By Blake Nelson
Last Thursday, the University of Nevada, Reno’s Department of Theater and Dance presented a live performance of the Broadway hit “A Raisin in the Sun,” and with much success.
The play, written by Lorraine Hansberry in 1959, addresses themes of race in Chicago during the 1950s and was performed wonderfully by the relatively small cast. Playing each character with tenacity and understanding of their motives really helped certain performances shine.
As the curtain opens, the viewer is placed into a small and tawdry apartment on Chicago’s South Side. The first character to enter the stage is Ruth Younger, a diligent and loyal wife and mother, dealing with the entire family, played by Kennedy Hall.
In the opening scene, Hall delivered a nuanced performance of the morning routine of a working-class mother. The stress of early mornings and familial responsibility is expressed in the actions and words of Hall, setting the stage for the tone of the play.
Next to enter is Travis Younger, the man of the family, played by Christian Ordaz. Ordaz’s performance in the opening was slack and could have better expressed the stress that the character feels.
As the play unfolded, however, Ordaz’s performance improved through to the climax, where his performance was undoubtedly at its best.
The actor that steals the show is Geralda Miller who played the family’s matriarch, Lena Younger. While being lovable and funny, Miller was able to still come through with a very serious side when the time called for it.
The play progresses through a series of dialogues in the apartment between the family members while a settlement check worth $10,000 is being awarded to them, something the family is placing its dreams on.
Dreams are the main theme of the play, and the conflicting dreams of the family serve as the main issue.
As the four main characters feud due to the stress of life as marginalized individuals, the characters’ ambitions are exposed. Holding the family together, through all the strife, is the want to have better things for themselves and not be discriminated against for the color of their skin.
One of the most interesting scenes in the play is when Beneatha Younger, played by Jada Wilson, converses with Joseph Asagai, played by Richard McIver. Asagai’s African culture clashes with Beneatha’s hopes to be a doctor in America, revealing the tension between the roots of the characters and their aspirations.
Through all the seriousness, the play still hits all the comic cues, giving a much-needed release to the tension. All the jokes were on point and the actors were able to still show a funny side to a really difficult performance.
As the play climaxes, Ordaz and Miller give the best performances in the play, touching on bloodlines and shattered dreams. The two actors deliver a visceral performance that really makes the play that much better and pertinent in today’s culture that is desperately trying to reach a post-race society.
“A Raisin in the Sun” was a great choice for the theater production, as it functions as a window into the racial history of America and can still be viewed through the lens of a racially-charged society. The cast did a good job of representing both aspects and through that is sure to touch the audience.
Blake Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @b_e_nelson.