The entire play takes place in the living room of the Younger family in a shabby but well cared for apartment on Chicago's South Side. Matriarch Lena lives there with her two adult children, after raising them there with her deceased husband Walter. The family includes brother Walter Lee, his wife Ruth and their son Travis, and sister Beneatha. They all have dreams, and the arrival of an insurance check worth $10,000 (almost $100,000 in today's money) has them all wanting to make their dreams come true, if they can only agree on whose dream to pursue. Lena wants her family to have a house they can call their own, with a garden where she can grow a plant or two, and a yard where Travis can play. Walter Lee wants to buy a liquor store so he can be his own boss and support his family. Beneatha wants to be a doctor (pretty impressive dreams for a young Black woman in the '50s), is discovering her African identity, and is torn between two suitors. This is a family that loves each other deeply; they all want what's best for the family, but can't agree on what that is. Further complications arise, including an unexpected pregnancy, a betrayal by a business partner, and most shockingly, the arrival of a white man named Mr. Lindner from the "neighborhood improvement society" who wants to buy them out to prevent a Black family from moving into the all-White neighborhood. How each family member reacts to these complications determines what kind of person they want to be and the future they will have.*
|Walter Lee (James T. Alfred) with sister Beneatha (Nubia Monks)
and mama Lena (Tonia Jackson) in an emotional moment
(photo by Tom Wallace)
|the cast of Raisin in the Younger home (photo by Tom Wallace)
|three generations of Youngers (Tonia Jackson, James T. Alfred,
and Joshavia Kawala, photo by Tom Wallace)
The other major conflict is, of course, a racial one. Walter Lee's need to be a respected member of his family and society echoes the sentiments of the modern-day Black Lives Matter movement. The White neighborhood's fear of "the other," of different people moving in and changing their neighborhood, is also a familiar conflict in today's fearful climate. A Raisin in the Sun lets us view today's problems through the lens of history, and see how much things have and have not changed, and how much they still need to continue to change.* I first saw this play in this very theater, a Penumbra production in 2009. I've seen it a few times since, and every time it's always relevant to what's happening in the world outside the theater. The richness of Lorrainne Hansberry's script and clearly drawn characters always resonate.
See this truly impeccable performance of a classic American story at the Guthrie Theater through June 5 (click here for info and tickets).