I went into UC San Diego’s Weiss Theatre blind. The only thing I knew about Lorraine Hansberry’s legendary tale of a Black family residing in 1959 Chicago’s South Side was its title. When I left, woo! I was shaken.
If Ms. Hansberry’s script is the soul, then the cast is the vessel. The majority Black cast of the almost 60-year-old play truly brought Lorraine’s Hansberry’s story to life—especially third year MFA Acting student Kimberly Nubia Monks. From her acting to posture to vocal control, Monks truly embodied Lena Younger: the matriarch. When Lena Younger is angry at her children, I felt that. Ms. Monks played Lena so well that I almost called my own mom after seeing A Raisin in the Sun.
Kimberly Nubia Monks was not the only one who gave a phenomenal performance.
Amara Granderson, who portrayed Beneatha Young, stole the show in nearly every scene she was in. Every insult she launched at her brother Walter Lee Younger (Michael Rishawn) was sharp and well-received by the audience. The theatre erupted in laughter when Beneatha transformed herself into a Nigerian woman and started doing a Nigerian welcoming dance across the stage. Granderson truly personified the annoying little sister and radical free-thinking scholar that is Beneatha Young.
One could argue the only scene Granderson didn’t steal was towards the end of the production, when she discusses the future with Nigerian student Asagai (portrayed by NYU’s Tisch School of Arts graduate Xavier Clark). The only reason Granderson did not steal this scene is because Clark did. Mr. Asagai’s lines about idealism versus realism were delivered with such confidence and persuasion; I was ready to hop on stage and join him in taking Nigeria back from the British colonialists. The hard work of the actors’ voice and dialect coach Eva Barnes shined especially bright in this scene.
Acting aside, one must also commend Ms. Hansberry’s writing of Mr. Asagai’s final speech. In his final scene, Mr. Asagai stresses the importance of maintaining idealism rather than falling victim to seeing “only the circle,” or becoming a realist. This play was written over half of a century ago, but these words still ring true today especially in our current political climate. Today, we are constantly informed about the current president’s transgressions. From his attacks on Muslims to Dreamers to an entire continent, hearing the person who is supposed to be the de facto leader of an entire planet somehow manage to be simultaneously incompetent and deplorable can be depressing. This gloomy news cycle can lead one to fall into the mindset of a realist: someone who lacks hope. Once the hope is gone, the motivation to fight for a better world is also gone. With that, we all lose.
It is so important that we remain idealists because the current president and his administration are just a minor obstacle in this ongoing struggle for equality. A struggle that will not be won without hope. This very message is what Mr. Asagai repeats to Beneatha. Ms. Hansberry’s work of art itself reminds us of our power to decide the future.
When offered the choice, will one choose to forget the hard work of their ancestors and give in to the powers at play, or fight back against regression and continue building upon the work of those who came before them? Ms. Hansberry poses this philosophical question and many others to the audience, cementing A Raisin in the Sun as a classic.
For any TV show, movie, or song to be poignant, it must make the audience feel some type of way. If it is powerful enough to make you sad, angry, scared, or even laugh then it is profound entertainment. If it can make you feel all of these emotions at once, then it is a masterpiece…simply put, UC San Diego’s Theatre production of A Raisin in the Sun is a masterpiece. If your butt is not perched in a seat at the Weiss Theatre on the 15th, 16th, or 17th of this month, you are truly missing out on an experience.
Tajairi Neuson is a staff writer at The Triton.