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Theater review: 'A Raisin in the Sun' at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center

March 31, 2011 |  2:00 pm

Raisin Inspired by her own family's legal struggle against restrictive “whites only” property covenants, Lorraine Hansberry poured heart and soul into “A Raisin in the Sun,” which debuted on Broadway in 1959 and was later made into a film starring Sidney Poitier.

In her Los Angeles directing debut, Phylicia Rashad pours heart and soul into her staging of “Raisin” at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center.  Most widely known for her work on “The Cosby Show,” Rashad, who won a Tony for her performance in the 2004  Broadway revival of "Raisin"  with P. Diddy, nails the play's rich humor in a solidly rendered production.  However, she sometimes lapses into over-emphasis, letting her performers milk every ounce of emotionalism from any given opportunity –- and opportunities there are plenty.  That's not a big problem, given Rashad's wonderful actors, who realize the large, genuinely anguished moments with faultless craft. 

The action, set on Michael Ganio's spectacular tenement set, centers around a $10,000 insurance check paid to matriarch Lena (Tony winner L. Scott Caldwell, in a riveting turn.)  Lena's son, Walter Lee (excellent Kevin Carroll) wants the money for a get-rich-quick scheme.  When Lena instead uses the money as a down payment on a house, Walter Lee's frustration grows apace, as does his estrangement from his wife Ruth (Deidrie Henry, also fine), who, to complicate matters, has just learned she is pregnant.  The fact that the house is in a whites-only neighborhood increases the pressures on this beleaguered urban family.

The terrific cast includes Brandon David Brown, Amad Jackson, Jason Dirden, Scott Mosenson and Ellis E. Williams. It's a tribute to Hansberry's craft that “Raisin” seems more timely with each passing decade, particularly in its prescient feminism, as personified by the character of Beneatha (Kenya Alexander), the outspoken college coed determined to be a doctor despite the era's dictates against her gender and race.  Fortunately for us all, Hansberry ignored the strictures of her own era to create deathless drama.

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-- F. Kathleen Foley

“A Raisin in the Sun,” Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles.  8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m Sundays. Ends April 17. $45-$75. (323) 964-9766. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

Photo: L. Scott Caldwell, Kevin Carroll.  Credit: Craig Schwartz. 

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