Any good theater production can make you laugh or cry. But only a truly great show has the power to frighten you. The scary thing about the Lyric Repertory Company’s ongoing production of A Raisin in the Sun is the realization that this drama is as relevant in our supposedly post-racial 21st Century as it was when Lorraine Hansberry penned the script 60 years ago. The topics may have changed when we discuss race and family relations nowadays, but the issues have not.
Director Eric Ruffin delivers a tense story of an African-American family coping with challenges in the late 1950s that are rooted in issues of poverty, trust and gender as well as race and discrimination. Ruffin has taken an extraordinary cast of newcomers to the Lyric stage and fine-tuned them like a priceless violin until there isn’t a false note in the entire production.
Jeremy Keith Hunter is riveting as Walter Lee Younger, a young husband and father desperately struggling to escape his late father’s larger-than-life shadow while seeking his own identify in a matriarchal household. His agonizing indecision about whether to sacrifice his pride and manhood for financial security is both heartfelt and utterly convincing.
The amazing Amanda Morris makes an equally memorable local debut as Walter Lee’s sister, Beneatha. In an average production, Ms. Morris would have stolen the show; even surrounded by wonderfully talented co-stars on the Lyric stage, she still nearly does so. She can transition from being hilariously funny to deadly earnest in a New York minute; you can’t take your eyes off her.
The same could be said for Alaina Dunn and Kim Bey, two powerhouse actresses portraying Walter Lee’s wife and mother respectively. Both of these women are simply marvelous in their roles.
Ms. Dunn’s performance touchingly personifies the anguish of working–class mothers living without hope on the edge of poverty when faced with an unexpected pregnancy.
As Mama Lena, Ms. Bey is rock-solid as the glue that holds her multi-generational family together until a financial windfall sparks an emotional crisis. Then she becomes an inspirational referee in an explosive contest of wills to preserve the hearts and souls of her children and grandchildren.
That family turmoil in A Raisin in the Sun gave playwright Hansberry the opportunity to introduce mostly white, middle-class audiences to the issues being hotly debated within the African-American community of her day. Those issues included racial pride, civil rights, integration, cultural assimilation and poverty among others, some of which are still unresolved today.
Isaiah Reed and Jaylen Scott Wilson round out the principal cast members as two of Beneatha’s suitors who espouse opposing visions of the future for African-Americans.
Needless to say, A Raisin in the Sun is strong subject matter for serious audiences. But these Lyric cast members make the show powerful without being preachy through their obvious commitment to the play’s theme of humanizing racial issues and their courageous willingness to display both strength and weakness in their characterizations.
Evening performances of A Raisin in the Sun at the Caine Lyric Theatre in downtown Logan will be presented on July 10, 13 and 26. Matinees are slated for July 20 and August 3.