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For a Story I Heard Through the Grapevine: “A Raisin in the Sun”

I am so very obviously a child of the 1980s. This is why I love “The Goldbergs” so much. I get to watch and reminisce at the same time. It doesn’t hurt that they are incredibly funny either.

Back in my day a hip toy could be easily disguised as a rock or even a raisin but not just any raisin; a California Raisin. Do you remember those? For anyone too young to know what I am talking about here is what they looked like.
These Raisins were in a band and sung the very popular “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”. The song was originally done by Marvin Gaye. They had a cartoon show, were the official mascots of Post Raisin Bran, and an all-around cultural icon. This song is now playing on a loop in my head with the Raisins as a visual aid.
So when talking about the only other raisin I know you will know why I started with singing silly raisins and then moved to the topic of this post. I of course am talking about the new play on Broadway “A Raisin in the Sun.” Most people will have read this in school or at least seen one of the movie versions. The latest incarnation featured Phylicia Rashad and Sean “Puffy” Combs in 2008.             
When I think of this play I also think about Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”. I   was lucky enough to see that back in 2012 (
The main arc of the plot and the characters in it seem similar. They are certainly families both struggling to survive their life circumstances and do what’s best for the family. Alas, selfishness, greed, deceit, pretty much life in general is what each unit is dealing with. That is all of us in one way or another.
These types of stories always hit the heart hard. They bring up core issues that everyone can relate to and even though you know how the story ends you are still rooting for a miracle.

I was intrigued by this production when I learned about it one year ago. There was to be an all-star cast and since I have never seen it performed live I was delighted to go.

Denzel Washington plays William Lee Younger and is married to Sophie Okonedo who portrays his wife Ruth. Together they made an awesome pair. Denzel’s William was much more playful than I have ever seen this character. For that matter so was the show. Everyone had jokes and there seemed to be more cheer in breaking up the tense, otherwise depressing moments. In some ways that made them seem much more like a real family. These two brilliant actors played off each other’s chemistry and it felt like they had been married for over ten years. When they looked at each other you could feel the history and emotion.
Denzel got a lot of flak and didn’t receive a Tony nomination for his role, which was pretty much the opposite of all the other major characters. I was bracing myself because you never ever know how a big movie star will be under those bright lights. As much as I tried to find a hole in his performance I couldn’t. Even at the very end when I thought things should have stayed more serious I have to agree that they did right by this production. It was moving it forward. 

Sophie was practically the back and bones of this show and story. She is present in every scene and in those seconds when she is not her presence was sensed and missed. She was the strong woman and wife who took care of her family, forsaking herself, and pushed them ahead. When she breaks down it is almost too hard to watch because you know how important she is to her family.

Originally this play was also staring Diahann Carroll but she claimed the show schedule was too intense for her and dropped out shortly before rehearsals began. She was replaced by Mrs. Samuel Jackson a.k.a. LaTanya Richardson Jackson who was REMARKABLE. Simply amazing. There are not enough words. As the mother who must make an impossible choice and decide how her husband’s death insurance money should be spent you see the way they all rely on her for support and unconditional love. She seems to move about simultaneously knowing how important she was. Mrs. Jackson you blew me away. I am happy to say that now I have seen you and your husband (

Ms. Anika Noni Rose and I go way back to “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” in 2008. That was the very first time I ever heard about her and boy has she been busy since. I feel like she is in every television show and movie I watch. I especially enjoyed seeing her on “The Good Wife”. When she appeared at the stage door back then I was so surprised how nice she was even explaining she couldn’t sign because she was late for a flight but stood and waved. Nice and talented is a killer combo.
Since we have gotten acquainted since then I knew she would be a knockout here. Here as Benny, she was even better than I could have dreamed. She had the mix of physical comedy, sensitivity, and raw emotions readily available for the ride her character goes on.

Sean Patrick Thomas from “Save the Last Dance” fame played a minor role but with a lot of heart, as Benny’s boyfriend Joseph Asagai. His fake Nigerian accent was a bit off but it kept you laughing and further displayed the difference of opinion. He was a nice blast from the past.
Lastly there is the set. I am always impressed when I see a good set. The design obviously had such thought and care which is so important. Especially in a show like this where the set never changes. That means for almost three hours you are staring at the same thing and as the actors move through it you have to believe that it is really a home, fully functioning, and that this people who were created live there. That is a lot to ask of one setting but it was pulled off flawlessly. I began to smell the eggs that were “cooking” and the urgency from sharing a bathroom with your neighbors. It all worked together. I have to reiterate because if the set had problems the whole story goes out the window. It is the base, the glue keeping the stage alive.

I am happy to say that when it came time for the stage door, always a crucial moment for me and them (, I was the first on my side of the barricade. I was actually there standing in place of the barricade until it was moved. I have no bad things to say. They all came out and while Sean and Sophie only did a handful and fled, the rest went out of there way. Denzel didn’t sign anyone’s playbill and appeared to have a soft cast on his left hand. I was impressed if he was able to keep it off on stage if he is hurt. He walked to both sides and was shaking hands. The right hand I am now using for typing was touched by Mr. Washington himself. He posed and said hello and was gracious. That’s all I ask. Anika and LaTanya were the best. They spent the most time and took the most photos. I told LayTanya she should win her Tony her nomination it is well deserved.
Lorraine Hansberry's wrote this classic in 1959 and put on Broadway for the first time that same year. Lorraine Hansberry was the first African-American woman to have a play produced on Broadway and only the fifth woman to win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. Her inspiration was surely from her own life. In 1940 in the case of Hansberry v. Lee went all the way to the Supreme Court. Much like the Younger family, the Hansberry family went to court to avoid being prohibited from moving into an all-white neighborhood.
The Court:
“………held that since some of the neighborhood landowners (46%) comprising the class of the prior lawsuit did not support the restrictive covenant, the previous decision that the covenant was valid could not apply to all members of that class. In other words, it was erroneous to allow the 54% of neighborhood landowners who had supported the restrictive covenant to represent the interests of the 46% who were against it. Therefore, the Supreme Court held that the restrictive covenant could be contested in court again, even though some of the parties involved may have been included in the prior class of neighborhood landowner.”
It is unfortunate but Lorraine died at age thirty-four from cancer. We can only wonder what the world is missing from this loss. 
In 2010 Clybourne Park premiered on Broadway. This is the story of the original white owners, of the future Younger home, life during Act I. Act II takes place fifty years after the Youngers have moved in. I wish now more than ever I had seen that show when I had the chance. I knew about the plot but somehow last night sitting in that theater when the neighborhood was mentioned it was a whole different ballgame. Too bad I couldn’t just walk next door to see this play and continue on the journey. These plays really should be staged at the same time.
If you want to see Denzel and the rest of the crew there is no time like the present. So get your butt down to the Ethel Barrymore Theater now.
This show is closing on June 15th.
I will leave you with these words by Langston Hughes for which the title for this show is named:
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?

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