R for A Raisin in the Sun

A Raisin in the Sun is a play by Lorraine Hansberry that debuted on Broadway in 1959, which portrays a few weeks in the life of the Youngers, an African-American family living in Chicago’s Southside sometime between World War II and the 1950s…the Youngers are about to receive…$10,000 from the deceased Mr. Younger’s life insurance policy… The matriarch of the family, Lena, wants to buy a house to fulfill a dream she shared with her husband. Her son, Walter Lee, would rather use the money to invest in a liquor store with his friends. He believes that the investment will solve the family’s financial problems forever. Walter’s wife Ruth agrees with Mama, however, and hopes that she and Walter can provide more space and opportunity for their son, Travis…”

The play was nominated for four Tony awards in 1960, though winning none: Sidney Poitier (as Walter Lee), Claudia McNeil (as his mother), plus Lloyd Richards (for director), and for best play.

“In 1961, a film version of A Raisin in the Sun was released featuring its original Broadway cast of Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands, Ivan Dixon, Louis Gossett, Jr. and John Fiedler. Hansberry wrote the screenplay, and the film was directed by Daniel Petrie.” I saw this film more than once on TV.

Later that decade, there was a civic theater group that did at least one production of the play in Binghamton, NY. My father was very involved in this. Not as a performer, for he never wanted to act in another person’s role. But he did set design and a lot of technical stuff.

Considering my distance from New York City, I have seen relatively few Broadway musicals. One I DID see in 1973 or 1974, though, was Raisin, “based on the play, and starring Joe Morton (Walter Lee), Virginia Capers (Lena), Ernestine Jackson (Ruth), Debbie Allen (Beneatha) and Ralph Carter (Travis). The show won the Tony Award for Best musical.”

I have only a vague recollection of the 1989 TV film with Danny Glover (Walter Lee), Starletta DuPois (Ruth), Esther Rolle (Lena), and Kim Yancey (Beneatha).

Never saw the 2004 Tony-nominated play revival with Sean Combs as Walter Lee, Audra McDonald as Ruth (Tony winner for best actress in a featured role), Phylicia Rashad as Lena (won a Tony as best actress), and Sanaa Lathan as sister Beneatha (nominated in McDonald’s category). I did see the 2008 TV movie based on it, however, with the same core cast.

I wonder why I’ve been always drawn to the story. Maybe it’s idle speculation, but I sensed that my father really related to Walter Lee, frustrated by living in a house owned by his mother-in-law for the first two decades of his marriage to my mother, always looking for the big score.

The title of the play came from a poem, A Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

ABC Wednesday – Round 10

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22 thoughts on “R for A Raisin in the Sun

  1. We saw “A Raisin in the Sun” in English class – a couple of English classes, actually – but apparently we only watched the first act.

    I love that poem. What’s weird is after living abroad so long I’ve come to interpret it differently.

    We seem to think in America that this obsession with dreams is a human thing, but it’s really not. In Denmark, for example, there’s “Janteloven,” which is a little like the English-speaking world’s “Tall Poppy Syndrome.”

    I don’t know. In Scandinavia, the “stay where you are” principal helps support the justification for a strong social support system because the principal of social Darwinism is at best meaningless and at most monstrous to them. On the other hand it does make a sort of caste system and causes stagnation.

  2. Like others have commented, I didn’t know where the title came from. It definitely makes more sense.
    I think I need to see the play or movie again now that I have a bit more life behind me.
    Good post as always, Roger.
    Its neat that your Dad was involved in its creation.

  3. Never saw this play, but if they have the film on DVD in my nook of the world I will watch it.

    I’d like my dreams, if they have to be deferred, to be like raisins in a macaroni salad.

  4. I have a vague memory of seeing the 1961 film version, but am inspired now to look at this play more closely. I like Langston Hughes very much. His words are a bit harsh, but at this moment, are making me think again about one of my deferred dreams. I found the connection to your father most interesting. “Never wanting to play another person’s role” really caught my attention. Yet he worked in and around theatres. I wonder if he elaborated on that idea. Fascinating.

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