“What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”
“Harlem” by Langston Hughes
In 1938, the parents of eight year old Lorraine Hansberry purchased a house in the Washington Park subdivision on Chicago’s South Side. Efforts by white neighbors to enforce a racially restrictive covenant that barred African Americans from purchasing property in the neighborhood ultimately lead to a 1940 United States Supreme Court decision in Hansberry v. Lee, which permitted the sale. Eight years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that courts could not enforce racially restrictive covenants on real estate.
Hansberry’s father did not live to see it, dying in 1946. “American racism helped kill him,” she observed. Looking back on the experience in her autobiography, Hansberry wrote: “Twenty-five years ago, [my father] spent a small personal fortune, his considerable talents, and many years of his life fighting, in association with NAACP attorneys, Chicago’s ‘restrictive covenants’ in one of this nation’s ugliest ghettos. That fight also required our family to occupy disputed property in a hellishly hostile white neighborhood in which literally howling mobs surrounded our house. … My memories of this ‘correct way’ of fighting white supremacy in America include being spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school. And I also remember my desperate and courageous mother, patrolling our household all night with a loaded German Luger, doggedly guarding her four children, while my father fought the respectable part of the battle in the Washington court.”
The young playwright revisited the traumatic childhood experience in her groundbreaking classic, “A Raisin in the Sun.” The play follows the Younger family, looking to use an insurance settlement to purchase a house in an all-white neighborhood because it would be much less expensive than a house in an all-black neighborhood. In 1959 it became the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway. She became the youngest American playwright to win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. Tragically, less than five years later, Hansberry succumbed to pancreatic cancer.
Director Cathy Kurz had dreamed of directing the play for years. “I’ve loved the script since I came across it in my twenties, and always thought I’d like to direct it. Last winter when I started reading for this season, it was the first one that came into my mind–like rediscovering an old friend–and a beautiful play to begin BSB’s 25th year. I talked with John Beasley who was a great help both with advice and in getting the word out to potential cast members. We were able to fill 7 of the 9 roles from our June auditions. Then by networking through other friends and company members, we added the two remaining actors–it is a fabulous cast.” A fabulous cast indeed, including Kathy Tyree, Tammy Ra Jackson, Regina Palmer, and Omaha newcomer Jason Gray. Gray is an actor, director, writer and teacher who has studied at the British American Drama Academy and the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York.
The play remains compelling and relevant nearly sixty years after its debut. And Hansberry’s presence has not faded. “You can feel her energy, vivacity and her sense of humor throughout the script,” says Kurz. Don’t miss Hansberry’s presence at Brigit St. Brigit this September.
“A Raisin in the Sun” will be the first production of Brigit St. Brigit’s 2017-2018 season. It will be performed in the Memorial Chapel at the First Central Congregational Church at 421 South 36th Street on September 7, 8. 9; 15, 16, 17; 21, 22, 23; 29, 30 and October 1. Curtain is at 7:30 Thursday through Saturday, and 2:00 pm on Sundays. Tickets are $30 for adults, and $25 for students, seniors (65+), and members of the military. Tickets can be ordered on line through Brigit St. Brigit’s website, http://www.bsbtheatre.com or by calling the box office line at (402) 502-4910.