Monday, June 16, 2014

Cal Shakes - A Raisin in the Sun

My wife and I bought season tickets to the California Shakespeare Theater (otherwise known as Cal Shakes) this year, and the first play of the season was Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. Obviously, they don't just do Shakespeare at Cal Shakes. Usually there are two of his plays every year along with two other plays.

I have to say that this one was so good that all of the other actors and directors are going to really have to bring their A-game. I've seen a decent amount of Cal Shakes plays in my time (missed all of them last year though for some reason) and I don't remember ever being quite so moved as I was with this one. Sure, I've seen some great performances that have sunk into my brain, like Julius Caesar and Richard III from years past; however, this was the first time where I wasn't quite ready to leave when it was over, as I just needed to sit for a moment to absorb it all - and give the cast a standing ovation.

I vaguely remember reading the play when I was in high school. I seem to recall enjoying it, but I didn't remember too much about it beyond that. I'm not quite sure why, as the subject matter is one that has always interested me.

The story involves the Youngers, a black family in Chicago during the 1950s. It's basically an ensemble piece, as each of the characters has their turn to reveal aspects of their character - although actor Marcus Henderson's performance as Walter (see the picture above) seems to jump in my mind first.

Considering the subject matter, it probably wouldn't take too great of a guess to figure that racism plays a role in the story. That's true, as the family learns that they're not wanted when they get enough money to move into a house that's in a white neighborhood. (When the white guy who represents the neighborhood association tells them in so many words that they wouldn't be welcome, he insists that it's not a race issue. I figured that the whole denial of racism while it's clearly being practiced was a relatively new thing - I guess I was dead wrong.) However, this story is about what any good story is about - being a human being with all of our hopes and dreams. Even though their experience is totally outside my own, my basic human empathy got me emotionally involved in their story.

I was also impressed, considering the time period in which it was written, that one of the main characters, Beneatha (played by Nemuna Ceesay - see the other photo) expressed her atheism to her mother (and the audience as well). While not actually using the word, what she said rang true to me, which is often what DOESN'T happen when a character expresses a disbelief in God. I was worried that by the end of the story, she's "see the error of her ways" and come back to God. Thankfully, that didn't happen. She was allowed to be who she was without apology. (But even if she did have a "Come back to Jesus" moment, I don't think that it would have ruined the play for me.)

Anyway, I really don't have anything negative or critical to say. I was riveted from the beginning to the end, and it felt like it all went by really quickly. (Although I'm going to have to remember to wear a looser shirt next time, as I was pouring out sweat while sitting in the sun for the first half of the play.)

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