Lorraine Hansberry Revival Reminds Us of Our Opportunities
by Kristina Lovato & Gabriela Santis
In his eloquent poem “Harlem,” Langston Hughes asks, “What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun?” Lorraine Hansberry selected those words for the title of her 1959 masterpiece drama. Hansberry’s play directly questions the possibility of achieving the American Dream of upward mobility in the face of racial oppression.
Director Leontyne Mblele-Mbong immerses us in the Younger family’s cramped 50’s apartment, with Nina Simone barreling from the vintage radio. This Black family aims for a new life by moving from a tenement on Chicago’s South Side to a middle-class white neighborhood. The Youngers’ story is an all too familiar one of racial prejudice and white backlash.
The opening scene is filled with excitement over a hefty insurance payout coming to matriarch Mama Lena, (riveting KT Masala). Her grown son Walter Lee (Terrance Smith), dreams relentlessly of opening a liquor store. Her younger daughter Beneatha (Amara Lawson-Chavanu) dreams of medical school. Walter and Beneatha are waiting for that money.
But Mama wants to buy a house in a white neighborhood. The house offers them all hope and security. Women like Mama and her daughter-in-law Ruth (Ash’Lee P. Lackey) demonstrate Black women’s quiet feminism, discreetly supporting their husbands and sons.
We resonate with Ruth who, like many women, mediates craftily, balancing Walter and Beneatha’s bitter arguments.
Ruth feels the painful racial injustices piled onto her husband and she bears his anger. When Walter turns on his family, Ruth delicately holds a mirror up to Walter. She holds him when he falls and shares his dreams. Her balancing act becomes symbolic of women’s roles.
Benethea breaks boundaries, like 60s revolutionaries Angela Davis and Fannie Lou Hamer. Beneatha rebels against white assimilation and women’s limitations, seeking newfound joy. Unlike Mama and Ruth, Beneatha’s outspoken feminism rejects oppression: she proudly wears a traditional African head wrap and keeps her hair natural. We feel excitement for her future and her opportunities.
Hughes’ poem ends: “Or, does it explode?” Lorraine Hansberry asks how long should our people wait for civil rights? This “Raisin” fiercely challenges us to feel both anger and compassion for Walter’s self-centered dreams. But Mama reminds us “to love the hardest” when pain comes your way.
Mbele-Mbong’s thoughtful direction shows what happens when racial equality is continuously postponed. The Youngers bravely grasp their opportunity, and go forth, determined.
They choose to realize a world in which everyone can thrive. This “A Raisin the Sun” moves us deeply, adding new tones to our capacity to imagine a more joyful and equitable world. You will find yourself empathizing and celebrating with every member of the Younger family. A must see.
“A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry, directed by Leontyne Mbele-Mbong, at 6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa, California. Info: 6thStreetPlayhouse.com – to March 26, 2023.
Cast: Terrance Smith, Amara Lawson Chavanu, KT Masala, Ash’Lee P. Lackey, Bless Johnson, Kai Nguyen, Rodney Fierce, Mark Anthony, Corey Jackson, and Jeff Coté.
Banner photo: Kai Nguyen, Terrance Smith, KT Masala, & Ash’Lee P. Lackey. Photos by Eric Chazankin
What happens to a dream deferred?
like a syrupy sweet?
like a heavy load.