Adrianna Jones as Beneatha Younger, Darnell Benjamin as Walter Lee Younger, Gladys DeVane as Lena Younger, Sierra White as Ruth Younger, and Quinten Simonson as Travis Younger in HSRT's production of "A Raisin in the Sun". Photo: HSRT
Ensemble Cast Brings Strength To American Classic
By Bridgette M. Redman
Originally printed 6/26/2014 (Issue 2226 - Between The Lines News)
It takes an ensemble to pull off a classic such as Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun," and Hope Summer Rep provides its production with a strong ensemble.
The Youngers are awaiting an insurance check that has the power to change their lives. They all have their own dreams that they want to see come true with this money, and the stakes are high for all of them.
Sierra White opens the show as Ruth Younger, the daughter-in-law, wife, mother and sister-in-law. She puts in a strong performance as the long-suffering wife to Walter Lee, played by Darnell Benjamin. She's practical and patient, even with her own trials.
Benjamin is agitated and in constant motion. Walter Lee longs for what he cannot have, and fails to see what anyone around him needs or wants, because he is so caught up in what is out of his reach. Benjamin transforms himself several times during the play, and each change is credible and authentic.
Adrianna Jones creates a Beneatha Younger who is the mirror image of her brother when it comes to taut, wound-up energy. She is driven by a dream and by an idealism fueled by ideas that the world can be cured. She is serious and intense, but has the same frenetic energy as her brother when bickering or dancing.
Gladys DeVane as Lena, the matriarch of the family, lacked the vocal power of the other actors throughout the first act, making her difficult to hear except when she raised her voice to scold someone. She did get stronger in the second act, but important speeches such as the one about her husband were lost because they lacked clarity and volume.
Quinten Simonson was adorable as the young Travis, who saw more of his family's woes than they gave him credit for, and served as a catalyst at several key moments. Simonson was bright, moved well and spoke with a clear, loud voice.
Director Warren Bowles made sure this long play ran tightly and kept it well-paced. There were never any dead moments - even the quiet ones were taut with energy and emotion. Actors spoke over each other without losing clarity the way a real family would speak to each other. Bowles brought important moments down front while still using the depth of this large proscenium stage.
Costume designer Leah Hummel worked the dual role of providing costumes that were appropriately period and that fed into the changing emotions and tensions of the play. This was especially true of Walter Lee's costuming, where we see the change in his hopes and dreams by not only what he is wearing, but how he wears it in any given scene.
Scenic designer Micah J. Maatman creates the entire shared space of the apartment with windows, doors, and kitchen. He worked with lighting designer Erik Alberg to create a back bedroom that lit when people entered it and was available for specials at key moments.
Rounding out the cast were several non-family members who affect the family. Among these, Seun Soyemi as Joseph Asagi was notable for the way he was able to inspire Beneatha, especially when she was at her most despondent. He has a believable passion that shows us a dreamer who is not yet embittered or worn down.
Glen Forbes is Karl Linder, the man who must spew racism with a friendly smile on his face. He's able to deliver the offensive lines without becoming a caricature or indulging in overt villain-like choices.
"A Raisin in the Sun" remains a classic because underneath the story of the black struggle in Middle America, there is a story of the working class who strives for that middle class status without ever quite making it there for long.
'A Raisin in the Sun'
Hope Summer Repertory Theatre at Knickerbocker Theatre, 86 E. Eighth St., Holland. Through July 1. 2 hours, 21 minutes. $15-24. 616-395-7890. http://www.hope.edu/hsrt
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