‘A Raisin in the Sun’ now playing at American Stage
BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – American Stage launches its American Legacy Series with the timeless work “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry, which runs from Jan. 24 through Feb. 18.
Set in Chicago’s south side in the 1950s, the play tells the story of the Younger family and its quest to achieve the American Dream. As they await a life insurance check for $10,000, each member of the family has his own idea of how to spend the money.
Whether it’s moving to a white suburban neighborhood, investing in a business venture or realizing a dream of becoming a doctor, the roadblocks of race, gender and class are ever-present for matriarch Lena Younger, her son Walter Lee and his wife Ruth and Lena’s daughter Beneatha.
Playwright Hansberry was the youngest American ever to win a New York Critics’ Circle award and the first African-American woman to have her play performed on Broadway. “A Raisin in the Sun,” first performed in 1959, was also the first non-musical play to appear on Broadway with an African-American cast and director.
This production marks the return of renowned director L. Peter Callender, who helmed the American Stage productions of “Joe Turner’s Come & Gone” and “Jitney.” The Trinidad native, who has received the Theatre Tampa Bay Award for Outstanding Director two years running, believes the play is just as relevant and timely today as it was when Hansberry wrote it decades ago, as many of the work’s underlying themes haven’t changed.
“Here is this family that is trying to live the American Dream, trying to realize the American Dream that is afforded to all Americans,” Callender said. “They’re not refugees; they’re not coming from another country. Five generations of Youngers and they’re still being denied basic human rights. And that is still happening today. Re-gentrification is still happening today.”
Enoch King, who plays the role of Walter Lee Younger, noted that it’s easy for many to see his complicated character as simply an angry man, but King believes Walter Lee is a man who is truly frustrated. The actor said he was able to connect with this character not only as a human being but also as a black man trying to find his place.
“The frustration of a man, first and foremost, in wanting to support your family, wanting to be the head of the house is one thing,” King said. “As a black man, absolutely, the frustration of wanting to provide, wanting to protect, wanting to be understood in what you’re trying to build.”
An Atlanta native, King not only makes his American Stage debut with this production but also is performing in Florida for the first time. At the encouragement of a mutual friend, he kept reaching out to Callender through Facebook and expressed an interest in taking part in this St. Pete production.
In time his perseverance was rewarded when he was granted an audition and though he read for three different roles, it was the role of Walter Lee Younger that Callender believed suited him best.
“I am lucky that we have Enoch in the cast,” Callender said. “Certainly because of his talent, but his professionalism as well. It’s absolutely true, in his professionalism, his care about his fellow actors, his sense of humor, his passion for the role, passion for language and movement.”
Callender went on to point out that the chemistry among all the cast members is exceptional, as even backstage the cast instantly “gelled” and felt comfortable around one another. The director recalled that very early on in rehearsals a fun, spontaneous dance broke out among the actors, who for the most part, had only just met one another.
“I am the luckiest guy in the world,” Callender recalled thinking, “the second day of rehearsal these actors have bonded so well, and that is so important with a show like this. Even in the saddest, most powerful moments in the play, if there’s a break, there’s hugs, there’s laughter, there’s support, which is so important for this piece because they’re a family.
“The Youngers are a family who loves each other deeply, so that kind of camaraderie—even with the youngest of the children in the show—is super important and we’re all blessed to have that in this cast.”
The rest of the cast includes Sheryl Carbonell (Ruth Younger), Cranston Cumberbatch (Bobo), Fanni Green (Lena Younger), Gavin Hawk (Karl Linder), Kiara Hines (Beneatha Younger), Jaiden Gray and Elijah Jordan (both play Travis Younger), Patrick A. Jackson (Joseph Asagai), Dee Selmore (Mrs. Johnson) and Troy D. Wallace (George Murchison).
Callender believes Hansberry, who penned “A Raisin in the Sun” in her 20s, was nothing less than a prophet. He cited specifics touched upon in the play such as racially motivated bombings, liquor stores popping up all over black neighborhoods, the coming of despotic rulers in Africa and women’s struggle for equality.
“All those things that were spoken of in this play came to fruition over the years,” Callender noted. “It is absolutely prophetic.”
Though the play is nearly 70 years old, King believes the underlying love of a family is something to which everyone can still relate.
“I think more than anything when people see the performance they will be able to see family,” he explained. “They will be able to see their family. Whether it is two mothers or a mother and a father, or a father’s gone or a mother’s gone, two sons, two daughters—regardless, you will be able to see your family in this and recognize those dreams that got deferred, those dreams that could come to fruition.”
For complete show times and ticket information, visit americanstage.org or call (727) 823-7529.