Monday, February 4, 2013

"Raisin" a Contemporary Classic at Palm Beach Dramaworks


“Raisin” a Modern Classic at Palm Beach Dramaworks

Palm Beach Dramaworks specializes in contemporary theater classics, artfully and soulfully realized.
A perfect example of this is their production of “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry.
Hansberry made history in 1959 as the first African-American and youngest playwright (29) ever of a Broadway play. The director, Lloyd Richard, was the first African-American Broadway director. Sadly “Raison” was a one-hit wonder for Hansberry, who died tragically young of pancreatic cancer at age 34.
Hansberry’s career grew posthumously. Her writings were adapted into a stage play and later a book called “To be Young, Gifted and Black,” which was a success in the 1968-1969 Broadway season. “Raisin” was adapted into the single-word musical production, which won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1973. Bruce Norris wrote “Clybourne Park” in 2010 in response to “Raisin.” It had its Florida debut at Caldwell Theatre and won a Carbonell Award as Best New Play for the final season of that company. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 and Tony Award for Best Play in 2012.
Guest-directed by Seret Scott, “A Raisin in the Sun” is a largely autobiographical story of how Hansberry’s family broke the color barrier of a Chicago suburb.
Hansberry fictionalized her family name to Younger. Walter Lee Younger (Ethan Henry) is a proud, hard-working but sometimes hard-drinking, reckless family man. Ruth (Shirine Babb) is his strong, supportive, forgiving wife. Daughter Beneathe Younger (Janice Abbott Pratt) is the closest character to the playwright: whip-smart, ambitious and full of righteous indignation over racial prejudice. Joseph Asagai (Marckenson Charles) is Benethe’s Nigerian-born exchange student friend and George (Jordan Tisdale) is her boyfriend. Travis Younger is the 10-year-old son, played by Mekiel Benjamin and Joshua Valbrun in alternating performances. The family matriarch is the regal Ruth (Pat Bowie, made up to look much older).
Act One is mostly a simmering, ominous setup for the fiery Act Two. Ruth’s husband has died, leaving a $10,000 insurance policy to the family. Ruth wants to use the money to finance a down payment on a house in Clybourne Park, a previously all-white suburb. The rest of the money will go to help finance Beneathe’s college tuition and family expenses. Walter has other plans, cooked up with his shady friend Bobo (Micley LaFrance).
Everyone’s plans are put in jeopardy by Karl Linder (David A, Hyland). Smiling obsequiously, Karl claims to be head of the welcoming committee for the Clybourne Park Improvement Association. The only improvement the committee really wants is protection of the value of their homes against feared loss if a black family moves into the neighborhood.
Act Two is a conflagration resulting from a foolish decision, a senseless loss, and dire consequences. Each character has his or her chance to bare his or her soul. The results are spectacular, particularly with piteously grieving, regretful Walter and devastated Beneathe. In the final analysis, it is the quiet, stoic power of grandmother Ruth that gives the play its dramatic charge, wonderfully realized by Pat Bowie.
If you want to see a ground-breaking, modern classic, look no farther than “A Raisin in the Sun.” It runs through March 3 at 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Tickets are $55 ($10 students) and group rates are available. Call 561-514-4042 or go to

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