“You people,” says the man from the all-white Clybourne Park Welcoming Committee — repeatedly —to the Younger family living in a one-bedroom rundown apartment on the South Side of Chicago in the 1950s.
He’s so polite that the Younger family, at first, believe Mr. Lindner (Nat DeWolf) is sincere until it becomes clear he’s not. He’s there to offer them more money than the purchase price of their new three-bedroom house so that their neighborhood won’t be sullied by black people.
The dream of leaving a cramped cockroach invested apartment where the shared bathroom is down the hall, for an airy suburban home with a yard waiting for a garden, is so visceral it took them a few minutes to realize his visit was about race, not open arms.
Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 classic American play “A Raisin in the Sun,” the first play by a black women produced on Broadway (and first with a black director, Lloyd Richards), is partly based on Hansberry’s childhood experience in the 1930s when her father moved the family into a hostile white neighborhood. A 1940 U.S. Supreme Court case followed. In 2010, the Hansberry house was declared a landmark by the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Historical Landmarks Preservation.
Two River Theater’s 2017-18 season opener is a first rate production with a superb cast, several of whom are regulars here and on Broadway. It’s nicely directed by , who mines both the pathos and humor in this play about hard-working people who want to be respected and get their share of the American Dream. At a time when too many of us of all colors see the American Dream denied or taken away, the parallels with the past are palpable.
Walter Lee Younger (Brandon J. Dirden) is one of those people. At 35, he’s a frustrated chauffeur for a rich white man and dreams of one day having an office, a secretary, a fine house. And the only way he believes he can get that is if he can get his hands on the $10,000 life insurance check coming to the family after his father’s death.
His college student sister, Beneatha (Jasmine Batchelor) who dreams of being a doctor, keeps reminding him the check belongs to their mother, Lena (). Mother and daughter share a bedroom.
The parents sleep in a corner of the apartment with curtains for walls. Travis sleeps on the living room sofa.
Nothing happens in this apartment without everybody else knowing about it. Lena is adamant some of the money be used as a down payment on a house (with $3,000 for Beneatha’s medical school tuition). But Walter Lee wants to buy a liquor store with some sketchy friends.
The play’s title comes from a poem by Langston Hughes, “What happens to a dream deferred/Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?” The $10,000 check will not buy everyone’s dreams.
The cast also includes Charles Hudson III as Asagai, a Nigerian student and voice of reason who helps a very earnest Beneatha discover her African heritage and see things more clearly, York Walker as Beneatha’s rich but fatuous suitor, and Willie Dirden as Bobo, one of men hoping to get rich via the liquor store scheme that goes oh so bad for Walter Lee and the family.
Perhaps one of the best things about this play is the Saturday matinée crowd at the performance I attended was it was made up of black people, white people, old people and young people. That’s an extremely rare occurrence, unfortunately.
Congratulations Lorraine Hansberry and Two River Theater Company for making that happen.
“A Raisin in the Sun” at Two River Theater, 21 Bridge Ave., Red Bank, through Oct. 8. Tickets $40 to $70, discounts available; $20 partial view and $20 for people under age 30. Call 732-345-1400 or visit www.tworivertheater.org.