If you think Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun has lost any social significance, because maybe you think it’s dated and maybe you think America has overcome racial segregation, consider this: in 2003, the first black homeowner moved into Dallas’ glamorous little enclave Highland Park. That’s the 21st century.
A decade later, Dallas Theater Center mounts the seminal work in a stunning production. This is the only play this year so far I would declare a “must-see” for everyone. In a thought-provoking, hopeful and honest production this Raisin features an all-star cast and a refreshing, yet hard-hitting perspective by Jubilee Theatre’s Tre Garrett.
Hansberry was the first black female playwright to be produced on Broadway and Lloyd Richards was the first black director on Broadway. Needless to say, the original production of Raisin was groundbreaking for black theater artists. You probably already knew that. You probably had to read it in high school or college and that obligatory reading of a play probably bored you. If you’re a millennial like I am, it can be easy to believe that racism is an outdated topic. We were raised with the goal of being colorblind, my white parents didn’t balk at black neighbors and even if the numbers weren’t equivalent I had friends from a variety of backgrounds. But that doesn’t mean I am ignorant or immune to prejudices — in fact, it might mean that I’m more susceptible. In Dallas, it’s easy to create an urban tribe that looks, acts and sounds like you. Hipsters meet up for indie concerts, professionals mingle at happy hours and fundraisers, religious people come together for services. Everyone gets in their cars, drives to their events and drives back home to their wife/husband/kids who look and act and sound just like them.
When I read Raisin for the first time in college, it wasn’t hard to picture the Younger family or their situation, as they planned to move into Clybourne Park, the all-white neighborhood. I totally understood the struggles of previous generations, but it felt removed from me. What did it have to do with me? I wondered. I think it was in my African-American literature class, where it shared a syllabus with Beloved, Pudd’nhead Wilson and The Invisible Man. I get it, I thought. My ancestors were racist fucktards, who did a lot of messed up shit.
But I was at Southern Methodist University, which happens to be in Highland Park, where looking around I knew the racial proportions were skewed. Things didn’t magically change overnight and here I was living in a neighborhood still experiencing its first encounter with the Youngers. A Raisin in the Sun is still very much relevant and for my contemporaries who tend to think we’re beyond its message, perhaps we need the reminder most of all.
To my point, go see A Raisin in the Sun at Dallas Theater Center. It’s a play that actually matters. I see a lot of theater that makes me laugh, a lot of theater that makes me cry and a lot of theater with insightful, poignant messages. Raisin has all of those things and if you only see three plays in your entire life, this should be one of them.
If you’ve seen a bad production of Raisin in the past, I’m sorry. I saw the Geva Theater Center production in Rochester, NY last year, which coincidentally featured the same actor as DTC’s Walter Lee Younger (Bowman Wright), and it was angry and difficult to watch. Dallas Theater Center’s Raisin is delightful, without pulling punches. The impeccable performances by the likes of Liz Mikel, Tiffany Hobbs, Steven Walters, Hassan El-Amin and Ptosha Storey give this play rich layers of humanity. And Garrett balances the humor with the drama. So if you’ve seen Raisin before, see it again.
I’ll write you a full review soon, promise.