Monday, February 4, 2013

Palm Beach Dramaworks: A Raisin In The Sun (2 reviews)

Palm Beach Dramaworks opened its production of A Raisin in the Sun on February 1, 2013.
Lorraine Hansberry’s groundbreaking play about black pride, racism and dreams.  In this powerful, classic drama, a substantial insurance payment could have life-changing consequences for a poor black family living on Chicago's South Side in the 1950s.
Seret Scott directed a cast that included Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Shirine Babb,Mekiel Benjamin, Pat Bowie, Kyle Barrett, Marckenson Charles, Lanardo Davis, Ethan Henry, Dave Hyland, Mcley LaFrance, Jordan Tisdale, and Joshua Valbrun.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
It starts slow, so slow that you fear it may never get going. Not boring, just eavesdropping on a domestic slice of life that isn’t inherently dramatic. In fact, it’s 45 minutes before the family banter and kitchen sink naturalism of Palm Beach Dramaworks’ A Raisin in the Sun finally gets the electrical jolt that a 21st Century audience is jonesing for.

But when they do come, the emotional wallops arrive in every deepening wave of gut-wrenching, heart-rending passion, arguably all the more potent for having emerged from such a quiet, prosaic run up.
Equally remarkable is that while this Raisin has superb performances by Pat Bowie as the matriarch Lena and Ethan Henry as Walter, Seret Scott has kept these protagonists life-sized, not self-conscious icons. The result is that this production is as much an ensemble piece about a family as we’ve ever seen it.
They rarely seem like actors delivering spotlighted moments from a script, even when the characters are scraping emotions out of their souls. We’re just peering through the fourth wall of their apartment into scenes of real life. And yet, almost contradictorily, Scott and her actors have somehow captured the near poetry of Hansberry’s stirring speeches plausibly emanating from the mouths of everyday people.
Scott deserves a good deal of credit for what we see, but she has also assembled a fine cast of local and out of town actors. Start with Ethan Henry who the last 12 months or so has gifted us with the corrupt drug counselor on The Motherf**ker With The Hat, the smooth attorney in Race, and the best performance last year that no one saw, the title character in M Ensemble’s King Hedley II. which won him a Carbonell nomination last month. Henry fulfills that promise with a multi-dimensional portrait of a decent but seriously flawed individual still searching for the fulfillment and even the definition of his manhood.
Audiences may remember Pat Bowie’s standout performance as the pragmatic mother in the Caldwell Theatre’s production of Doubt soon after it moved to its new building five years ago. The way Bowie just inhabits Lena is notable for the very fact that you rarely catch her acting.
Babb has the thankless role of Ruth who wonders if she can bring another child into this world and her damaged marriage. Babb makes you see that Ruth sees the child as much as a cause for fear as joy. The actress convincingly charts the spectrum from Ruth’s beaten down moments to her exultation at the prospect of escaping the rattrap of an apartment and all it represents.
Pratt does a solid job throughout, but something special happens when she sits stunned at the top of Act 3 after the money has vanished... in this scene, Pratt’s dreamer is nakedly consumed with despair and a terrible lack of faith in humanity.

Fortunately, to give her and the audience some hope, Hansberry and Scott have Marckenson Charles as Agasai to deliver Hansberry’s signature belief in the future. Charles has made a reputation with such roles as the aspiring writer in Superior Donuts at GableStage,.  Here, Charles takes the supporting role of Agasai and invests it with a heartfelt sincerity and earnestness that is moving.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Palm Beach Dramaworks has just opened its new production of Hansberry’s play, one that underscores the drama’s edge-of-your-seat timelessness. Staged by guest director Seret Scott, the show features a seamlessly blended cast of South Florida performers and other regional theater veterans, actors whose unifying quality is excellence. Anyone who loves a great production of a well-made play should seek it out.
Bowie and Henry are superb as a mother and son at odds, two people bound by love but certain their way is the best. Each delineates and illuminates the journey Lena and Walter Lee take, Bowie’s Lena coming to understand that some of her actions have mirrored what a crushing society has done to her son, Henry’s tormented Walter Lee finally stepping up for his family.

Babb’s stoic Ruth and Pratt’s free-spirited Beneatha are a study in contrasts, as are Jordan Tisdale’s George and Marckenson Charles’ Joseph Asagai.
The Dramaworks production is beautifully designed, from the set with its faded floral wallpaper to Brian O’Keefe’s just-right ‘50s costumes, Joseph P. Oshry’s lighting and Richard Szczublewski’s sound design, which ties together scenes with jazz that seems to warn of conflicts to come.
...as with Death of a Salesman or The Glass Menagerie, a great production of A Raisin in the Sun — and that’s what you’ll find at Dramaworks — can move you just as much as the 1959 original did with its audiences back in the day.
A Raisin in the Sun plays at Palm Beach Dramaworks through March 3, 2013.

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