Phylicia Rashad Brings Directorial Flair to “A Raisin in the Sun”

Director Phylicia Rashad and "A Raisin the Sun" cast member Kenya Alexander on opening night./Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman/news4usonline.com

Los Angeles, CA-Actress Phylicia Rashad’s adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” is a memorable experience that should be celebrated and appreciated. This is not the first time that anyone has taken over the directorial reigns of “A Raisin in the Sun,” now playing at the Ebony Repertory Theatre inside of the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles, California.

What Rashad has been able to do with the current production of “A Raisin in the Sun” is to effectively translate her own experience performing in this showcase classic of family, love, betrayal, forgiveness and redemption into the actors she directs.

 Rashad wanted the actors to bring the essence of the story to life. When it was time for the casting call, she wasn’t interested in folks who just wanted to act the parts. She wanted them to live it.      

The current ensemble of actors in “A Raisin in the Sun,” which is scheduled to run up until April 17, seemed to have taken Rashad’s lead. The acting is dynamic. The monologue flows as easily as water making its way through a river bed. The roller-coaster ride of emotions that is prevalent throughout the play tugs at both the heart and the mind.

As an engaged audience member, you can feel the synergy being displayed on the stage as this 1950s melodrama plays its self out. There are many reasons why “A Raisin in the Sun,” which made its original debut on Broadway in 1959, has been lauded over the years.

 One being that “A Raisin in the Sun” is the first stage drama by a black woman to make it to the Broadway stage. The second reason is that the storytelling by the playwright Hansberry is one that people from all walks of life can identify with.

Though most of all of the main characters are black, the story of struggle, overcoming the odds, dreams of a better future and day-to-day family living is a story that easily resonates with the working-class. Rashad’s cast delivers this message beautifully. The essence of the story is quite simple.

 Family matriarch Lena Younger (played admirably by L. Scott Caldwell) wants to move her family out from the slums of a South Side Chicago neighborhood. A $10,000 check left on a life insurance policy by her late husband will allow her to do that.

Family members become divided about how the money should be disbursed. Benethea Younger (Kenya Alexander) wants to go to medical school. Walter Lee Younger (Kevin Carroll) wants part of the money to be used for a business he’s trying to get off the ground.

Scott Mosenson (Karl Lindner) Kenya Alexander (Beneatha Younger) Diedrie Henry (Ruth Younger) and Kevin Carroll (Walter Lee Younger) have a discussion in "A Raisin in the Sun."/Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz

     

Walter Lee Younger also has marital issues he’s faced to confront with wife Ruth Younger (a noteworthy performance by Deidrie Henry). As the family prepares to move to a more upscale neighborhood, the reality of race injects its ugly head in the family discussion.

The family’s move then take an unexpected turn as Walter Lee Younger tries to get slick and take some of the money to invest in his business. However, he gets hoodwinked by a rogue comrade and is left to tell his family he lost everything.

This, of course, didn’t sit well with Lena Younger and the rest of the family. But as we’ve come to learn about our own families, forgiveness is sometimes right around the corner to heal even a boneheaded mistake that Walter Lee Younger commits.    

That’s family. That’s life. This is the core of what “A Raisin in the Sun” is about. The nuances, complexities and intricacies of family life are not always drawn up on a black and white line. Peeling away those layers at times can be hard to do.

Hansberry, no doubt, was successful in being able to convey that as “A Raisin in the Sun” has become an American treasure over time. Rashad has a cast that is on point and makes us believe that this is our family. We’ve all had family members engaged in shady dealings and a matriarch whom we respected. Getting a better education is a running theme in most, if not all, households.

We’ve all tried to make sense of this thing called life. In many ways, “A Raisin in the Sun” hits home. There’s sharp humor, witty dialogue and the character’s frenetic sense to stay above water, which happens to be a fact of life for many folks. Rashad is a master at her craft as a renowned thespian. It’s apparent that she now has brought that mastery to the directorial discussion.

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