Monday, September 23, 2013

OSC Arts Spotlight: Raisin in the Sun presented by Dallas Theater Center

Liz Mikel, Bowman Wright |  photo: Karen Almond

Raisin in the Sun
How this 54-year old play is just as relevant today as it was in 1959
by Jayne Chobot Herring

In 1959, “A Raisin in the Sun,” a play by a 29-year old black woman named Lorraine Hansbury, “changed American theater forever," as per The New York Times. That original Broadway production, considered very risky because of the all-but-one-character cast of African American characters, was later named the best play of the year, and ran successfully with a cast that included Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, and Louis Gossett, Jr. In 2004, Tony Award-winning Kenny Leon directed Sean Combs, Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald in the Broadway revival, and is bringing it back again this spring with Denzel Washington. These stars eagerly sign on because of the importance of this play, and in the Dallas Theater Center production that I enjoyed on Friday night at the Wyly Theatre in the Dallas Arts District, director Tre Garrett’s cast brings the full weight of this extraordinary piece of history to life here in Dallas.

At first glance the story is about a black family living in Chicago in the 1950’s, finally getting their chance to move out of poverty and realize their dreams. But it dives deep into elements of cultural identity, family dynamics, moral responsibility, gender roles, even real estate and the economy. And that’s the funny thing about a classic play like “A Raisin in the Sun”: not one part of it is outdated. And that’s a shame; that 50 years after MLK’s march on Washington, we still need to have these conversations, evidenced by the popularity of Lee Daniel’s The Butler, the debate surrounding Trayvon Martin, the hatred and ignorance spewed about the color of our president or the new Miss America, and the ever-constant debates still surrounding desegregation, gentrification, and basic human rights. The central theme and the title of the play are based on the Langston Hughes jazz poem “A Dream Deferred.”

Ptosha Storey, Tiffany Hobbs, Bowman Wright
Photo: Karen Almond
Powerhouse Dallas and Broadway star Liz Mikel leads an extraordinary cast as Mama Lena Younger. She and the rest of the family, made up of Bowman Wright, Ptosha Storey, Christopher Adkins, Justise Maon, and Tiffany Hobbs, make you hope for them, fear for them, and love them by the end of the play.

You feel their mistakes and mourn their losses. And when the (white) Clybourne Park Improvement Association representative Karl Linder (given an appropriately uncomfortable character portrayal by the very talented Steven Michael Walters) tries to deflate their dreams before they take off, you feel a society’s shame.

The brilliant plan of the Dallas Theater Center is to overlap A Raisin in the Sun with the run of the 2012 Tony and Pulitzer-winning play called Clybourne Park, written as a response to Raisin. It reflects both the “other side” of the story (the white neighborhood that the Youngers plan to move into), as well as what happened to it 50 years later. (A separate post is forthcoming after I see Clybourne Park in two weeks.)

There is plenty of entertainment available in Dallas on any given weekend, and for that we are fortunate. But to experience something so relevant, so important, we as a community owe it to each other to see these plays. The subject is very real and the conversation is still going. At the least you will be entertained, but there is the very real possibility that you will be empowered to do something about what you see, and that is what makes theater beautiful.

Notes: Also featuring cutie SMU student actors Jakeem Powell and OluwaSeun Soyemi, A Raisin in the Sun plays at the Wyly Theatre on Flora Street through October 27th. Clybourne Park runs 10/4/2013 to 10/27/2013. Tickets for both shows can be purchased at

About the author: Jayne Chobot Herring

Jayne is an executive liaison from New York City who fell in love with a Texan and is now embracing everything about her new life in Dallas.  A passionate traveler, hostess, and mom to a sassy little girl, she is often over-caffeinated and always on the hunt for new & interesting. You can follow her adventures online @jayniemarie,and on her blog A Moveable Appentency.