By GRACE CLARK
Dreams exist. They give us the hope for the future, a reason to wake up every morning and paint a picture of a perfect world. However, dreams and reality don’t always mix well, especially for the Youngers family in Lorraine Hansberry’s powerfully emotional play “A Raisin in the Sun.”
The title, a line taken from Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem,” metaphorically tells the story of the Youngers, an African-American family living in Chicago during the 1950s. After the loss of the family’s patriarch, the Youngers receive a $10,000 insurance check. Each member has his or her own dreams and desires for how the check should be spent in order to help provide a better future for the family.
At the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, “Raisin” was anything but dried up. Full of emotional turmoil and comedic moments, the show is both captivating and moving for the audience.
For one of the most powerful American plays ever written, the importance of a strong cast is critical. Set in a simple, yet realistic, run-down apartment, too small for five family members, the entire cast does Hansberry’s play complete justice with believable performances of a family struggling with racial inequality, poverty and deferred dreams.
Two notable performances come from Chiké Johnson as Walter Lee Younger and Greta Oglesby as Lena Younger (Mama). Johnson effortlessly portrays the role as both protagonist and antagonist within the family dynamics. His conflict between achieving his dream of owning a liquor store and being unable to provide the family a luxurious lifestyle calls for a daunting role in which he excels.
The chemistry between Johnson and fellow cast members Ericka Ratcliff (Ruth) and Mildred Marie Langford (Beneatha) exemplify Walter’s character struggle and his role in the family. From the husband and wife quarrels with Ratcliff to being the belligerent brother with Langford, Johnson demonstrates and masters his acting versatility.
With her graceful stage presence, Oglesby parallels Johnson’s performance with her role as a sensitive and old-fashioned Mama. Oglesby’s heartfelt performance is poignant and powerful as she reveals the hardships of being head of the household while trying to maintain family pride and dignity.
The cast and production deserved the standing ovation it received. “A Raisin in the Sun” is a must-see, resonating with the themes of race, ambition, gender equality, family pride and the American dream.
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