Denzel Washington is riveting as Walter Lee Younger in this recent revival of the classic play, A Raisin in the Sun, written by Lorraine Hansberry. A tribute to the past it is running in the famous Ethel Barrymore Theater in New York City nearly 55 years after its debut in the same theater. The story is based on a black family living in the poor south side of Chicago in the 1950s, whose hopes and dreams are wrapped around a large sum of insurance money inherited after the death of the family’s patriarch.
It can be said that a man doesn’t feel like a man until he’s able to take care of his family in a way the he sees fit. Leading a cast full of complex performances, Washington seems to capture this sentiment as he conveys the in depth struggles Walter Lee has about his manhood. Despite being nearly 20 years the character’s senior, Washington is able to give a credible and dichotomous performance of a man who is desperately clinging onto a sense of idealism that has been crippled with bitterness after years of constant disappointment.
LaTanya Richardson Jackson reels you in as matriarch, Lena Younger. A staple on Broadway stages, Jackson commands the audience’s attention as she masterfully balances Lena’s proclivity to use wit as a means of getting her point across with her ability to offer her frank assessments of life. Oscar-nominated Sophie Okonedo gives a brilliant performance as Walter Lee’s aloof wife, Ruth, who is so focused on tending to the needs of others, that she forgets to tend to her own.
Another Broadway regular, Anika Noni Rose, is excellent as Walter Lee’s precocious and ambitious younger sister Beneatha Younger. Rose leads her character through an identity crisis as she attempts to combat the rising cynicism that seemingly tries to suffocate her in the same way that it does her brother. Rounding out the outstanding cast in supporting roles are Sean Patrick Thomas (as African national, Joseph Asagai), Bryce Clyde Jenkins (as Walter Lee’s 10 year-old son, Travis) and Jason Dirden (as black elite George Murchison).
Anticipating the arrival of their windfall, members of the Younger family have conflicting ideas on what to do with it. Walter Lee ambitiously wants to use the money to start his own business as the owner of a liquor store. Beneatha, wrought by her own ambitions, has dreams of becoming a doctor. Lena and Ruth both share the idea of purchasing a modest house they can call their own. As the family struggles with this dilemma, Lorraine Hansberry is able to demonstrate the complexities that come with being poor and black in America. Although this classic is based off a family living in the 1950s, it is still relevant for some black families today who deal with issues of race, class, cultural and personal identity.
A Raisin in the Sun, starring Oscar winner Denzel Washington, is playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theater until June 15, 2014. For tickets visit this website.
Tamara Jenkins is a real Jersey girl. She’s independent, opinionated, and loves her sports. When she’s not watching her favorite teams, she’s reading, practicing yoga or working on a few books she hopes will get published one day. She also may or may not be training for a 5k race. With a belief that life is what you make of it, Tamara doesn’t merely want to survive life; she wants to live it.