Lorraine Hansberry’s revolutionary play, “A Raisin in the Sun,” was put on by Eastern Michigan University Theatre earlier this month. The play focuses on one African American family’s struggle to overcome their circumstances in Chicago in 1959. Its themes of racial and income inequality and of seeking a better life in a new place are extremely relevant today.
“The show was wonderful overall,” said Kristin McSweeney, EMU alumnus.
The cast was uniformly wonderful, bringing gravitas, enthusiasm and hope to the stage. Chassidy Donaldson, Mateo Saxton, Yannah Patterson, Ariel Jones, and Madison Coates were all standouts as the resilient Younger family, each with different dreams, hopes, and ambitions.
“The family's chemistry was very realistic, and the parts that fell outside of the family still held their own and brought equal importance to their characters and the plot,” said McSweeney.
As Ruth Younger, Donaldson conveyed both the weariness and the optimism of a woman trying to make it through her difficult life. Saxton was a captivating Walter, brimming with energy and restlessness. Patterson’s strong-willed, vibrant Beneatha was a breath of fresh air. Jones, as the matriarch, Lena, projected a quiet nobility and authority. Coates captured all the cheekiness and exuberance of Ruth and Walter’s young son Travis.
Grayson Sturgis and Basil Ritho were each compelling as Joseph Asagai and George Murchison, Beneatha’s competing suitors, and Erin Ealy and Paul Thomas both had small but memorable parts as gossipy neighbor Mrs. Johnson and Walter’s friend Bobo.
Ethan Danke played a subtly – and not so subtly – racist member of a “welcoming committee” for the white Chicago neighborhood the Youngers were planning to move to, with just the right balance of earnestness and sliminess.
"The cast brought together a wonderful story; it kept you wanting more,” said Callie Koss, a junior Theatre Arts major.
The wonderful acting was helped tremendously by the direction and design of the show. Wallace Bridges, who had directed the show at EMU in the 90s, provided firm but subtle direction, as well as trusting his actors enough to give them what seemed to be a great deal of freedom. Set designer Aaron Delnay and costume designer Madeleine Huggins brought us into the 50’s with specific, but never distracting, eye-catching work. Lighting and sound designers Bethany West and Malik Mathis created an atmosphere of nostalgia without even for a moment taking the audience out of the world of the play.
“A Raisin in the Sun” has now been performed twice at EMU in the last twenty years, and twice on Broadway in the last ten. Its themes may one day become irrelevant, but each time it is revived, it reminds us of race, class and power struggles that still go on all over the world today.