BY TIMOTHY DOUGLAS, DIRECTOR
Lorraine Hansberry’s seminal A Raisin in the Sun has become a touchstone for me throughout my career in theatre. I participated as one of the Moving Men in the 25th anniversary production at Yale Repertory Theatre (which featured breakout performances from Beah Richards, Delroy Lindo, and Mary Alice). Later it was the very first play I ever staged—a production that would serve as the catalyst for the prolific directing career that continues for me these 23 years later.
This IRT production makes the fourth time I have journeyed alongside the Youngers as they compel us to take a cold, hard look at the festering, unresolved wound of American slavery, along with its ongoing after-effects. At the same time, we discover an equally transformational, unwavering, and driving faith in humanity that inextricably interweaves itself with the spoken woes of racism’s grotesqueness. Delivered through Hansberry’s lyrical, muscular, and culturally precise use of African American vernacular, drama crystallizes into poetry.
My previous three investigations of Raisin compelled me to enter the story through the prisms of Walter Lee, Lena (Mama), and Ruth, respectively. Each exploration yielded impactful and honest points of view, along with authentic and earned sentimentality. But this time—heavily influenced by the current headline- and statistic-driven realities facing Black American men—sentimentality has waned for me. I suppose that’s because I’m now relating as a Black American man whose age and experience sit squarely between those of the play’s central figures, parent and adult child.
For me, the central conflict of the play is no longer limited to the given that as a black man, Walter Lee doesn’t stand a chance of realizing his mid-20th century American dream. Instead, I’ve become laser-focused on the ideological wrestling match between two of American drama’s most compelling titans—Lena and Walter Lee—and their struggle to determine who is best suited, prepared, and battle-ready to lead the Younger family through the harsh realities facing America’s 99 percent. Both Walter Lee’s and Mama’s parallel plans for their family’s very survival are as revolutionary now as they were in the late 1950s. Encoded within the prescient genius of Lorraine Hansberry’s script is the play’s ability to speak out loud the trials of life’s heights and depths—not only in her own time, but in ours as well.
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