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Open: 03/17/12- Close: 04/01/12 A Raisin In The Sun
Reviewed for By: Minda Larsen

Just off the F train, on a street corner in Park Slope, Brooklyn, the Gallery Players resurrects the powerful American classic, A Raisin in the Sun.  Lorraine Hansberry's groundbreaking play premiered on Broadway in 1959 and depicts a few weeks in the life of the Younger family, a poor, African American family living in Chicago's South Side in the 1950's. The play opens as the family eagerly awaits a $10,000 insurance check upon the death of Mr. Younger. We follow the varied and conflicting dreams of the Younger family as they await the money: Mama Leena dreams of moving to a better neighborhood for her family. Her son, Walter Lee, dreams of owning a liquor store and becoming a business executive. Beneatha, Walter's sister, dreams of education and social status as a doctor.

As the play progresses, the Youngers’ competing ideas begin to clash. The matriarch of the family, Leena, struggles to keep her family in tact. Walter Lee declares, “I got to change my life because I'm choking to death...” as Beneatha, to her mother’s horror,  rejects God, saying “I just get so tired of Him getting the credit...for things the human race achieves through its own effort.” Ruth, Walter Lee’s wife, finds herself pregnant and contemplating whether to keep the baby, worried about the current financial stress her family faces.

In an effort to restore hope to her family, Leena buys her family a new home in Clybourne Park, a white neighborhood in Chicago. She gives the remaining money to her son, who ultimately loses it, in an attempt to open a liquor store. Not only does he lose the money for his sister’s education but the money that fueled his family's dreams. Finally, The Youngers, led by Walter Lee, as the emerging "head of the family" decide to move into their new house, despite adversity from the white community. The future is seemingly dangerous and unclear, but the Younger Family surfaces optimistic and determined to build a better life. 

The Younger Family unit, essential to the success of this play, is intensely alive; the relationships are delivered by a superb group of actors.  Indeed, the Gallery Players production is strikingly successful and leaves audience members vibrating in its truthful depiction of human strife.

Walter Lee Younger's plight as the “head of the family” is vividly portrayed by Kwaku Driskell.  Walter Lee’s dejected chauffeur monologue, “[...all I see] is a big, looming blank space of nothing” is staggeringly human and heart-wrenching. Driskell embraces Walter’s masculine egoism and worldly ignorance with impenitent resolve, his performance, in turn, heroic.

Another stand-out performance was Brittany Bellizeare in the role of Beneatha Younger. An educated and ambitious realist, Brittany’s Beneatha is vibrant and full of life. She possesses excellent timing, illustrated in the first scene she shares with a Joseph Asagai. Asagai, a Nigerian student, is brilliantly played by Arthur James Solomon. Solomon’s performance sparkles with a magnetic combination of strength and vulnerability. The audience erupted in spontaneous applause after his resounding delivery of the monologue in Act Two ending “So this is what the New World hath finally wrought!"

Hope Harley’s portrayal of Mama Leena candidly depicted Leena’s plight to protect and preserve her family. Harley’s performance resonated with moments of greatness and she remained committed her objectives, despite some pacing and rhythmic issues, especially evident in Act One.

Sameerah Luqmann-Harris’ performance of Ruth Younger was luminous its fragility and quiet strength. Ross Johnson was the delightful and  hopeful young Travis Younger.

 The set design by Casha Jacot-Guillarmod was quite efficient and innovative, accurately depicting the Younger’s “rat-trap” of a home they can’t wait to escape.

The direction by Reginald L. Douglas served the audience a clear and radiant production, its message captivating, its characters sincere. The rhythmic and timing issues subtly felt in the first act dissolved by Act Two and the production kicked into full throttle.  Indeed, by the final scene, Walter Lee’s line, delivered so resonantly by Driskell: “And we've move into our house” confirmed a truly successful performance.  After such a performance, I am compelled to sit down and think. As Asagai urges, “Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.”

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Gallery Players : 199 14th St. (bt 4th and 5th Aves.)