The next production to hit the Muhlenberg mainstage will be Lorraine Hansberry’s ground-breaking 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun. Muhlenberg’s production will be directed by Muhlenberg College’s guest artist, Emmy Award-nominated choreographer and director Jeffrey Page.
A Raisin in the Sun centers around the Youngers, an African-American family living in a small, worn-down apartment on the south side of Chicago. They are about to receive a $10,000 life insurance check following the death of protagonist Walter Lee Younger’s father, and each member of the family hopes the newfound money will be used in a different way. Lena, the family matriarch, hopes to save the money to move the family out of their apartment, whereas her children, Walter Lee and Beneatha, want to use it to further their own interests; Walter wants to invest in a liquor store, and Beneatha wants to put the money towards her higher education and medical school. Throughout the play, the family struggles to find hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.
The Muhlenberg Weekly had the opportunity to sit in on the designer run, in which the production designers (costume, set, lights and sound), the crew and the stage management team watch the actors perform the show. The designer run took place in the First Floor Rehearsal Hall, where they have made excellent use of rehearsal props and costumes in combination with the set pieces that are housed in the studio space. The studio space really felt like it was a snapshot of the Youngers’ world: certain props and pieces of furniture were period-accurate, photos from the time period along with the costume and set designs were posted on the walls. This was crucial in making the atmosphere of A Raisin in the Sun completely come alive in the space.
At this designer run, Maereg Gebretekle ‘22 stood in for the role of Walter Lee Younger, who will be played in the performances by Jalil Robinson ’22. Although she referenced the script, Gebretekle knew all of the blocking for Walter, so the other performers could still run the play as normal. Other casting includes Interim Director of Multicultural Life Kiyaana Cox-Jones as Lena Younger and her son Messiah James Jones as Travis Younger, the son of Walter Lee and his wife Ruth, who is played by Mercy Olajobi ’21. In a college setting, it is not that common for a character who is a child to be played by someone that is the character’s age. Having Jones as Travis makes his character feel even more authentic to the audience, and his onstage interactions with his offstage mother make the family dynamic as believable as the fantastic dialogue Hansberry has written.
One moment of this particular rehearsal that stood out was when Page had each member of the cast, crew and creative team introduce themselves and say what their role in the production was. It implicitly made the point clear that everyone involved in the production was important, not just the actors onstage. This also suggested that such a welcoming environment was present throughout the rehearsal process.
A fascinating choice that has been made for the production is to have the actors help set up the various scene changes. They move different set pieces and props around as period-accurate transition music plays. In this way, the audience is able to see the “in-between” moments between scenes, giving life to moments that are just jumps in time in Hansberry’s script.
Watching Hansberry’s words come to life through the excellent performances made it evident that this play, despite being written 60 years ago, is still extremely contemporary. Beneatha Younger, played by Nicole Morris ’21, struggles with her sense of identity, having an intense conversation with her Nigerian friend Joseph Asagai, played by Frederick Marte ’20, about assimilation. Assimilation and immigration continue to be hot political topics, and the continued poverty faced by the Youngers and others in their community also remains an issue throughout the United States today.
Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is packed with political discussions, serious family dynamics and even some moments of comedy. Each of the actors give compelling performances, completely embodying each of their respective characters and developing the relationships between each of the characters in the play flawlessly. Set design by faculty member Curtis Dretsch makes the small and worn-down space in which the Youngers are living that much more prominent, fitting in with the idea of the “rat trap,” as Lena Younger refers to it. From incredibly complex and thought-provoking characters and themes created by Hansberry to the way these ideas are superbly enhanced through Page’s direction, Muhlenberg College’s production of A Raisin in the Sun is certainly going to be a fantastic and insightful experience for the community. The play runs from Thursday, Feb. 20 to Sunday, Feb. 23.