘Raisin’
A Raisin in the Sun – Timeline Theatre
A play of uncommon sensitivity and empathy, Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” ranks as one of the very greatest plays to ever come out of Chicago, and for good reason. The story of a working class African American family living on Chicago’s South Side, the play has lost little of its insight and power since its 1959 premiere, when it became the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on that illustrious stage.
The plot in “Raisin” is fairly straightforward. The Younger family, as a result of an insurance payment on the life of the family patriarch, has come into possession of a $10,000 check (the equivalent of $85,354 today, as TimeLine’s enormously educational playbill points out). Will Lena Younger, the matriarch and widow, use the money for a downpayment on a house, in a safer (albeit predominantly white) neighborhood? Will she use it for the schooling of Beneatha, her headstrong and intelligent daughter, who aspires to become a doctor? Or will she support the entrepreneurial aspirations of her bitter, angry son Walter Lee, who is scrapping by to support his wife and young son?
It is through that central conflict that “Raisin” develops its central themes of family, purpose, and responsibility, all of which it covers with a gentleness and patience that is admirable, particularly in how it addresses many of the problems still facing Black America today.
And TimeLine has chosen a cast of committed actors to bring Hansberry’s characters to life. Though Ron O.J. Parson’s direction can get a bit hysterical at times, he creates an immensely likable cast, with Greta Oglesby’s Lena and Mildred Marie Langford’s Beneatha Younger creating especially strong impressions; also worth mentioning is the supportive work of Daryl Satcher (who plays the lovable Joseph Asagai, a Nigerian immigrant studying in America who is courting Beneatha) and Chris Rickett, who elicits wonderful (if ironic) laughs in his brief appearance.
And special mention must be made of TimeLine’s set and sound design. The scenic and lighting are courtesy of Brian Sidney Bembridge, and he does wonders with TimeLine’s modest stage, creating a living space for the Younger family that is spacious enough for the actors to work in yet cramped enough that we feel their gradually accumulating economic desperation. From the upholstery on the couch, to the worn edges on the carpeting, to the classic labels on the appliances and packaged food, the look of the play is wonderfully authentic. And Bembridge is matched every step of the way by Joshua Horvath’s sound design. Along with adding splashes of traffic and trains, which add terrific ambience, Horvath’s use of music is particularly effective, especially his transitions between scenes, which treat the audience to the lovely, melancholy sounds of Miles Davis and Dinah Washington, and his critical moments of in-scene music; his use of Davis’ “Blue in Green,” played during a nuanced monologue by Jerod Haynes’ Walter Lee, was perfectly complementary.
I saw “Raisin in the Sun” on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and could think of no better way to commemorate such a momentous occasion. With its intelligence, compassion, and humanity – all traits brought to life by TimeLine – we’re reminded of how far we’ve gone with race relations in America…and how far we still have to go.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented August 28 – November 17 by TimeLine Theatre Company, 615 W. Wellington Ave, Chicago, IL 60657
Tickets are available by calling 773.281.8463 or by visiting timelinetheatre.com
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.