Phylicia Rashad Discusses Latest “A Raisin in the Sun” Run

Actress Phylicia Rashad directs Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” at the Ebony Repertory Theatre in Los Angeles, California./Photo Credit: Kovac Photography

By Dennis J. Freeman

As an accomplished actress, Phylicia Rashad’s career is rich in depth and accolades. She recently starred in Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls,” drawing rave reviews for her work in the film. The always stately and elegantly beautiful Rashad is perhaps best known as attorney Claire Huxtable on the award-winning “Cosby Show.”

But Rashad’s work in the entertainment industry has largely been built on the stage. Rashad has cut her teeth as a stage presence in works such as “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “Jelly’s Last Jam.” She is the first African American woman to win a Tony Award as a leading actress in a stage play in the classic “A Raisin in the Sun” in the role as Lena Younger. She later reprised that role in the original film’s remake, starring Sean (P. Diddy) Combs.

Rashad has now gone a step further, making her Ebony Repertory Theatre debut as director of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” playing at the Nate Holden Performing Art Center in Los Angeles, California. editor and publisher Dennis J. Freeman caught up with Ms. Rashad after the play’s opening night performance to discuss her involvement with the production. Why did you decide to take on and direct this project?

PR: “It was the way the invitation was extended to me by Wren Brown. I couldn’t say no. This is Ebony Repertory Theatre. This company is being built. It has a great life and a great future.” What is it about this play that resonates with you?

PR: “It’s such a richly, textured play. There are so many levels of experience and expression in this play…really minute to minute, moment to moment. It’s a really, really rich play. How anyone can mistake it for a civil rights play is beyond me. It’s so much more than that.” Why do you think this play or production (Raisin in the Sun) has stuck around for as long as it has?

PR: “This is what happens with classics. They become more precious with time. I was doing some research for a role that I was playing, a Shakespearean play, and I discovered that Shakespeare was not really popular until 150 years after his death. It was then that his works were translated and then they would be performed throughout Europe in theatrical houses, but not in his lifetime.” What type of challenges did you encounter or faced as a director as opposed to acting in this type of production?

PR: “Well, as an actor you bring your energy and you develop the work. As a director, you have to galvanize all of the energy through the alignment with the vision and leave room for those creative energies space for them to create within the vision.” Were you nervous about your directorial debut here in Los Angeles?

PR: “No. I guess I don’t know enough to be nervous.” Were you satisfied the performances tonight?

PR: “Yes. Oh, yes.” How long did take you to find the right actors for the play?

PR: “It took a couple of casting sessions, some people right away. Then there others I didn’t even meet until almost before we started rehearsals. Was there anything in particular you were looking for in the actors that were chosen to play in “Raisin in the Sun?”

PR: “I wanted actors who would enter the life of the play, to live the play and not acting.” Besides directing “Raisin in the Sun,” what other projects do you have lined up for yourself?

PR: “I have a couple of things…I just don’t talk about them until they’re done.” As an actor, what type of preparation goes into a play like “Raisin in the Sun?”

PR: “You have to keep your body and your voice together. That’s your instrument. Every actor is individual in their preparation. There are certain exercises we learned as students, but as professionals it’s individualism. But generally, it’s always, even though the methods may be different, generally, in terms of those technical things, technical preparation, it’s the voice and the body.” You mentioned that “Raisin in the Sun” is not a civil rights play. What kind of play is it?

 PR: “This is a play about family. This is a play about people. This is play about love. This is a play about aspirations. This is a play about the continuity of life. This is a play about life unending and renewing itself. This is a play about the spirit within the person. This is what so phenomenal about the play. The playwright has pulled all of the elements together in telling a story about this family. You’ve got religion. You’ve got existentialism…all this in a story about this family living in a cramped apartment.”

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