By Tulis McCall
Lorraine Hansberry places this poem at the beginning of the text of her play.
A Dream Deferred – 1951
by Langston Hughes
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten
meat? Or crust and sugar
over -Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
I am at a loss here. I cannot figure out what Robert O’Hara had in mind when directing “Raisin In The Sun” now at The Public Theater. Something more than what is on the page perhaps, when what is on the page is plenty? Part of this confusion might be that logistics were kiboshed when two of the lead actors (and their understudies) got covid. The opening was pushed back from October 19 to October 25. That is a huge ouch. But enough to throw the production off kilter?
The story takes place in the early 1950’s. In a tiny beat down apartment on Chicago’s South Side, the Younger family has been living for decades. This one-bedroom apartment is housing four adults and one rambunctious young boy, Travis (Toussaint Battiste and Camden McKinnon). The patriarch of the family has recently died and $10,000 in insurance money is on its way to the matriarch, Lena (Tonya Pinkins). Everyone has an eye on that fortune. Walter Lee (Francois Battiste) wants to invest in a liquor store and leave his job as a chauffeur. His sister Beneatha (Paige Gilbert) has gotten it into her head that she wants to become a doctor. Some of that money could help pay her tuition. Walter’s wife Ruth (Mandi Masden) gave up hope a long time ago and believes Lena is the person to make decisions about that money. Lena herself has plans about which no one is the wiser.
The long and short of it is that Lena will put a down payment on a house and give the rest to Walter for safe keeping. Two dangerous moves. The house is not in a black part of town, but way out in the suburbs – Clybourne Park (an excellent play of the same name about the people who SOLD the house played in NYC in 2012). When the friendly folks of Clybourne Park hear of the Younger’s purchase, they send a friendly person from the friendly neighborhood association, Karl Lindner, (Jesse Pennington) to make a friendly call on the Younger family and persuade them, in a friendly way, to change their mind. They will get their money back plus some, and Clybourne Park will stay lily white. A perfect solution, NO?
This is where the rambling prose comes to a full stop. What will the Younger’s do? First they send Lindner packing, but after a few missteps Walter has a possible change of heart. There is a lot of pressure on Walter – so much so that O’Hara has Battiste step off the stage and deliver a powerful monologue to this mostly white audience. In the bargain, Battiste pulls out a program from the show to illustrate that black people are always at risk of putting on a show for the white folk, crumples it and tosses it into the house. Hmmnnn.
There is no happy ending here, O’Hara sees to that. The conclusion is just one in a list of oddities and technical gaffs that leaves us asking – WHAT??
Other oddities – the teakettle is set on a gas heater for morning coffee and whistles within minutes to signal it is boiling, in spite of the fact that it is not a whistling kettle and the best that this stove could do would be to keep water warm. The actors smoke (each about three puffs) long filtered cigarettes that were not around in the early 1950’s. Much of the family dialogue overlaps as if to demonstrate that these people are not listening to one another (which is pretty clear). Lena and Beneatha share the only bedroom with a door, but it seems as though everyone gets a lot of use out of it. After a love making episode we hear Walter and Ruth in a disjointed voice over conversation. It never lands. Lena appears to have a stroke and returns to the stage with a palsy in her left hand but no other visible signs of distress – like not being able to speak clearly. Capped beer bottles are half full. Beneatha’s Nigerian suitor, Joseph Agasai (John Clay III) spends swaths of time facing away from Beneatha delivering his lines to the audience. There are no seams in the nylon stockings the women wear (picky, picky, picky). And Ruth, who earns her living cleaning other people’s houses and doing their laundry, never touches the iron or the ironing board or the laundry she has put into a basket..
These may sound like details to you, dear reader, but as you know the details are linchpins. Without them, since the word was coined back in the 1300’s, there was no axle, no wheel, no journey. No there there. Think of the details of your life and on what delicate details major events depended.
I’ll stop now.
EXCEPT!!!! The final kicker is that the little plant that Lena has been tending for years is left behind when she leaves.
It is all a jumble. And PS – most of the audience stood up and cheered at the curtain call. In addition, the run has been extended to November 20.
People are loving this show because of the raw honesty that it throws at us. Sad news – things have not changed much, and this play reminds us of that. Big time.
And for goodness sake – pay attention to these characters’ names…
A RAISIN IN THE SUN by Lorraine Hansberry, Directed by Robert O’Hara
WITH Francois Battiste, Toussaint Battiste, Almeria Campbell, John Clay III, Vann Dukes, Bjorn Dupaty, Calvin Dutton, Mister Fitzgerald, Perri Gaffney Skyler Gallun, Paige Gilbert, Christopher Marquis Lindsay, Mandi Masden, Camden McKinnon, Jesse Pennington, Tonya Pinkins, N’yomi Stewart.
Scenic design by Clint Ramos, costume design by Karen Perry, lighting design by Alex Jainchill
Through November 20th at The Public Theater. TICKETS HERE
Health & Safety Policy Update
We are excited to welcome you to our flagship home at Astor Place. We are continually adapting health and safety protocols in line with recommendations from the CDC, the WHO, and city, state, and federal guidelines. Learn more below about the adjustments to protocols at The Public, effective Monday, September 12, 2022.
We no longer require proof of vaccination to access the facility, theaters, and restaurant.
A face mask is required for all attendees in the facility and while watching a performance at all Tuesday evening and Saturday and Sunday matinees for:
- A RAISIN IN THE SUN
A face mask is strongly encouraged when attending performances on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, & Sunday evenings for:
- A RAISIN IN THE SUN