Review: A Raisin in the Sun

LORRAINE Hansberry’s play boils with the angry politics of class and race at a time when the United States stood on the edge of the civil rights movement being born in the 1960s.

The title comes from a poem by black American poet Langston Hughes, who captured perfectly the tension in a society where people's hopes and ideals are constantly frustrated: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore - And then run? Does it stink like rotten mat? Or crust and sugar over — like a syprupy sweet. 

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”

Set in Southside, Chicago in 1959, Hansberry, who died tragically young, was the first to write about black working class people. 

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We really care about her characters as we switch from the comedy to the impending, inevitable, disaster before the upliftingly defiant ending. 

Both acting and direction in Eclipse Theatre Company’s touring production is superb. 

The Youngers live in a small cockroach-infested apartment where three generations crowd together. 

Walter Lee (Ashley Zhangazha) works long dreary hours as a chauffeur and wants to open a liquor store. 

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His wife Ruth (Alisha Bailey) is worn out cleaning other people’s houses and wants her marriage to be as happy as it once was. 

Their son Travis is trapped between their anxieties and love, their not wanting him under their feet and not wanting him out on the street. 

Beneatha (Susan Wokoma), Walter’s sister, is a wonderfully independent young woman. She is heading for medical school and is so strong and self-assured she wants to take on the world.  

She talks about Africa, knows its colonial history and rejects god and the “assimilationist” music, jazz and doo-wop on the radio. 

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The whole family is waiting for a 10,000 dollar insurance payout their mother, Lena (Angela Winter), is to receive from the death of her husband. 

She can see that Walter Lee is getting desperate and believes that she can save her family by buying a house. 

She also knows that the only one they can afford is in a white neighbourhood and the “welcoming committee” wants to keep them out.

Hansberry was the person for whom the expression young, gifted and black was coined and her play was the first by a black woman to reach Broadway. 

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Her own well-off family had moved into a white neighbourhood, forcing and winning an anti-segregation case. 

The writer — who worked on Paul Robeson’s newspaper Freedom and met her white Jewish activist husband on a picket line — clearly sets out the case for social justice. 

It’s an explosive mix which still resonates powerfully today.