If you think you know “A Raisin in the Sun,” think again. Whether you’ve seen the very good film adaptation or a variety of productions of the play, the vintage ripe Huntington Theatre Company revival at the BU Theatre will make you look at Lorraine Hansberry’s powerfully disturbing 1959 drama in an excitingly fresh new light . The staging’s insights resonate not only about the Youngers- the focal Chicago African-American family buying a home in Clybourne Park- but also about Karl Lindner, the white opponent to their purchase in the then white neighborhood. Will McGarrahan, who plays Lindner, recently spoke about the Huntington revival and his character.
While Lindner has come across as an extreme racist in some productions, Cape Town, South Africa native director Liesl Tommy- the veteran Boston out actor observed- has seen him as less rabid. “Our approach is that he’s (Karl’s) making a good face effort ,” Will explained. “I’m trying (as Karl) to not let the ring leaders (who vehemently oppose the sale to the Youngers) have their way. Otherwise their house could get bombed.” McGarrahan , who would never excuse Lindner’s prejudice, did note that his character addresses the Youngers several times as “you people.” Even so, he offered, “Karl in ‘a Raisin in the Sun’ is aware that the task (of persuading the family to sell him their new home at a profit) is unpleasant and he’s trying to make it as pleasant as possible.”
If Walter Lee Younger learns to stand his ground as a proud black man and send Lindner away –no matter how pleasant he tries to be, McGarrahan also experienced his own emotional growth as a young gay man. “Certainly when I was growing up,” he admitted, ”being out of the closet wasn’t even in my mind. A big part of Walter is growing up. He’s becoming a man. Part of coming out was growing up also. It’s certainly different (for gay youth) now.” Although American attitudes have been evolving, McGarrahan noted, “Homophobia was part of the culture growing up and it still is now.”
Likewise racism remains a serious albeit an evolving issue in America. The Huntington Theatre Company’s incisive revival—with the help of Clint Ramos’s arrestingly grim South Side Chicago apartment set –makes the Younger family’s poverty achingly vivid. In the play, Walter’s would-be doctor sister Beneatha speaks of their lives as a kind of challenging circle, and Ramos has brilliantly depicted that circular life trap in a revolving set in which family members repeatedly struggle to find self-realization. Equally rich attention goes to Hansberry’s prescient observations about the importance of black entrepreneurship. LeRoy McClain- in a towering performance- captures Walter’s fiery devotion to his dream of becoming a successful store owner as well as his charisma and warmth as son, husband and father. His rage as Walter agonizes about the impossibility of his situation as a would be businessman brings stunning new definition to one of American theater’s great male roles. Ashley Everage finds all of Ruth’s deep love for husband Walter and respect for her mother-in-law Lena Younger. At the same time, some of most moving moments occur as Ruth fights the idea of aborting her pregnancy in the face of the family’s formidable financial challenges.
Kimberly Scott has all of matriarch Lena’s indomitable spirit as well as her vulnerability as a new home owner. Keona Welch conveys Beneatha’s independence of mind as well as her charms as a dating young woman . Will McGarrahan is convincingly clueless one moment and patronizing the next as Karl. Cory Janvier-who alternates with Zaire White has all of pre-teenage Travis’ energy and family feeling. Jason Bowen catches the poetry and the vision of Beneatha’s new boyfriend Joseph Asagai, especially in the description of an aging African leader who anticipates Nelson Mandela. In her inspired revival director Tommy brings singular life to the spirit of Lena’s late husband George, whose insurance policy—worth $10,000- allowed his loving widow to purchase the family’s new home.
Long before the gentrification challenging affluent black homeowner Lena in “Clybourne Park,” there was the racism confronting the new homeowner Lena Younger in “A Raisin in the Sun.” Hub theatergoers have the unusual opportunity to see both plays right now—with SpeakEasy Stage Company’s area premiere of the former at the BCA- and first-rate productions of both at that. Savor that opportunity.
A Raisin in the Sun, Huntington Theatre Company, BU Theatre, through April 7. 617-266-0800 or huntingtontheatre.org
Charlie Brown the teen
A different combination of battle for acceptance and rite of passage informs “Dog Sees God.” While unauthorized by the Charles M. Schultz Estate or United Features Syndicate, “ Bert V. Royal’s take-off—first presented at the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival brings the famed cartoon characters of “Peanuts” to the stage as adolescents dealing with issues of sexuality and drug experimentation as well as popularity, conformity and the growing pains of all young people. Director/scenic designer Lizette M. Morris tries to make the most of a high energy Happy Medium Theatre ensemble in the cozy confines of the Factory Theatre.
There are poster board size signs to give school days flavor to the proceedings, but Royal’s play seems more of a preach fest about the evils of bullying and homophobia than a heartfelt odyssey about CB- the earlier Charlie Brown. Michael Underhill as CB conveys the sexually ambivalent hero’s emotional conflict about gay Beethoven- the earlier pianist Schroeder-more than the play does. Nick Miller as vicious bully Matt and Audrey Lynn Sylvia as shallow popular girl Tricia shamelessly overact. Kiki Samko has her moments as theatrical CB’s Sister. Best and the main reason to see this uneven though well-intentioned production is Joey Pelletier’s heart-wrenching work as Beethoven, both as his love for CB blossoms and homophobic Matt turns ballistic .
After each performance, cast members are collecting donations to support the It Gets Better Project, which supports and brings real hope to lonely and vulnerable LGBT teenagers. For more information on the Project, visit www.itgetsbetter.org
Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, Happy Medium Theatre, Factory Theatre, Boston, through March 30. happymediumtheatre.com or dogseesgodboston.bpt.me