A massive brick wall descends from the sky and surrounds Lena Younger's modest Chicago home on three sides. One little window is knocked out of the brick, and an American flag hangs off the sill like a tired dream. Set designer Michael Ganio's constant metaphor is loud, constant, imposing: the American Dream is seductive, but it's a bill of goods, and it's sold to black people at ten times the price.
Aside from that heavy scenic gesture, director Timothy McCuen Piggee faithfully reproduces for the Seattle Rep Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 classic, A Raisin in the Sun. The Youngers are preparing to inherit some insurance money following the death of the father, who worked his whole life so his children would have a better one, but housing discrimination, sexism, racism, poverty, and con artists conspire to make that goal nearly impossible to achieve.
Many of conversations happening between and within the characters of this play are alive today. Walter Lee's struggle, for instance, is a study in the intersection of sexism and racism. He's an enterprising and ambitious man constantly trying to prove himself as such in a society that infantilizes black men as "boys" and servants, but his adherence to male supremacy poisons his relationship with his wife and mother, his two biggest supporters.
The scenes between Beneatha "Bennie" Younger (Claudine Mboligkpelani Nako) and George Murchison (Tré Cotten) explore the tensions between radical and incremental approaches to social change, settling a little uneasily on a kind of punctuated equilibrium theory of justice, while Bennie and Joseph Asagai (Ricardy Charles Fabre) play out a back-to-Africa argument. And of course, when Karl Linder (Charles Leggett) walks through the door and offers to pay the family NOT to move in to his 100% white neighborhood, recent articles about redlining in Chicago and current examples of housing discrimination jump to mind. Mama Younger's (Denise Burse) wisdom and strength ultimately offers a little leaf of hope that determination and the right kind of pride will lead to liberation, albeit slowly.
On opening night, the actors warmed to their roles by the second act. You could see Water Lee's pain, anguish, anxiety, and joy pulse through Prioleau's body—a mixture of his high-energy and Burse's projection of power carries you through the long play. Mia Ellis's portrayal of the firm but endlessly forgiving Ruth reached its apotheosis during a hilarious release of frustration and hope when the prospect of leaving her small house beset by roaches becomes a reality. And Leggett perfectly embodies the insidious nature of systemic racism: he spits out the phrase "you people" while holding up a calm, nice-guy exterior.
The play is three and a half hours long. If you walked into the theater with a grape and a sun lamp you'd have your own raisin by the end. But the show doesn't feel long. Rightly confident in the power of Hansberry's language and the complexity of her characters, Piggee doesn't rush you through the show. Therefore, you do not feel rushed. You feel a story rise to meet the demands of its genre. This story needs to be a play, it needs to be three and a half hours long, and if you've only ever read this play in a Language Arts class back in high school, you need to see this production.