The Lyric Arts Company of Anoka is celebrating the 60th anniversary of “A Raisin in the Sun” with performances from May 31 through June 16.
“A Raisin in the Sun” premiered at Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre, on March 11, 1959, and was the first Broadway play written by an African-American woman, Lorraine Hansberry, and the first Broadway play with an African-American director, Lloyd Richards.
The original Broadway cast including Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands, Ivan Dixon, Louis Gossett, Jr. and John Fiedler would go on to star in the play’s 1961 film debut.
“A Raisin in the Sun” is also the first play by an African-American playwright to be produced by Lyric Arts and the first helmed by an African-American director, Austene Van.
“I feel so honored to bring Lorraine Hansberry’s words to life,” Van said. “I feel privileged to bring more diversity to the Lyric Arts stage and this community. This is a story everyone needs to see.”
Set in the 1950s on the South Side of Chicago, “A Raisin in the Sun” is the story of the Younger family, who receive a substantial insurance payment after the death of the patriarch of the family.
This leads to life-changing decisions as the Younger family tries to decide what to do with the money.
“This money helps provide this family options to create a future that was previously unattainable,” Van said. “The insurance money impacts this family in many ways. During the play you get to explore their many interpersonal relationships as they try to decide what their future will look like.”
The play is inspired, in part, by the experience of Hansberry’s family when her parents purchased a house in a “white neighborhood.”
As the Youngers argue over how best to use the money, the drama addresses issues that were rarely discussed at that time, including women’s rights and black identity.
The play stars, Doc Woods Walter), Charla Marie Bailey (Lena), Dana Lee Thompson (Ruth), Camrin King (Beneatha), Leonard Searcy Jr. (Travis), Camrin King (Beneatha), Leonard Searcy Sr. (Asagai), Yinka Ayinde (George), Don Maloney (Lindner) and Chris Jimmy (Bobo).
Van said the themes and topic in the script are still as relevant today as they were in 1959.
“‘A Raisin in the Sun’ is a timeless play,” Van said. “We’re still dealing with many of the same issues today such as redlining neighborhoods and social inequality.”
This drama about an African-American family trying to find its footing in a racially segregated world is considered by many to be one of the greatest plays of the 20th century.
When asked what audiences should expect, Thompson said, “They should expect to feel genuine emotion for this family and their story.”
She continued, “You can’t help but to be pulled into the living room of this family, whether it’s something or someone that you directly relate to, or whether it brings to light an experience or an emotion that you yourself have lived through.”
Charla Marie Bailey, who plays Grandmother Lena, said she’s paying tribute to her grandmother in her performance in “A Raisin in the Sun.”
“My grandmother was so much like Mama Lena, and I feel like she’s with me through all of this,” Bailey said. “I’m so excited that we get to celebrate black culture and identity through this performance of this classic play. It has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The production team includes stage manager Joe Black, costumer Samantha Fromm Haddow, scenic designer Peter Lerohl, lighting designer Matt McNabb, prop designer Katie Phillips and sound designer Tom Prestin.
To learn more about “A Raisin in the Sun,” visit lyricarts.org.
If you go:
What: “A Raisin in the Sun”
When: 7:30 p.m. May 31 and June 1, June 7-8 and June 14-15; 7 p.m. June 6 and 13; 2 p.m. June 2, 9 and 16
Where: Lyric Arts Center, 420 E. Main St., Anoka
Rating: Intended for mature audiences. Contains strong language, explores mature themes and references adult situations.
Tickets: $29 to $32
Info: lyricarts.org or 763-422-1838