NLT cast was great in ‘A Raisin in the Sun’

Published 11:28 pm Monday, January 18, 2010

Natchez Little Theatre’s production of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” simply exploded on stage for a special Tuesday night benefit for the NAPAC Museum.

Patrice West’s portrayal of Walter Lee Younger in his Little Theatre debut captured the difficult-to-live Walter with a cool, fast-speaking, restless performance with a volcano of anguished emotion barely hidden beneath.

His mother, Mama Lena Younger, was played by Adrienne Lacey-Bushell who is years younger offstage than the matriarch of the family she so convincingly portrays.

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Beneatha Younger, played by Rhoshawnda Baker, was “far-out” as Lena’s daughter, the zany intellectual who is Ms. Hansberry’s persona of herself. However, Ms. Lacey-Bushell made it her own role, not simply the author’s character, which is quite refreshing.

Everyone can relate to the strong, stable, but worn-down Ruth Younger, the wife of Walter Lee, ably played by Beverly Adams, who is the outsider having married into the Younger family living in the crowded kitchenette apartment on Chicago’s south side. Spencer Adams, her son in real life, was at ease playing her son Travis Younger on stage.

It was Lorraine Hansberry’s father, Carl Hansberry, who developed many of these small kitchenette apartments from larger accommodations in order to meet the housing needs of Chicago’s growing black population coming from the South in the 40s and 50s.

It was Lorraine’s uncle, William Leo Hansberry, who mentored many African students at Howard University like Joseph Asagai, played by Brandon Ayers, who comes to woo Beneatha with a convincing African accent.

In real life, Lorraine’s father Carl and uncle William Leo Hansberry, the “father of African studies,” both grew up in Gloster and attended Alcorn’s preparatory school. Lorraine’s grandmother, Harriet Bailey Hansberry, grew up in Wilkinson County. This play has deep roots in the Natchez vicinity.

Don Vesterse played Karl Lindner, the representative of the white neighborhood association who has what he believes to be a “progressive” offer for the Youngers when they seek to move into their new home.

Ms. Hansberry’s own family runs into violent opposition when her father, Carl Hansberry, sought to implement a decision he obtained in a fair housing suit in Chicago from the U.S. Supreme Court in 1940.

Robert Gardner handled his role well as Beneatha’s well-off “boyfriend,” George Murchison, as did Mease Banks portraying Walter Lee’s running buddy, Bobo.

All but three in the cast made their debut with Natchez Little Theatre, and what a debut!

I’ve seen a professional performance in Jackson and several motion picture versions of this play, but this one seemed to have a very personal touch played by local people I did not know, but whose characters seem to be part of this community even thought the play was situated in Chicago 50 years ago.

David S. Dreyer is an Adams County resident.