Fri 1/25-Sun 2/17
In 1959, Lorraine Hansberry was the first black woman playwright to have a work performed on Broadway. She won the New York Drama Critics Circle award for that play, A Raisin in the Sun. She was only 29, and one of the brightest rising stars in the theater world.
Alas, that future was not to be: she died of cancer at 34 in early 1965. A Raisin in the Sun is one of only a handful of works she left behind — but what a play it is!
As with many writers’ first works, she drew heavily on her own life growing up on the south side of Chicago in a period of racial turmoil (although when is Chicago not in a period of racial turmoil?) The play’s underlying motivation of a black family’s attempt to purchase their own home spotlights decades of housing discrimination in the city, with African-Americans contained in congested ghettos regardless of their means, and encountering resistance when they tried to move beyond them.
When her father purchased a house in a white subdivision in Woodlawn (at the opposite end of the same neighborhood where the Obama Presidential Center is being built) and encountered resistance from the neighbors, he sued and took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the 1940 Hansberry v. Lee decision, the court ruled to weaken so-called restrictive covenants, which barred homeowners from selling to certain groups of people. (In Chicago in a slightly earlier period, they were also used against Jews).
Clearly, this fight seeped deeply into the consciousness of the young Hansberry, who was 10 when the decision came down. She became an avid activist in college and continued to fight for civil rights (including gay rights) in New York City after graduation. A Raisin in the Sun, which takes its title from a poem by Langston Hughes, who spent time working in Cleveland at Karamu House, looks at the human cost on a family fighting to escape the ghetto and the conflicts that fight gives rise to. In addition it explores themes of black identity and what values black people should embrace.
The play will be performed at Fridays and Saturdays @ 8pm and Sundays @ 2pm through Sun 2/17. Tickets are $27-$40.