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Tuneful 'Raisin'

[whitespace] Raisin
Bar None: The citizens of Southside Chicago celebrate the curative qualities of 'Booze,' in 'Raisin.'

Lorraine Hansberry drama soars

By Heather Zimmerman

FOR ITS CURRENT PRODUCTION, TheatreWorks offers a skillful and stirring Raisin, the musical version of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, which tells of the hopeful struggles of the Younger family as its members strive for better lives and pursue the American dream. The difficult quest for that ever-elusive ideal life is a mainstay of American literature and drama, but its achievement is doubly difficult for the Youngers, who must face down racism in addition to overcoming poverty as an African American family living in the Southside of Chicago in 1953. Judd Woldin's and Robert Brittan's rich score explores the complexities of the story and its characters, capturing in blues-infused tones the soulful essence of the Younger family's bittersweet journey with songs of roiling anger, soul-crushing defeat and profound hope.

TheatreWorks has assembled a vocally strong, impressive cast headed up by Barbara Roberts, who is at once loving and imposing as Lena Younger, the matriarch of the Younger family; Roberts' voice lends a particular warmth to the climactic song of tolerance and forgiveness, "Measure the Valleys." The transfer of familial power is a major theme in Raisin and Roberts ably portrays her character's inner turmoil when the independence and pride she has instilled in her children, Walter Lee (Clinton Derricks-Carroll) and Beneatha (Jamela Uwezzo), puts them at odds with her own beliefs. Derricks-Carroll and Uwezzo maintain a crackling tension between their sibling characters who share a powerful determination to have better lives, even as their goals differ.

At the crux of their dreams is the fact that the siblings' individual aims can be financed by a $10,000 life-insurance check that Lena has inherited from their father, with which she plans to fulfill her late husband's wish that the family would have a house of its own. The idea that each family member's dreams comes closer within their grasps because of the initial loss of the Younger patriarch gives the play a mood of bittersweetness, reflected in such mournful songs as "Sweet Time," a bluesy lament between Walter Lee and his wife, Ruth, (Lydia Hannibal). Even when Walter Lee feels his goal is close to reality, "Booze," an ode to the profitable liquor-store partnership in which he has invested, offers a bright, jazzy look at the future, tinged with the bitter reminder that a liquor store will flourish only because of the escape from misery that it offers.

But the Youngers are certainly not without hope, most dramatically noted by Walter Lee and Ruth's loving reprise of "Sweet Time" and by "Alaiyo," a soaring love song of encouragement sung by Beneatha's boyfriend, Asagai (Harry Waters Jr.), reminding Beneatha of the magnificence of her African ancestors and of her own tremendous potential. Although there's never a sense that these characters' dreams come without a price, and unquestionably, the price the Youngers face is inordinately high, the family's strength, imparted by Lena, her husband and by generations past, proves itself to be indefatigable.

Raisin plays Tuesdays at 7:30pm (except Aug. 18); Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm (except Aug. 19), Sunday (Aug. 16) at 7pm and Sunday (Aug. 9 and 23) at 2pm at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. Tickets are $25-$33. (650/903-6000)

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From the August 6-13, 1998 issue of Metro.

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