Wednesday, February 1, 2012

REVIEW: Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe shines with 'A Raisin in the Sun’

Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s production of “A Raisin in the Sun,” the first non-musical by the company in its cozy new venue, will reward longtime enthusiasts of the play and should be mandatory viewing for those unfamiliar with the classic by Lorraine Hansberry.

For starters, the ground-breaking drama by and about African-Americans has gathered minimal dust since opening on Broadway in 1959.

The dialogue crackles throughout as the play takes the audience through gripping arguments, scenes of soul-stirring tenderness and precious moments of laugh-out-loud levity.

And then there’s the end, which packs such a punch that it will floor all but the most heartless theatergoers.

Director Jim Weaver brings Hansberry’s masterpiece, set in 1950s Chicago, to life with a first-rate cast that interacts like a genuine family in a most believable crisis.

Will Little, who had his breakthrough performance last year at the Asolo Repertory Theatre as Nabo in “Las Meninas,” stars as Walter Lee Younger.

He plays a frustrated 34-year-old chauffeur who loves, but often mistreats his dutiful wife Ruth (Jasmine McAllister), while showing consistent affection for their 11-year-old son Travis (Bryson Gregory).

The three share a rundown apartment in a tenement building on the city’s South Side with Walter’s benevolent but at times overbearing mother Lena (Alice M. Gatling) and his younger sister Beneatha (Dhakeria Cunningham), a progressive-minded medical student.

The conflict revolves around how to spend a $10,000 insurance check from the deceased Walter Lee Younger, Sr.

Little’s character wants the family to finally escape poverty by investing in a liquor store.

Mama argues the virtues of buying a larger home in a better part of town.

The matriarch goes through with her decision and the tension escalates when it turns out the two-story house is in the entirely white neighborhood of Clybourne Park.

Although the play deftly deals with issues of class and race, at its core, “A Raisin in the Sun” is about the high cost of pursuing one’s dreams.

WBTT’s stage stands a few inches above the ground and the smart, simple set extends to within a few inches of the front row.

The entire play takes place in the same apartment and for the entire 140 minutes (not counting the 15-minute intermission) I found myself being pulled deeper and deeper into the lives of the Youngers.

Each cast member embody his or her character with striking ease and authority.

Gatling gives a tour-de-force performance as the unshakable mother, as does Little as her well-meaning albeit unreliable son.

Yes, it’s hard to imagine anyone not being moved by WBTT’s brilliant, emotive production of “A Raisin in the Sun.”

—Photo from left: Jaszy McAllister, Alice M. Gatling, Will Little and Dhakeria Cunningham. Courtesy of

Details: Playing through Feb. 19, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, 1646 10th Way, Sarasota. Tickets: $28. Information: 941-366-1505 or

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