‘Raisin in the Sun’ staged reading connects with current social climate
CEDAR FALLS — When Red Herring Theatre’s founder and artistic director Greg Holt invited Director Ja’Kalein Madison to brainstorm ideas for a staged reading series, Madison suggested “A Raisin in the Sun.”
Madison believes the Lorraine Hansberry play, which premiered on Broadway in 1959, remains pertinent in the 21st century. The story chronicles the dreams and aspirations of three generations in the Younger family, an African-American family living on the south side of Chicago.
The staged reading will take place at 7 p.m. Aug. 4 in the Hearst Center Sculpture Garden, 304 W. Seerley Blvd, in Cedar Falls. On Aug. 6, Madison also will direct a reading of the 2010 sequel, “Clybourne Park,” written by Bruce Norris, at 7 p.m. in the same location. Some characters are featured in both shows.
“‘A Raisin in the Sun’ has a message that is important relevant now, even though it was written ‘way back when’ in the 1950s. Where we are in the world today and the current social climate, people will have an interest or a sense of curiosity about this play. I think that will draw audiences in,” said Madison.
It is considered one of the best plays ever written.
Hansberry explores interracial and interfamilial strife as everyone in the Younger family has a different idea for using insurance money received after the father’s death. The family’s matriarch puts money down on a new home in Clybourne Park, a white neighborhood where the family must stand up for their rights. The title “Raisin in the Sun” is taken from a Langston Hughes poem, “Harlem,” also known as “A Dream Deferred.”
It was the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway, and the first Broadway show with a black director, Lloyd Richards. Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Ivan Dixon and Louis Gossett Jr. starred in the original production. A film version, starring the same stage cast, was released in 1961, directed by Daniel Petrie.
Madison feels a personal connection to the Younger family. “I think about this African-American family trying to better themselves and make something better of their lives. As a kid, I had a great childhood but we didn’t have a lot. I remember when we were able to move into a bigger home and the amount of joy that gave us.
“Then you have the other side of it – what the neighborhood is like when they move in and will they be met with open arms or disdain? Hansberry’s script provides a raw and real telling of where we were 60 years ago and that relates to where we are today,” he explained.
“Clybourne Park” features the Younger family and ties together historical and fictional events of the time, said Holt. The show won both a Pulitzer Prize and Tony award for its satirical look at the politics of race.
Both shows are free, sponsored by Jones Law Firm, and will be performed outdoors. Audiences can bring their own lawn chairs, blankets and refreshments. Physical distancing and facemasks will be part of the safety protocol. Actors will wear face shields.
“We’ve been watching what other organizations are doing. People want to get out and go. Doing the readings in an outdoor space allows us to take precautions,” Holt said.
“No costumes. No props. A staged reading gets away from all the glitz and glamour of a full production to just focus on the text, and it is such phenomenal text. The writing and dialogue is outstanding. I love letting the text do the work of painting a scene for an audience. The script is so proud and powerful,” said Madison, who is youth programming coordinator at the Family and Children’s Council in Waterloo.
He has directed and performed in productions for Waterloo Community Playhouse and Cedar Falls Community Theatre.
“It’s amazing that we’re doing both stories, so audiences will have a real connection to the Younger family and their experiences.”