Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
The New McCree Theatre can always be counted on to produce amazing musical talent; musical productions there are always a treat. However, the currently running production of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic A Raisin in the Sun which opened this week, makes it safe to say that New McCree may be equally adept at straight drama.
It’s the story of the Younger family, a poor African-American family of five living in a one bedroom apartment in 1950s Chicago. Their chance to escape from poverty arrives in the form of an insurance check for $10,000. As is so often the case, money doesn’t always guarantee happiness or harmony, and when Lena uses part of the money to buy a house in the suburbs, trouble brews.
Strong performances were the order of the evening Friday as the various personalities clashed and clinched throughout. The apartment belongs to Lena Younger (Cassandria Wilson) who is the matriarch of the family. She has lived there her entire married life until Walter, Sr. died and left her the insurance money. Wilson brings a sweet strength to this character. She is forceful and exceptionally wise.
Lena’s son, Walter Lee (Henri Watkins) also lives in the apartment with his wife, Ruth (Tameka Duncan) and son, Travis (DeAndre Deleon, Jr.) Walter has his flaws; he drinks too much and seems basically wounded in spirit. He hasn’t been able to provide for his family properly and sees the money his mother inherits as a way out. Watkins is excellent in this role. He swings logically from anger to insecurity and succeeded Friday in causing us to actually understand Walter’s pain even as the character behaved badly.
Duncan is wonderful in this complex role as Walter’s wife. She is stressed but strong and nurturing. Ruth is the peace maker, keeping the family on balance with her calm and steady demeanor. Always in character, even as she fades into the background to watch the family dynamics unfold, Duncan is clearly a hinge on which the production moves.
A newcomer to McCree all but stole the show Friday as Shayla Blade took on the role of Berneatha. Walter’s younger sister and a medical school student, Berneatha’s character provides the dash and humor needed in this story. Blade’s amazing timing, her spunk and edgy satire brought this intelligent and quirky character to life. Her African tribal dance with brother Walter was a delightful highlight.
Speaking of dance highlights, director Cathy Johnson is to be commended for guiding this production to the polished finished product it is. Her understanding of movement and dance is evident in the staging here.
Young Deleon is hesitant but typical in his role. He does a good job by being steady and focused even when he seems to be waiting for a cue. His role is very important because Travis is the future they all are trying to guarantee.
Others are important to the family beginning with Berneatha’s two beaux, Joseph Asagai (Stuart Elzy) and George Murchison (Darius Smith). Elzy plays this engaging Nigerian native with a slight accent that worked well and didn’t interfere with our understanding. His Asagai is stately and reserved with a definite twinkle in his eye.
Smith’s portrayal of the rich and probably spoiled college kid defined the character well. His perpetual scowl and stuffy behavior let us know that while he may be rich, he is not the fellow for our Berneatha.
J.R. Nunley plays Karl Lindner, a white man representing the homeowners where the new house is located. Nervous and uneasy, he still offers to buy the Youngers out since the neighbors do not want them to move in. Nunley is breathless and syrupy as he offers more than Lena paid for the house to keep them out.
One role is double-cast. Bobo, the friend that brings bad news to Walter, was played with overwrought intensity Friday by John R. Vincent. (Dennis Sykes is also listed in this role.) Vincent nearly melted down in his angst over the bad news. Between he and Watkins, this scene neared hysteria.
The play ran fairly long Friday – close to three hours. Tempos did slow occasionally which may account for the length. Still, it was a very enjoyable experience and totally engrossing.
A Raisin in the Sun continues at The New McCree Theatre, 5005 Cloverlawn in Flint through May 19. For more information call 810-787-2200 or connect online at www.TheNewMcCreeTheatre.com