A RAISIN IN THE SUN: Trinity sheds new light — both warm and fiery — on the old work.
The centerpiece of George C. Wolfe's 1986 satire The Colored Museum is a scathing sketch called The Last Mama-on-the-Couch Play. A Raisin in the Sun is the über-mama-on-the-couch play — though in the powerful revival currently at Trinity Repertory Company (through March 8), I don't recall Barbara Meek's Lena Younger once resting her weary bones on the old rose-colored couch. Freestanding brick-tenement façades punctuate Michael McGarty's gauzy maze of a set, but I don't recall many walls, either — and that includes the fourth, usually a major edifice of realism. Instead, Brian McEleney's staging of Lorraine Hansberry's landmark 1959 African-American family drama floats on the stage like a Tennessee Williams play and addresses itself to the audience like a political placard held aloft by Bertolt Brecht. And the audacious miscegenation of techniques seems to place the old couch, with or without mama on it, in that broader universe that Thornton Wilder, in an earlier American classic that abolished furniture altogether, located in "the Mind of God."
Considered a groundbreaker, A Raisin in the Sun was the first play by an African-American woman to open on Broadway, where, helmed by a black director (Lloyd Richards), it ran for more than a year, copping the 1959 New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best American Play. It has been done to death since then, most recently on Broadway in 2004 with a cast led by Sean "Diddy" Combs. But Trinity sheds new light — both warm and fiery — on the old work. Raisin draws its title from a Langston Hughes poem that here finds its way, on more than one occasion, into the play, the actors facing us directly to trade off declaiming Hughes's inquiry into what happens to a dream deferred: "Does it dry up/Like a raisin in the sun? . . . Or does it explode?" At Trinity, the dream is ultimately grasped with a feisty melancholy. It's the character of Walter Lee Younger, in the riveting if too volatile person of Joe Wilson Jr., who's allowed to explode.
Lighting the fuse are occurrences within the Younger family as they await, in their Chicago Southside apartment, the arrival of a $10,000 check — the life-insurance legacy of Lena's husband and Walter Lee's father, "Big Walter," a laborer who worked himself to death in the service of his family. (The remaining members are college student Beneatha, who aspires to be a doctor when she isn't flirting with African culture, and Walter Lee's wife, Ruth, and their 10-year-old son, Travis, whose bedroom is the couch.) Walter Lee sees investment in a liquor store as the clan's key to the American dream. Lena, appalled by her family's splintering into frustration and dissent, instead buys a house in what is revealed to be a snivelingly unwelcoming white neighborhood.