Denzel Washington Opens in ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ On Broadway: REVIEW

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BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Just before the curtain rises on a beautifully acted production of A Raisin in the Sun, which opened on Broadway April 3 at the Barrymore Theatre, a recorded interview with Lorraine Hansberry pipes through the darkened house, the playwright advocating for broader audiences and greater accessibility in American theatre. The irony will be lost on no one who’s managed to snag a ticket to see the starry ensemble, led by Denzel Washington.

A RAISIN IN THE SUN 1960AcapHansberry’s 1959 drama, last on Broadway just ten years ago in a revival headlined by Sean Combs (aka P Diddy), is as much a chronicle of mid-century black experience in America as it is an uncluttered family portrait. Set on Chicago’s south side, the story looks in on the Younger family in their small, shabby apartment housing three generations under one roof. Grandfather Younger has recently passed, and a life insurance check is en route to his widow Lena (a sublime LaTanya Richardson Jackson).

Her son Walter Lee (Mr. Washington) has his mind set on using the cash to buy and run a liquor store. His sister Beneatha (Anika Noni Rose) could use some of the money to follow her dream of going to medical school. And Walter’s wife Ruth (Sophie Okonedo) shares Lena’s wish to move the family to a larger house where Ruth and Walter’s son Travis (Bryce Clyde Jenkins) can have a room of his own.

A RAISIN IN THE SUN cap1052_A_cropThe play’s relatively straightforward plot functions as a vehicle for Hansberry’s revelatory account of pre-Civil Rights black experience in all its particulars. Some of her talking points feel more seamlessly integrated than others, but the uniformly stellar cast draws us into their story from its first moments. Like every family, this Younger clan has its own practiced rhythms and ways of relating, and together the company creates a captivating alchemy it’s hard to look away from.

A master of the wordless glance, Ms. Jackson’s Lena balances quiet wisdom with a glorious and equally commanding bluntness. Ms. Rose is wonderful as the young, ambitious Beneatha, the vulnerability beneath her character’s idealism always coursing close to the surface. Rounding out remarkable performances by the show’s leading women, Okonedo (Oscar nominated for Hotel Rwanda) dams up a precarious swell of feeling behind Ruth’s firm exterior.

Washington, a Tony winner for his performance in August Wilson’s Fences, has a star-powered stage presence that translates into palpable command of audience sympathy. His Walter Lee carries an easy charm that makes it difficult to resent his follies for long, so he’s likable even at his most despicable. Though he doesn’t tread a difficult path to redemption, Washington’s interpretation is no less believable and moving for it.  

Director Kenny Leon, who also helmed the 2004 revival, maintains focus on drawing out fine performances from the talented company and forging an engaging, accessible family dynamic. If the drama feels more peppered with casual humor even at its most serious, moments of levity keep the pacing brisk and make the play that much more enjoyable to watch.

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos:brigitte lacombe)

Comments

  1. JOE 2 says

    Love this play. Wish I could see this production. PS, apropos of the fact that this is “a site with homosexual tendencies,” I think it’s worth noting that Lorraine Hansberry was gay.

  2. I thought gays love theatre says

    Once again we see just how little being black has to do with being gay. Here we have an American actor who has garnered countless accolades throughout the years to include the coveted “Oscar”. Yet look how little anyone comments. Had this been about Madonna picking her nose every white queer and non-white queer attempting to be white, would have creamed himself to comment. You people are as weak as watered down vodka.

  3. Tyler says

    I want to see this show! The play is really well written. It focused on the issues of equality and justice, which is interesting. I’m almost surprised that the writer of this blog-entry didn’t say anything about the playwright’s experiences with sexual identity. It’s widely believed that Hansberry was a lesbian, or at least supportive of gay liberation.

  4. Liam says

    @I THOUGHT GAYS . . . your racist comment attacking “every white queer and non-white queer attempting to be white” went up exactly 27 minutes after the post. May be a sign that you need to take a little time to think before posting your bile.

    In any event, this white queer has tickets for next week and is looking forward to it.

  5. MIke says

    “I THOUGHT GAYS…” is definitely that theater audience person on their feet screaming and hooting during the standing ovation that you have to turn away from in embarrassment for them. OH DENZEL!!!!

  6. Elsewhere1010 says

    Hansberry’s death at age 34 of pancreatic cancer was surely one of the greatest losses our stage has had to endure. She was a woman or rare understanding and immense talent, and we can now only dream about what she might have written.

  7. Mikey says

    @I THOUGHT GAYS…
    I can’t wait to see this – we have tickets for May 18th. I’d have let you know sooner but I was busy having an afternoon delight with “a non-white queer”.

  8. Tyler says

    Fake Tyler (Rick) is posting as me again, but since he didn’t post anything inherently terrible I’ll allow it. But I’ve got my eye on you, Rick.

  9. Kevin says

    I’m not that enamored with Denzel Washington either.

    Wasn’t he the one who told Will Smith not to take the gay role in “Six Degrees of Separation”? because it would hurt his career?

    Sorry, could care less about DW on Broadway.

  10. SpaceCadet says

    Interesting how Denzel is being accused of being a homophobe when he starred in Philadelphia, basically an acclaimed “gay movie”, and ironically playing a character while initially bigoted, becomes a lot more tolerant by the end of it.

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