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Posts Tagged Diana Sands

Cynthia Jones-Taylor Returns to the Park Square Stage

We welcome Cynthia Jones-Taylor back to Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage, where she played Dotty, a widowed grandmother in present day Philly in our recent holiday production of DOT.  She now returns to play Lena, a widowed grandmother in 1950s Chicago in A Raisin in the Sun.

What has it been like to play the family matriarch in a black family during two different time periods?

It’s very strange. The contrasts are as extreme as the similarities. Dot was married to a doctor, relatively educated, articulate and a strong component in the community that she lived in. She raised her children to be lawyers and writers, lived a life of relative leisure and believed that they could have anything.

L to R: Cynthia Jones-Taylor as Lena and Ivory Doublette as Ruth in a rehearsal
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Lena (Mama) was raised by sharecroppers and first-generation free slaves. She wasn’t educated, worked as a domestic and could only in her wildest dreams imagine the life that Dotty lived. But their love for their dearly departed husbands and their children is almost identical, and it transcends eco/social/temporal  boundaries.

As far as drawing on experiences to inform the characters, I was raised in the 1950s and 1960s so Lena and the younger family of Raisin in the Sun are a little closer to my sensibilites. I was raised in Seattle, and we didn’t have the poverty that the Youngers had; but our family values were similar. My mother was a widowed grandmother, and she was a registered nurse working at a hospital so she was educated; but we were living in a time when we couldn’t live across the “red line” that existed (that’s the invisible line that separated neighborhoods and color). It was difficult.

We were the first black family to move in on our block. My mother had taken care of the former owner’s sister when she was in the hospital. They fell in love with her, her personality and her compassion and offered to sell the house to her before they moved back to Sweden. When we moved in, the neighborhood rejected us. They would call their children in when my brothers,  sisters and I would come out to play. They didn’t invite us to any of the gatherings; they treated us as though we didn’t exist at all. Our house was one of the most beautiful on the block, well-maintained with a manicured lawn; and my mother painstakingly orchestrated the six of us to keep it that way. But our arrival triggered white flight.


L to R: Imani Vaughn-Jones as Beneatha, Cynthia Jones-Taylor as Lena and Calvin Zimmerman as Travis in a rehearsal
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

What most resonates with you about Lena?

Her strength and her capacity for love and forgiveness. The pureness of  her heart and her wisdom. She has what the old South referred to as “Mother Wit,” an ability to simply recognize a situation for what it is.


What has been your prior relationship to A Raisin in the Sun?

Well, I have played Ruth in two professional productions, used a Beneatha monologue in school many, many…many….maaanny years ago, and now I have finally aged into playing Lena. I don’t know of many plays around that can offer an actress like me the opportunity to cover three generations in three completely different characters. It is a rare and wonderful thing!


Do you recall your first-time-ever response to it? 

I vividly recall the first time I saw the movie starring Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee and Diana Sands. I must have been about 11 years old when it finally made it to television in the 1970s. The whole family and invited friends gathered around the living room. It was such an event!!!  A movie about African Americans….starring African Americans…. written by an African American…WOMAN!!!!! ON TELEVISION!!! OMG!!! Now you must bear in mind the scarcity of something like this on television at that time. It was rare that we saw ourselves portrayed anywhere in starring fashion. I cried and laughed and dreamt right along with the Youngers. I must have seen it ten times since then, and it still moves me. It is an American masterpiece, and I feel blessed to have this opportunity.


Tickets and information here.


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