Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

A Raisin in the Sun
Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of Midwestern Gothic

Will Cobbs and Lizan Mitchell
Photo by C. Stanley Photography
Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun made history at its premiere in 1959 as the first play by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway. Times and social conditions have changed in the intervening decades, but Tazewell Thompson's assured direction of the play at Arena Stage in Washington shows that the human concerns it addresses are as relevant as ever.

The play brings audiences into the cramped Chicago tenement where Lena Younger (Lizan Mitchell) lives with her son Walter Lee (Will Cobbs), daughter-in-law Ruth (Dawn Ursula), grandson Travis (Jeremiah Hasty), and daughter Beneatha (Joy Jones). Lena's husband died shortly before the time of the play, and the drama centers around the disposition of his $10,000 life insurance check.

Part of Hansberry's genius is how she integrates larger social issues into the family's interactions without coming across as preachy. Walter Lee, a chauffeur, and Ruth, a domestic worker, are barely scraping by; Walter Lee wants to use the insurance money to become part owner of a liquor store, but Lena wants to make a new start away from the decrepit apartment (well depicted in Donald Eastman's set, visible from all sides in the Fichandler Stage) and into their own house.

The play can focus on either Walter Lee or Lena; since Sidney Poitier originated the role on Broadway and on film, his viewpoint tends to predominate. That isn't true in this production, where Mitchell—small of stature but indomitable—stands up for herself and demands to be taken seriously. Cobbs effectively demonstrates Walter Lee's frustration and boiling anger at a world that refuses to respect him, but he never totally breaks out. Ursula brings great dignity and heart to Ruth, while Jones makes the most of Beneatha's determination to make a difference, and Hasty is delightful.

While Walter Lee is trying to figure out what "manhood" means in a society with few options, Beneatha is going to medical school and dealing with two suitors who symbolize two opposing paths to the future. Joseph Asagai (Bueka Uwemedimo, idealistic but not stodgy) is an African intellectual preparing for the end of colonial rule in his country, while George Murchison (Keith L. Royal Smith, amusingly self-satisfied) is the son of a wealthy African-American businessman.

Arena Stage
A Raisin in the Sun
March 31st - May 7th, 2017
By Lorraine Hansberry
Ruth Younger: Dawn Ursula (through April 30), Valeka J. Holt (May 1-7)
Travis Younger: Jeremiah Hasty
Walter Lee Younger: Will Cobbs
Beneatha Younger: Joy Jones
Lena Younger: Lizan Mitchell
Joseph Asagai/Fight Captain: Bueka Uwemedimo
George Murchison: Keith L. Royal Smith
Karl Lindner: Thomas Adrian Simpson (through April 30), Brit Herring (May 1-7)
Bobo: Mack Leamon
Moving Men: Kamau Mitchell, Frank Riley III
Ruth Younger Understudy: Valeka J. Holt
Travis Younger Understudy: Emmanuel Epongo Jr.
Directed by Tazewell Thompson
Fichandler Stage, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 Sixth St. SW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or

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