Guest Columns

HUDSON: AN AFFIRMATION OF THE PRINCIPLES OF THE AMERICAN DREAM

Raisin's dreams are no longer deferred

By Miller Hudson
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

A RAISIN IN THE SUN, by Lorraine Hansberry. Directed by Israel Hicks. Playing at the DCPA through October 31.

The Denver Center Theatre Company’s revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s mid-20th-century snapshot of black family life arrives at just the right moment to remind us there was a time when “negroes” — an appellation that sounds oddly anachronistic and patronizing today — contemplated an American dream that was severely limited by seemingly insurmountable cultural and economic barriers. In 1959, when the play debuted on Broadway, it would have been regarded as laughable to suggest that Chicago’s South Side would produce an
American president in just 50 short years.

Marlene Warfield as Lena Younger, left, and Kim Staunton as Ruth Younger in the Denver Center Theatre Company production of A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, directed by Israel Hicks.
Photo by Terry Shapiro

Hansberry’s Younger family provides a multigenerational mosaic of competing aspirations as they nervously await the arrival of a $10,000 life insurance payout.

The family’s matriarch is intent on purchasing a home in a white neighborhood that will provide her grandson, Travis, with better schools and a better chance in life. Her daughter sees the money as tuition to medical school when she graduates from college, while her son, who has labored for 15 years as a chauffeur to a white businessman, imagines that it will be the seed capital he needs to open a liquor store with two friends. The daughter-in-law, in a complex portrayal by Kim Staunton, wants only to escape from the
confining presence of too many family members and too many dreams in too small an apartment. The scent of her emotional desperation is nearly overpowering.

The daughter, Beneatha, who is played with an edgy aggression that foreshadows the black power militancy of the ’60s, rejects her family’s preference for a suitor from the successful black middle class in favor of a Nigerian exchange student who clearly sees the opportunities that the Youngers can only dimly perceive. Joseph Asagai may represent the uncorrupted noble African prince, but he is viewed with damning suspicion when he talks of whisking Beneatha away to her true homeland.

One can only imagine the skepticism that greeted a community organizer from Hawaii named Barack Obama when he first arrived in these same south Chicago neighborhoods 30 years after Hansberry wrote her play. But, apparently, possibility had replaced a profound sense of futility as the governing attitude of the residents. Lifting a young man on their shoulders and carrying him first to Springfield and then on to the White House was no longer a preposterous quest. At least this one small part of Martin Luther King’s dream has become a reality that can resonate for most Americans.

The resolution of the Younger family dreams proves messy, as most family squabbles do. Suffice it to say, everyone doesn’t get what he or she wants. Yet, by the end of the script, hope and courage triumph over fear and cowardice. When I was required to read this play in college, some 40 years ago, I remember it as feeling angry and accusatory. In a different time, it seemed to emphasize our evident shortcomings as a democracy.

I found this production an affirmation of the principles that undergird the American dream — a demonstration that no matter how many times a man or woman is knocked down, there is always the choice of getting up and moving on. In our currently troubling times, this is an important reminder.

Miller Hudson, a former Denver Democratic representative, is a legislative and government consultant. He has been a frequent reviewer of the performing arts for The Statesman over the years.