Family drama hits Broadway caliber in KC Rep production

By Bob Evans

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Kansas City Repertory Theatre opened Lorraine Hansberry’s iconic family drama that wowed Broadway audiences in the 1959-1960 season and starred a young Sidney Poitier, “A Raisin in the Sun” opened on Friday night, March 31 at Spencer Hall on the UMKC campus to an immediate and well deserved standing ovation.

Broadway caliber theatre comes to Kansas City with this version of the predominately black cast of the stellar play, “A Raisin in the Sun.” The drama contains many funny lines and keeps the mood light as it slowly delves into the struggles of a Chicago family awaiting an insurance check following the death of Lena Younger’s husband. The anticipated fortune of $10,000 stirs the dreams of Lena’s children who claim the money is hers, yet, each has a dream which the money can fulfill. Just how far the money goes and how it changes their lives becomes the crux of the play.

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Walter Lee Younger wants to purchase a liquor store. Ruth Younger wants security for her expected child. Beneatha Younger wants money for college to become a doctor. Lena, who receives the insurance check has other plans for the money for the betterment of her family. In the play, the goal-driven characters all see hope and success in their futures. The problem lies in the amount of money will not purchase enough dreams to fulfill their desires.

The Biblical quote: “The love of money is the root of all evil” comes to fruition when Walter attempts to pursue his dream, dashing the hopes and delaying the dreams of his other family members. His actions tarnish all illusions of happiness with one ill-planned investment
that goes astray. His misguided plan backfires, causing strife to all those within the house.

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“A Raisin in the Sun” tackles the segregation issue that existed in the United States in the late 1950s when African-American families started escaping the ghettos and sought better housing and schools for their children. To avoid “block-busters” African American families were often locked out of all-white suburbs, and if they did manage to secure housing, were often offered more money to live elsewhere. Such was the case in certain areas of Chicago. This, too, comes to the forefront in Hansberry’s play.

Standout performances come from most of the cast. Most would qualify for Tony Awards if this version played the Broadway stage. Greta Oglesby and Tosin Morohunfola would snare lead actor nominations. They are that good. Gary Neal Johnson, as Karl Linder just makes the audience nervous with his portrayal as “The Man” who tries to buy them out of their new home. His outstanding performance any and all traces of his annual, classic Ebenezer Scrooge character. Brianna Woods bursts on the KC scene as the idealistic, selfish teenager with big dreams. Lenise Antoine Shelley provides the sturdy framework of the wife, struggling with a difficult decision and position.

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Top to bottom, the cast exceeds expectations. They work together as an ensemble cast, and their chemistry sends electricity through the audience. Chip Miller and Marissa Wolf directed a tight, cohesive production where all members of the cast bring a razor sharp focus to their characters. Hansberry’s script keeps the action moving, the humorous lines interrupting the scenes, as the play unfolds to its deeper, most significant ending. No weaknesses appear in cast or production as all pieces combined to create fabulous entertainment.

Although the show runs nearly three hours, the dialogue and movement of the plot make the play seem shorter. The play is a masterpiece of American Theater. Sadly, “A Raisin in the Sun” does not surface much on Broadway or American stages.

Teachers in the Kansas City Metro area need to plan and encourage all American Literature classes to see this play. It is appropriate for all high schoolers to view. Occasional adult language exists for emotional emphasis and fits well inside the story and does not offend. This would be especially appropriate for high school juniors because most local schools focus on American literature the junior year. For parents who want to instill the importance of theater and the Arts, this play remains pivotal to understand the emergence of the African-American voice and historical past. No other play can do this.

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The cast is: Rufus Burns as Joseph Asagai, Carwin Cooper as Travis, Walter Coppage as Bobo, Nedra Dixon as Mrs. Johnson, Gary Neal Johnson as Karl Linder, D’Andre McKenzie as Moving Man, Tosin Morohunfola as Walter Lee Younger, Reginals Nelson II as Travis Younger, Greta Oglesby as Lena Younger, Lanise Antoine Shelley as Ruth Younger, Craig S. Thompson as Moving Man, Brianna Woods as Beneatha Younger, Donovan Woods as George Younger.

The production team, led by Artistic Director Eric Rosen is: Chip Miller and Marissa Wolf, directors; Antje Ellermann, scenic design; Jessica Jahn, costume design; Donna Ruzika, lighting design; Justin Ellington, sound design and original compostions; Ellen Hayek, research and dramaturgy; Jason Chanos, casting; Mary R. Honour, production stage manager; Kelsey Brennan York assistant stage manager.

“A Raisin in the Sun” is a must for theater-goers. This is one of the best pieces produced by KC Rep in the last five years. The play runs through April 16 on the UMKC campus home of the KC Rep. For more information, tickets, dates, times, prices, check out the KC Rep website. Group sales are also available.

Tags: KC Rep, “A Raisin in the Sun”, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment, UMKC, Theatre

Image courtesy of Cory Weaver & KC Rep

Author: Bob Evans

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