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Dramaworks breathes new life into stage classic

Feb 09 2013
Hap Erstein | Palm Beach Post

The verdict: A landmark play of black America...well performed here under guest director Scott. In 1959, at a time squarely between the Supreme Court desegregation decision and the Civil Rights Act, a young black woman named Lorraine Hansberry burst upon the Broadway stage with "A Raisin in the Sun," a landmark play about a struggling Chicago family's hopes and dreams. ...Palm Beach Dramaworks and guest director Seret Scott are reviving "Raisin," illuminating instead the family dynamics with new poignancy and universality. And in a fine ensemble cast, nearly all of whom are making their Dramaworks debuts, Ethan Henry stands out with a looming performance as Walter Lee, the grown son full of pipe dreams and short-sighted plans to achieve them. Everyone in the Younger household – a fictional stand-in for Hansberry's own family – has a dream. And most of them are tied to the $10,000 insurance check expected to arrive in the mail on Saturday. (Among the details that tell us "Raisin" was set in a far different time is the higher reliability of the postal service.) Walter Lee wants to use the money to buy a liquor store with his less-than-honorable buddies, Willie and Bobo. His sister Beneatha needs tuition money to continue her medical studies. Grandma Lena wants the dough to go for a down payment on a house in distant Clybourne Park, so her family might enjoy a better life and she might have a garden for her bedraggled houseplant. ...It all makes an involving stew, ... it still contains several powerful performance opportunities, which the cast at Palm Beach Dramaworks proves more than capable of delivering. In addition to Henry's fits of fury or his strangled cry of anguish when he relates how the money has slipped away, there is Pat Bowie as weary, exasperated, but brimming with dignity Lena. As Walter Lee's long-suffering wife Ruth, Shirine Babb is a tower of strength and maturity, and Joniece Abbott Pratt is a striking contrast as Walter Lee's sister, stringing along two boyfriends, immersed in African culture, but touching in a monologue on why she wants to be a doctor. ..."A Raisin in the Sun," ... remains significant for its historical place in American theater, and Dramaworks manages to breathe remarkable life into the work.