The Department of Drama at North Springs Charter High School just completed a run of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic, “A Raisin in the Sun,” leaving theater-goers transported to Chicago’s south side in the early 1950s by a strong cast of seniors and one freshman.
We have come to expect excellent theater from North Springs, and this production certainly delivered with superb performances from every cast member.
The play examines a few weeks in the life of an African American family living together in a cramped apartment, struggling to get by. Lena Younger, the matriarch, is waiting on a life insurance check, bringing with it the promise of change. But, conflicting aspirations threaten to tear the family apart.
Lena’s son, Walter, chafes and struggles against a society that keeps him from escaping poverty and making a better life for his family. As Walter spirals out of control, Lena places a down payment on a home in Clybourne Park - an affordable white neighborhood – in an attempt to divert her family’s collapse. However, racial intolerance threatens to derail her good intentions, and Walter’s business decisions further complicate the family’s dreams.
This theatrical masterpiece was named best play by the New York Drama Critics’ Circle for 1959. And it changed American theater forever. It was the first play produced on Broadway that was written by a black woman, directed by a black man, and featured an almost entirely black cast. It also made history by drawing numerous blacks to Broadway, an entertainment venue that up until that time had been restricted almost exclusively to white audiences.
And what a riveting play it is, with a message that still resonates with audiences more than fifty years later!
Heading up the cast is Rachael Simpson as Lena Younger. Simpson brought warmth and strength to her role, doting on her grandson, Travis, while showing tenderness to her meek daughter-in-law, Ruth, and no-nonsense tough love to her children, Walter and Beneatha.
Lena Younger is clearly the glue holding this family together, and Simpson reached within herself to breathe life into Lena, tapping into a vast reservoir of depth not often seen in one so young.
The talented Myron Parker played the role of Walter. Parker shows us Walter’s frustration with his life without letting him become a caricature, which must have been a little like walking a tight-rope.
In the beginning of the play, the tension between Walter and his wife, Ruth (beautifully portrayed by Miko Harper) is palpable. Parker moves about the cramped apartment like a caged lion. And his disappointment in Act II when he experiences the death of his dream is one of theater’s most gripping scenes and was sensitively portrayed by Parker.
Miko Harper brought a quiet determination to Ruth, longing for things to be better for all of them but especially for her relationship with her husband. She grapples with deep emotional struggles of her own, turning to her mother-in-law for support in a performance that was always authentic and never forced.
The lone freshman in the cast was Sailyn Barlow in the role of Beneatha Younger. Exuberant, smart and determined to earn a medical degree as her ticket out of Washington Park, Beneatha faces her own internal struggle to maximize her potential while celebrating her heritage. Barlow brought a wonderful energy to this role.
Rounding out the cast were Joseph and George, Beneatha’s two suitors. Joseph (Jazz Martin Ingram) is from Nigeria and strives to help Beneatha understand her African heritage. George (Jonathan Bynoe) is a young, affluent, well-educated man who has become snobbish along the way. Joseph and George are completely different characters, and Ingram and Bynoe make both completely believable.
Fourth-grader Lionel Vialet tackled the role of Travis (Walter and Ruth’s son) doing a terrific job. Jake Bardack portrayed Karl Lindner, the representative from the white neighborhood where the Younger family plans to move. Bardack’s Karl is wonderfully oily and clueless of his insulting behavior toward the family. And Joshua Baker performed the role of Bobo, Walter’s friend who comes bearing bad news. Baker’s scene was short but extremely effective in changing the mood of the drama.
In addition to this strong cast, “A Raisin in the Sun” was made possible by a number of talented students and faculty working off stage. The show was directed by Tyler Owens with Jordan Thompson serving as assistant director. Joel King served as technical director with Scott Fineberg as student technical director. And Ben Miller and Ben Cohen were stage manager and assistant stage manager, respectively.
Additional technical support came from Jake Bardack, NyAsia Kelley and Zussy Okoyonom (Custom Design), Alexis Hitchmon and Kyerra Kelley (Hair & Make-up Design), Ben Engelman and Stephanie Bullock (Lighting Design), Halli McAlister and Carolina Lansing (Props Design), Sara Dardik and Jared Solovei (Set Design), Zach Maycumber and Myron Parker (Sound Design), Aliza Walker (Deck Chief), and Ben Cohen, Sara Dardik, Halli McAlister, and Zuri Soyinka (Run Crew).
While “A Raisin in the Sun” is now another show in the books, mark your calendar for the spring musical, “Sister Act,” planned for March 16-18 and 23-25. You can expect another excellent production from these talented performers.