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Posts Tagged Lorraine Hansberry

A Little Poetry from A Raisin in the Sun

In the very beginning of the script of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun there is a short poem byLangston Hughes. It is called “Harlem” and goes like this:

What happens to a dream deferred?
      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?
      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.
      Or does it explode?

The piece is vivid and compelling. It fills the reader with how essential dreams are to a person’s life by showing them what happens when they’re ignored, or deferred. Will they dry up, crust over or even explode?

A lot of critical analysis has gone into this poem and it is arguably Hughes’s most famous. I certainly read it in high school and was therefore pleasantly surprised when I put the pieces together between the poem and the play that takes it’s name from the third line.

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Park Square’s A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

 

Clearly Hansberry was just as transfixed by the imagery and wanted to convey the same feelings in her own work. Like the play, Hughes’s poem is universal in it’s themes , although we all know he is specifically commenting on the experiences of African Americans. Could the poem be a warning then? While not especially violent in tone, you could definitely describe the writing as bleak and ominous. The last line, “Or will it explode?”, seems to jar the reader with a sudden sense of urgency. Your mind races as you contemplate what it would mean if a dream is deferred for so long that it ruptures into a million pieces, the shrapnel flying.

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Langston Hughes

Of course great works of literature are always relevant, but by looking at the world Hughes lived in, you can better understand this sense of urgency. “Harlem” was written in 1951, only seven years before A Raisin in the Sun, and just at the cusp of the modern Civil Rights movement; Brown v. Board of Education was in 1954 and Rosa Parks made a name for herself in 1955. The timeline is evident and it’s roots stretch even further back to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 30s where Langston Hughes and other African American artists first rose to prominence in the United States.

Hansberry had a rich legacy then to draw from and consequently enhance. Like Hughes before her, she created a work of art so compelling in its imagery that it has lived on to inspire others and now Park Square has the chance to bring it to life.

It’s all very exciting for any fans of literature and the dramatic arts, so this concludes today’s lesson. Study up and enjoy the show!

A Little More Poetry From Raisin

I was recently chatting with my fellow blogger, Ting Ting Cheng, about my previous blog and about how Lorraine Hansberry took her title from a line in a Langston Hughes poem entitled, “Harlem”. Well, Ting informed me, the first title Hansberry ever had in mind was A Crystal Stair which comes from another Hughes poem called “Mother to Son”.

Whaaaaaa?

I love this! Primarily because this poem is new to me and I think it is just as powerful as “Harlem”, alive with rich imagery and written in such prose that it really speaks to the common person while, again, reflecting the singular African American experience.

Here it is:

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

See what I mean? I for one can’t get enough of the imagery that is so simple yet conveys so much. Words like “tacks” and “splinters” fill you with a sense of something sharp and unpleasant. The picture of a person walking through the darkness is dreadful as well as the word, “bare” – alone by itself as if to symbolize it’s own meaning.
Park Square's A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

Park Square’s A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

For all of the negative imagery, however, the poem offers up hope in the virtue of perseverance. No matter how hard the path is, the Mother continues to struggle for a higher salvation and tells her son that he must also follow this path. Up is the only way they can go and while it may not be any crystal stair, the landings will still be reached and the corners turned. Much like, “Harlem”, this poem can perfectly summarize A Raisin in the Sun. The Younger family knows these stairs better than anyone and like the Mother and Son in the poem, the generational dynamics are the key to the play. How many times does Walter want to just give up and “set down on the steps”? How many times does Mama have to fight him not to?
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Park Square’s A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

Think about the meaning of this poem when you’re watching A Raisin in the Sun. Think about “Harlem” too. Think about all the great works of literature by African Americans like Hughes, Hansberry, August Wilson, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou and a thousand others because their stories are American stories the same as anyone else’s. They need to be studied, read and seen. How lucky we are then that Park Square is telling one of those stories now.
Park Square's A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

Park Square’s A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

 

Universal Themes in A Raisin in the Sun

One of the shows that most excites me in Park Square’s current season is Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.  The story about a family just trying to survive and get ahead is such a powerful one that it resonates as not just an American tale, but a human one.  Of course, the family at the center of it all is African American, allowing the play to delve even deeper into themes that have a historically specific relationship with African American citizens.

A Raisin in the Sun

This past winter I was in a production of Clybourne Park at Yellow Tree Theatre, which for those who don’t know, is set in the same world as Raisin, only after the events as told in Hansberry’s play.  It’s a script that picks up the mantle for the 21st century and scathingly shows us that issues such as racism, gentrification, entitlement and civil rights continue to nip at our heels no matter how many steps we take forward.

Among the many great things to come out of that experience for me was a reason to re-read A Raisin in the Sun (like you need a reason!), and I couldn’t put it down.  I remember reading it in high school and definitely not having the same reaction.  Obviously, my tastes and sensibilities have matured since I was sixteen but also so has our culture, where minority rights are deservedly back at the forefront of our social narrative.  As a white guy, it’s just been inherent that I live with certain blinders on; but with art such as A Raisin in the Sun, those blinders can start to come off and I can do my part to help make the world a better place.

That’s why A Raisin in the Sun is a great play, but the reason I believe it is a masterpiece of the American stage is how it gets its message across.  It’s extremely well-written!  Yes, the central theme is that of the African American experience, but it is told in such a way that it instantly becomes recognizable to anyone who has ever had a family, had to move, had to deal with life insurance and wills, been taken advantage of and so on.  Within this framework, the Younger family’s struggles become relatable to everyone; and in this way, it begins to create the social change for which I’m sure Hansberry was ultimately striving.

Nearly 60 years after Hansberry’s play premiered, we are still freakin’ fighting for universal rights.  I think there’s a lot of frustration that the years continue to roll without total victory.  Again as a white guy, when I was feeling the most frustrated with my seeming inability to relate, I picked up A Raisin in the Sun and I got it. Whether it’s sixty years ago or now, the story of the Youngers suddenly became my story and it changed my whole perspective. 

I’ve read it a couple times but I have never seen a production of A Raisin in the Sun. This October and November promises to be a special one at Park Square where, I believe, many perspectives will change and the world will inch ever closer to the equality we desire.

 

On Stage: Creating a Community Dialogue Around Live Theater

Through Springboard for the Arts, a nationally recognized nonprofit arts service organization based in St. Paul, representative Lucas Erickson has launched his new theater outreach program called On Stage: Creating a Community Dialogue Around Live Theater.

On Stage raises awareness of the theater offerings in the Twin Cities to academic classes and groups. It brings local actors to Twin Cities college classrooms and community settings to read scenes from a play in current local production. Participants then engage in a lively discussion of the play’s themes, tying in current events, personal values and narratives to stimulate critical thinking. Subsequently attending the full play is encouraged.

Erickson had created the basic program concept a few years ago while working in Artistic Relations at the Guthrie Theater. Last fall, Erickson enacted a similar program through a nonprofit youth organization called Project SUCCESS around Mixed Blood Theater’s production of An Octoroon.

Now with On Stage, Erickson has programmed readings and discussions around Park Square Theatre’s A Raisin in the Sun by playwright Lorraine Hansberry, which will be on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage from October 28 to November 20. The play is about a family living and struggling on Chicago’s South Side in the 1950s, trying to improve their lives with an insurance payout following the death of the father. A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway.

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The talented cast of A Raisin in the Sun at Park Square Theatre

Local actors/teaching artists Harry Waters Jr, Thomasina Petrus and H. Adam Harris will be facilitating the On Stage events on A Raisin in the Sun. The first one is free and open to the public at the East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, St. Paul, on October 19, 7 to 8 pm. More information is available at http://eastsidefreedomlibrary.org/event/raisin-play-discussion-script-reading/.

On Stage will also outreach to students of the University of St. Thomas, Augsburg College, Macalester College, the University of Minnesota and St. Catherine University throughout October. However, these events will not be open to the public.

“The purpose of the program is to make local theater relevant to younger and non-traditional audiences and to lay the groundwork for building future theater audiences,” said Erickson.

Lucas Erickson, creator of the On Stage theatre outreach program Photograph by Linda Peterson

Lucas Erickson, creator of the On Stage theatre outreach program
Photograph by Linda Peterson

Erickson has had a long and deep commitment to theater and the arts. He graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in theater and is currently pursuing a masters in Arts and Cultural Leadership at the University of Minnesota. Since 2013, Erickson has worked on various projects for Creative Community Builders, an organization that helps communities identify different cultural and creative assets. He also serves on the Advisory Board for Made Here, a program spearheaded by the Hennepin Theatre Trust to put local art in vacant downtown storefronts.

Park Square Theatre, with a robust Education Program committed to serving middle- and high-school students throughout Minnesota and its surrounding states, is truly honored that Erickson has chosen to share our production of A Raisin in the Sun in his outreach efforts.

 

What’s Realistic?

The Liar Rehearsal

All fabrications?

For the past weeks, I’ve been writing about a play in which everything seems fabricated. The title character is a compulsive liar, but just about every other character is also duping someone else. Of course, I’m referring to the comedy, The Liar, which is on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage until October 2. Yet, the fact that the play is a farce and, hence, a critique of real-life societal mores, begs the question: To what extent is the play not realistic?

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What will Jennifer and Bob Jones do?

In juxtaposition, on Park Square’s Boss Thrust Stage from September 23 to October 16 will be the play The Realistic Joneses, a comedy/drama in which we watch two couples, both with the last name of Jones and both neighbors to each other, cope with a progressively debilitating illness. Mortality is certainly a sobering notion throughout the production, and how the characters choose to face it is reflected in the play’s title. The term “realistic” suggests a no-nonsense, pragmatic approach to life; but how does this actually play out for those who must face a terminal illness? Well, by relying on a sense of humor, of course; but what more? I’ll let you find out for yourself!

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The talented cast of A Raisin in the Sun

Then from October 28 to November 20 on the Boss Stage, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun will make us ponder: How possible–how realistic–will it be for each member of the Youngers, a poor African-American family, to obtain his/her dream in a racially oppressive society?

Is the world the way Beneatha Younger claims it is to her beau Asagai: “Don’t you see there isn’t any real progress, Asagai, there is only one large circle that we march in, around and around, each of us with our own little picture in front of us–our own little mirage that we think is the future?”

Or is she mistaken, as Asagi counters: “What you just said–about the circle. It isn’t a circle….it is simply a long line–as in geometry, you know–one that curves into infinity. And because we cannot see the end, we also cannot see how it–changes. And it is very odd, but those who see the changes–who dream, who will not give up–are called idealists… and those who see only the circle–they call each other the ‘realists!'”

What an irony that theatre so often has the power to bring us closer to what is true to life–and that make believe opens the door to real self-discoveries.

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Plus Season Package Pricing:

Any 3 or more shows starting at $25 each

Any 6 shows starting at $142 total

All 13 shows starting at $294 total

(All “starting at” prices based on preview prices, standard seats.  Programs, dates and artists subject to change.)

NOTE:  All photographs in this blog were taken by Petronella J. Ystma.

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