When one reflects on the Lorraine Hansberry classic “A Raisin in the Sun,” the tendency may be to reconsider the 1961 filmed version in which Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee starred as the husband/wife duo of Walter Lee and Ruth Younger, along with Claudia McNeil who portrayed the family matriarch Lena Younger — collectively setting a standard of excellence that has stood the test of time.
Perhaps that’s why a new production of the play that recently opened at one of the District’s most impressive venues, the Arena Stage, merits the praise that it has immediately received.
Director Tazewell Thompson in concert with Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith have assembled a stellar cast led by several amazing veterans who blend well and hit their marks, almost effortlessly stepping into roles that assuredly have mirror images in many Black American families.
What’s more, the play and its talented ensemble helped me remember two things: why I have long preferred the theater where the actors and the audience can personally connect and the kind of power that words, more so than weapons, can ultimately wield.
Joy Jones (Beneatha Younger), Dawn Ursula (Ruth Younger) and Will Cobbs (Walter Lee Younger) are each outstanding in their challenging roles but Broadway veteran Lizan Mitchell is far and away the real gem in this production.
Her portrayal of the family matriarch, Lena Younger, particularly as the play soars to its emotional conclusion, left me in tears. I could hear the prophetic, loving words of my mother whispering in my ears — that is, before Alzheimer’s began to diminish her mental capacities.
I could see visions of my grandmother, a simple woman with unwavering faith in God who, like the fictitious Lena Younger, held our family together after the sudden, unexpected death of her husband, my grandfather.
Mitchell owns the role and is nothing short of superb.
The Arena Stage family should take a bow — as should this cast — for a job well done.
If you don’t see another play this year, you must witness the triumphant return of “A Raisin in the Sun.”
The play continues through May 7 at the Arena Stage in Southwest.