By Megan Bowers, Senior Staff Writer
A “labor of love.”
This phrase was used repeatedly when describing the work put into the upcoming play, “A Raisin in the Sun.”
The play’s director, Paul K. Bryant Jackson, was granted a special project from the state due to his nearing retirement.
“This is his big, final show, so everything was done pretty independently,” said assistant director Kara Hinh. “This is a show for
the show’s sake.”
The choice of which show to produce was fairly easy for Jackson.
“I had so many talented African-American students I had not had in the department before,” said Jackson. “I realized I could finally do this monumentally important American work.”
The play is being put on outside of the theatre department, giving them less assistance, simpler set design and freedom they’d never had before.
“The department has this structure that is inherent with academia and isn’t necessarily coherent with the real world,” said Hinh. “So this had been an experience more reminiscent of what I’ve done outside of academia.”
This outside experience is one of the reasons many students were drawn to the show.
“It was such an important piece to all of us, and having the opportunity to work with Dr. Jackson is incredible,” senior Brenton Sullivan, who plays Walter. “It was just so easy to commit to.”
Other students felt the show strongly connected them to their roots.
“Being able to be in a play written by a black woman, who portrays black bodies as they should be and not in a stereotypical manner is really liberating,” said sophomore Jalana Phillips, who plays Ruth.
The play, written by Lorraine Hansberry, is about an African-American family who loses their father figure, inherits $10,000 and then has to figure out what to do with the money. The mother ends up using it to buy a house in an all white neighborhood and the family faces many obstacles trying to move into it.
Everyone in the cast was given a packet of information covering history relevant to the play’s setting, such as redlining, and information on how to get into character so they could more easily transition into the world of the play and more accurately represent it.
“It is an important showing of black lives, black love and all these things we still don’t get to see that often,” said Sullivan. “It’s still accessible so it can be enjoyed by anyone, but it isn’t about everyone.”
Although the show takes place in the early 60s, many people believe its themes are still relevant today.
“There’s something timeless about this idea of other bodies moving into spaces they are not wanted,” said Hinh. “Everyone thinks it’s something of the past but its something that is deeply structural within our society.”
The show brings up ideas that are hard for people to face, especially when related back to present day.
What do they think we’re going to do? Kill them?
No, that we’re going to marry them.
“It goes back to this fear of interracial marriage and the mixing of culture,” said Hinh. “Today you might not go down a street because there are poor people living there.”
The play is ultimately successful because of the emotion and passion behind every character, each with a very distinctive costume
and attitude to match.
The sister, Benetha, wears what looks like a school uniform consisting of a light blue button up shirt and a long navy skirt to match her scholarly perspective and individualized mind.
“I knew she was independent but I also felt she could be rude,” said sophomore Jada Harris who plays Benetha. “Now, I get when she says these things she is not trying to hurt anyone, she just doesn’t want to fit into the mold everyone wants her to.”
The emotion is clear in the actor’s performances, particularly through the relationships between characters. Ruth and Walter’s complex relationship is one that stands out among the others.
“Being able to commit to the highs and the lows in the fullest way while layering in all the hurt and pain we go through and showing that we still love each other is a huge challenge,” said Sullivan.
The cast started rehearsal way back in November and have given it their all.
“We’ve spent so much time on this and I’m ready for people to see the work we have done,” said Harris. “I think people will be really amazed.”
A Raisin in the Sun will be playing at 7:30 p.m. from March 7-9 in Studio 88 and at 2 p.m. on March 10. Admission is free.