A Raisin in the Sun a “MUST SEE” at CSC

Review by Spenser Smith of Raisin in the Sun: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

A Raisin in the Sun, which opened this past weekend at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, is THE show to see this season. Written by Lorraine Hansberry in 1959, the story has a lot to say. The almost three hour play packs a serious issue-based punch, but after two intermissions we leave wanting more.

The story centers around the Youngers, a working class family in 1950s Chicago. They are presented with a financial opportunity that could change their lives forever, for better or worse. Lena (Burgess Byrd), the matriarch, lives with her son Walter Lee (Geoffrey Barnes) and daughter Beneatha (Renika Williams). Walter Lee’s wife Ruth (Torie Wiggins) and her son Travis (Shadow Avili’) also populate their “rat trap” apartment near Washington Park. The family struggles to find fifty cents for Travis to ride the bus to school in the morning, so the imminent arrival of a ten thousand dollar life insurance check has the whole family on edge. Director Christopher V. Edwards has assembled an all-star cast of Cincinnati favorites. Memorable performances abound across the board. Burgess Byrd brings a strength and sincerity to a mother that genuinely wants the best for her whole family. Geoffrey Barnes struggles with many demons as Walter Lee and his performance delivers some of the most powerful moments. Torie Wiggins has a life-changing decision to make of her own as Ruth and her performance is both nuanced and simply touching. The ensemble of supporting characters is highlighted by Shanessa Sweeney as Mrs. Johnson, the nosy neighbor that can’t hang around…until you offer her sweet potato pie, a glass a milk, a cup of coffee and maybe a little gossip. Keep an eye on the sugar bowl.

The family lives together in the cramped apartment designed by Shannon Moore. There are only partial walls and sheer curtains, which gives the audience an inside look at the characters offstage lives. It reinforces the idea that they truly don’t have any personal space but their love for one another is stronger than four walls. Don’t be fooled that the original Broadway production was nominated for awards in the drama category. A Raisin in the Sun is equal parts poignant and present, hysterical and heartbreaking.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is moving into its new home, The Otto M. Budig Theatre, on the corner of 12th and Elm Streets next season. They close their last season on Race Street with The Tempest in May. If their current production is any indication, they are sure to go out with a bang.

A Raisin in the Sun continues through April 15. You can purchase any remaining tickets by visiting www.cincyshakes.com or by calling the box office at 513-381-2273 ext. 1.