Chautauqua Puts On Emotional Performance Of ‘A Rasin In The Sun’

CHAUTAUQUA – There were very few dry eyes in the audience, when the Chautauqua Theater Company’s production of “A Raisin in the Sun,” by Lorraine Hansberry reached its conclusion.

The play is a classic one, dealing with an African-American family dealing with racism and with their sense of being utterly hopeless of ever achieving their goals, no matter how hard they worked. This production, with sensitive direction from Ethan McSweeny, covered all that, but they went far beyond, to deal with raceless and classless problems, such as whether a parent who loves and wants what’s best for her children, can go too far in forcing them to do things her way. With issues such as whether we love people because they do what’s best for us, or whether we love them, whether what they do is good for us or not.

The play benefited from brilliant casting. Lynda Gravatt was a powerhouse as the family’s matriarch, Lena Younger. She showed us how a proud woman could accept her own failings, when they occurred, and continue to grow and move forward.

Jonathan Majors had a tour de force as Walter Lee Younger, Lena’s only son. He showed us a character who was so boxed in my life, he could barely survive. Chelsea Williams was strong and very attractive as his wife, and Derek Johnson was a welcome addition as their young son.

Chasten Harmon played Walter’s sister, Beneatha, who had dreams of her own, and who needed some help in feeling her way through the conflict between new ideas and what had been ingrained in her since birth.

Christian Demarais managed to make a conflicted character rather than a stock villain, out of the white “neighborhood improvement chairman,” who comes to the family’s home to convince them that they should take the money he is offering and not trouble the neighborhood with their company.

The rest of the company was also strong and effective.

Andrea Lauer’s costumes toed the line perfectly, between looking like clothes which people would wear on the street without notice, and using what characters wore to teach the audience more about them and their internal lives.

Scenic designer Lee Savage put a small, two room apartment on the stage, and again, achieved a dramatic compromise, between showing extreme poverty, and showing how hard these people were working to be clean and self-respectful, and doing everything they could.

The end result was thrilling. Anyone who has convinced himself that he needn’t see this production because he saw the film, 50 years ago, or he read the script in high school, needs very much to think again.

See this production, if you can possibly arrange to do so. It repeats through July 6.