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Posts Tagged Clybourne Park

A Raisin in the Sun: It Feels Personal

Walter Lee Younger (Darius Dotch) yearns to fulfill his dream.
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Watching  Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun feels very personal to me. It reminds me of my own immigrant family’s struggle to get a foothold in America. Survival meant starting over with menial jobs, with the hope of rising to something better. The something better came as a better-paying job for my father and, finally from years of saving every last dime possible, a starter home in a suburb with good schools. Imagine then what it was like to be the first Chinese family on our suburban block and what it meant to stay and stand our ground.

Lena Younger receives the $10,000 life insurance payment after her husband’s death as Ruth and Travis Younger (Ivory Doublette & Calvin Zimmerman) look on.
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

In the play, three generations of an African American family, the Youngers, live under one roof in a cramped, rundown apartment in 1950s Chicago. When matriarch Lena receives a $10,000 life insurance payment after her husband’s death, the family gets the chance to fulfill some lifelong dreams, including homeownership in a better neighborhood. Imagine then what it will be like for them to be the first black family in the all-white neighborhood of Clybourne Park.

Karl Lindner (Robert Gardner) from the Clybourne Park neighborhood association (aka “The Welcoming Committee”) visits with Ruth and Walter Lee Younger (Ivory Doublette & Darius Dotch).
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Watching A Raisin in the Sun feels very personal to me. It reminds me of my own immigrant family’s struggle to get a foothold in America. What do you think that felt like? Try this: Imagine looking out the window to see a group of teenage boys surrounding your father when he comes home from work. Imagine the deep dents in your front door from surprise rock-throwing attacks. Imagine the sound of pebbles skimming across your living room window that may or may not break at any moment. Imagine disgusting objects being tossed into your backyard. Imagine the derogatory remarks from police officers who you know will not protect you.

In the play, three generations of an African American family, the Youngers, plan to finally live under one roof in their very own house, realizing what they will face–how unwelcomed they will be. Imagine what it’s like to fight for dignity as one dreams of something better in a society that devalues you. Can you imagine what it takes to stand your ground?

 

NOTE: Tickets for A Raisin in the Sun are very limited. More information here.

 

ANSA AKYEA: About Transformation and Letting Go

In Hansol Jung’s Cardboard Piano, set in a township in Northern Uganda, the talented Ansa Akyea takes on two roles: in Part I as a soldier hunting for a runaway boy soldier; and in Part II as Paul, the pastor of the community’s church, whose past collides with his present, forcing a confrontation with his future. Particularly with the character of Paul, this sobering yet transcendently beautiful and hopeful play brings to mind these words by the Chinese philosopher Laozi: “New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.”

When asked what playing Paul was teaching him, Ansa replied, “About transformation and letting go. By the end, Paul knows that he must start over; he can’t be the same person moving forward. There’s a new journey that he has to go on.”

Tackling such hard life lessons through the play has had Ansa “excited, scared and filled with dread.” They are, in fact, the very emotions faced by actors when they decide to take on a new role and commit to mining its depths, then perform to live audiences.

Actors Michael Jemison, Kiara Jackson, Adelin Phelps (left to right) and Ansa Akyea (far right) learning from fight choreographer Annie Enneking (center)
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

As for his excitement, Ansa cited several reasons to feel that way about being in Cardboard Piano:

  • Director Signe V. Harriday: “I’ve always wanted to work with her. She’s one of the smartest artists who cares about her community and using theatre to connect with community.”
  • Playwright Hansol Jung: “It’s inspiring to have a playwright in conversation about religion, love and conflict. We also need new works to better reflect our diversity. And Hansol’s material has a freshness to it; its perspective is specific, yet universal.”
  • Being part of an intimate four-member ensemble, which includes Kiara Jackson, Michael Jemison and Adelin Phelps: “Signe cast us knowing that we’ll bring our own personal history and intelligence as actors. She chose actors who live in their bodies and hearts. These are things required from actors so they can empathize and act.”

Becoming an actor is also a journey in itself. For Ansa, a Swiss born Ghanaian-American, his acting journey began in his junior year at the University of Iowa, where he would earn his B.A. degrees in French and Communications Studies. That year, he took an elective class taught by a visiting professor from Sierra Leone who wanted to cast Ansa in his play about the 1839 rebellion on the Amistad, a slave schooner. With his parents’ blessing, as long as acting didn’t interfere with his studies, Ansa took the part.

Left to right: Dialect coach Foster Johns working with actors Ansa Akyea and Michael Jemison
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Ansa’s tremendous talent on stage as an undergraduate led his university to offer him the opportunity to earn an MFA in Acting. Cast right out of graduate school, Ansa honed his craft in Chicago, working at numerous theaters starting with Steppenwolf, Black ensemble, ITC, stage left theater and many others.

Ansa ultimately moved to the Twin Cities when his spouse got a job here. He hit the ground running, immediately being hired by Mixed Blood Theater, with subsequent stints at the Guthrie and Children’s Theatre Company. Ever since, Ansa has appeared on many stages throughout the Twin Cities and been seen or heard on television, film and radio. He has also been the recipient of the 2007 City Pages Best Actor award, 2011 Minnesota Playwright Center’s McKnight Award for Acting, 2013 Minnesota Playwright Center’s Many Voices Fellowship and 2013 Ivey Award for Ensemble Acting in the Guthrie’s Clybourne Park.

About theatre, Ansa had this to say: “This is my life. I love my profession. I have an achievement mentality; I have aspirations to always learn more. I will always work.”

After Cardboard Piano, Ansa will be teaching at North High School located in North St. Paul. He will also play Daddy Onceler in the Children Theatre Company’s production of The Lorax this spring.

Tickets and information for Cardboard Piano here

Lindner’s Line

Robert Gardner, who plays Lindner, with Director Warren C. Bowles and all cast members (in background) on Opening Night Photograph by Connie Shaver

Robert Gardner, who plays Karl Lindner, with Director Warren C. Bowles and some other cast members (in background) on Opening Night
Photograph by Connie Shaver

 

Cast members for Park Square Theatre’s production of A Raisin in the Sun, playing on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage from October 28 to November 20, were invited to tell about the line(s) in the play that most resonates with them, a poem or line(s) from a poem that resonates with them or a personal reflection related to the play.

Robert Gardner, who plays Karl Lindner, a representative from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, gave the following response:

I’m the only white guy in A Raisin in the Sun, playing the only white character, Karl Lindner.  The role is small but crucial as he presents the Younger family (and particularly Walter) with their dilemma at the end of the play:  accept money for staying in their old home in a black neighborhood or take the risks of moving into a white neighborhood.

Lindner’s key line for me, as he makes his offer to buy the Youngers out of their new house, is: “I want you to believe me when I tell you that race prejudice simply doesn’t enter into it.” 

Well, of course it does enter into it, as is perfectly clear to the Youngers and, I’m sure, to the audience.  But I believe Lindner himself believes that he is being honest when he says this.  I also believe that his unacknowledged racism is something we all have to contend with.  And there’s a seductive plausibility to his argument that “people get along better, have more of a common understanding of the life of the community, when they share a common background.” While this may be true (and it has been the guiding principle of many communities, not just white ones), when it is adopted as a principle of exclusion, it is a formula for stagnation that denies communities the ability to grow and improve.

 

Robert Gardner as Lindner in a rehearsal with Greta Oglesby, who plays Mama Photograph by Connie Shaver

Robert Gardner as Lindner in a rehearsal with Greta Oglesby, who plays Mama
Photograph by Connie Shaver

 

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