There are few things in history that actually change. Mothers want to be strong for their families, fathers want to build good examples for their sons to follow, and every generation strives to improve circumstances to allow progress for those who follow.
Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun is a shining example of a family trying to fulfill these goals, and will open this week at AASU's Jenkins Theatre.
These performances will commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the play's Broadway opening and are a nod to our country's efforts to move forward. "I feel that this play embodies the hope we need as a nation to recapture the American dream," says the play's director, Dr. Elizabeth Desnoyers-Colas.
A Raisin in the Sun, set in Chicago during the 1950's, opens with the discovery that Lena Younger (Mama) will be receiving insurance money from the death of her husband. Everyone has an idea of what to do with the money: her son Walter wants to use it to open a liquor store with his buddies, and her daughter Beneatha wants to use it as tuition for medical school. Mama decides to use half to buy a home in a white neighborhood, and gives the rest to Walter to split between himself and his sister.
In the meantime Walter's wife Ruth discovers she's pregnant, but is unsure whether she wishes to bring another child into their already struggling family. A gentleman comes calling and tries to buy back the home Mama bought, as the neighborhood residents aren't interested in having them live there. Lena rejects this offer, but Walter considers taking the bribe after he loses the money his mother gave him.
A play with this much notoriety always brings a crowd full of expectations and preconceived notions about how things should be done, but Dr. Desnoyers-Colas is confident in their production and the impact it will make. "We tried to make things look as original as possible, but, overall, as long as we stay true to the writer, we'll be ok."
In staying true to the writing, this production will feature one role originally cut from the Broadway performance and will alternate the use of two young men in the role of Travis. Another special treat will be the Sunday matinee which will offer the show's understudies an opportunity to perform.
This play is a model of people taking the roles they're given and doing the best they can with it. Alfred Pierce tries to explain his character's actions, saying that "Walter isn't a bad guy, he just wants to do what's best for his family. People always try to write him off as the antagonist, but he's just a regular guy trying to live up to all the expectations people have of him."
The actors are also aware of the challenges that come with being college students and playing characters far beyond their years, but they embrace it and see it only as a way of honing their craft.
"It's a challenge getting into the mindset of a mother in the 1950s," explains Lakeisha Williams, who plays Lena Younger. "It would be easy to just show people the hard core single parent side of Mama, but I really want them to see the emotional side of this woman."
As much as one could say times have changed, there are so many themes in this play that reverberate even now. "I believe people need to grab a message of hope wherever they can find one and pass it along, "says Dr. Desnoyers-Colas.
"This show ends on a high ray of hope and celebrates the dreamer can-do spirit. I want the audience to leave with the message ‘we can do this' going through their head no matter who they are."
A Raisin in the Sun
When: April 30, May 1-2, 8-9 at 7:30p.m. and May 3 at 3p.m.
Where: Jenkins Theatre on AASU campus at 11935 Abercorn St.
Cost: General admission is $10, seniors/military/kids are $8, AASU students/staff are free.