Capping off its stellar 2012 theater season, the Westport Country Playhouse hosted the opening of Lorraine Hansberry's “A Raisin in The Sun” Saturday evening. A riveting piece of American theater, Hansberry was only 29 years old when “Raisin” had its first out of town tryout in New Haven before heading to the Broadway stage.
Portraying the stark realities of a poor African-American family living in a rundown tenement in the Southside of Chicago, the Playhouse's outstanding cast was helmed by Phylicia Rashad, an renowned stage, film and television actress best remembered as Claire Huxtable, the sage mother in “The Bill Cosby Show.” However, it's Ms. Rashad's portrayal of another powerful matriarch-- Lena Younger in “Raisin” --that won her a Tony Award for a Lead Actress in a Play in 2004.
Ms. Rashad directed the emotionally-charged Playhouse production that drew the opening night's packed house to its feet at the curtain call.
The play's title is based upon a Langston Hughes poem that begins, “What happens to a dream deferred?”
For Lena—beautifully played with a mixture of humor, anguish and love by Lynda Gravatt—her dreams are intertwined with her family's happiness. However, when her son Walter Lee's obsession with money leads to the kind of dark resentment and frustration that disallows feelings of love and compassion for his wife and unborn child, Lena takes actions to keep death, literally and figuratively, away. “I want so many things that they are driving me kind of crazy,” Walter Lee tells his mother as he tries to convince her to turnover the $10,000 she received from his late father's insurance policy. Although Lena makes a down payment on a house with three bedrooms, sunlight and a room to garden—something that she has longed for—she recognizes her son's devastation and hands over the remaining $6,500.
Lena says, “There ain't nothing worth holding on to, money, dreams, nothing else—if it means—if it means it's going to destroy my boy.”
Though Gravatt is the obvious standout, every actor fully inhabits Hansberry's rich characters. Because they're so engaged and fully present in every moment, it's easy to take their craft for granted.
Saturday's audience responded at once, from the opening scene, to the synergy taking place on the other side of the footlights.
For the next month, the Westport Country Playhouse will explore the theme of 'What Happens to Dreams Deferred?' through several community partnerships. More than 3,000 students in Bridgeport are going to be brought to the Westport Country Playhouse campus to see “Raisin.” Additionally, on Sunday, Oct. 28 a Day of Community will feature special events including $15 tickets, a pre-show reception and a post-show conversation with David J. Dent, professor of journalism at New York University and Larri Mazon, chair of the Bridge Building Ministry at the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport. The discussion is free and open to the public.
There are several tie-in programs, including film screening, talk-backs with the cast and guest speakers. For more information, go to www.westportplayhouse.org.