A Raisin in the Sun is not just about the dreams that tear a family apart as they compete to be made real by an inheritance — although it is all that — it is a play that tackles racial identity and prejudice, poverty and values that change across generations. And yet it remains an easy going often humorous piece made real by universally strong performances. No wonder this production is receiving five star reviews from the Guardian and Telegraph alike.
Writing in the late 1950s, on the brink of America’s civil rights revolution, Lorraine Hansberry must have been tempted to polemicise and to idealise her subjects, yet instead she successfully presents them as flawed, and so genuine, human beings. They can be stubborn, they can be cruel, they can be kind and they can be duped.
Matriarch Lena is all too aware of her status as the fourth generation of her family to live in America and how close she is to the slave generations before her. She still feels rootless, but is desperate to conform. She wants the family to leave the ghetto, but the step up is to a white area; an area where the people have worked hard to keep things nice.
Her son Walter Lee, whose anger and frustration often dominates the stage, looks forward naively to entering into business and pursuing the American dream, but in his desperation takes a risk too far, while his exasperation threatens to pull his family apart. Daughter Beneatha’s dream of becoming a doctor seems similarly fanciful (a black woman doctor!?), but her need to look beyond America to find her roots enables her to find a way.
The inconclusive ending is similarly brave and ensures the audience leave with plenty to think about.