The 1959 play, “A Raisin in the Sun,” is considered a revolutionary work about the American dream that addressed serious issues of the time.
Racism, poverty and cultural identity were dealt with in the drama, written by Lorraine Hansberry. And just in time for Black History Month, I have the privilege to perform in the cast of this historic drama, which opens Friday at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale.
“A Raisin in the Sun” revolves around a black family living in Chicago, the Youngers, who are awaiting a $10,000 insurance check from the death of the patriarch. But conflicting ideas about the use of the funds could pull them apart.
For years, I’ve wanted to act in this play but never had the opportunity until now. I will portray George Murchison, the affluent boyfriend of Beneatha Younger, Walter’s college-age sister.
My great-grandmother first introduced me to “A Raisin in the Sun” as child through the original 1961 film version, which starred Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee and a young Louis Gossett Jr. From that moment on, the play has had a lasting impact on my life.
But it wasn’t until high school that I discovered the legacy of the play.
The drama was the first show produced on Broadway written by a black woman; and the first with a black director, Poitier, Dee and Gossett were all in the original Broadway cast of the stage version before the movie.
Most recently in 2008, a new generation witnessed the classic in the television movie with Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald.
In addition, the play is considered an American classic mentioned in the same vein as “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Death of a Salesman” and “The Glass Menagerie.”
Hansberry’s play captures the plight of black Americans right on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement.
But even though it centers around a black family, anyone could identify with the characters in “A Raisin in the Sun.”
“It is one of those tales that epitomizes the American dream, and, yes, of course, it reveals the unique African-American experience in this country in the 1950s,” said Terry Helland, director of the show and artistic director of Desert Stages Theatre. “And, yet, it’s also quite relevant to any family, any one of us striving to do better today. It’s simply a great American story.”
The play is not only popular with blacks and theater goers, but also junior high and high school classes, who read the drama as an assignment.
One of the reasons I’ve always been fond of the Youngers’ story is because it’s a simple story but with complex characters. They’re all struggling to make their dreams come true, and that’s something I believe everyone identifies with today.
As an actor and black American, I’m very proud to finally perform this show. And I’m sure that it probably won’t be the last.
Mitchell Vantrease may be reached at 623-876-2526 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “A Raisin in the Sun.”
WHERE: Desert Stages Theatre, 4720 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale.
WHEN: Friday through April 3.
TICKETS: $22, adults; $20, seniors and students.
INFO: Call 480-483-1664 or www.desertstages.org.