Friday, November 19, 2010

Rutina Wesley and the cast of "A Raisin In The Sun" radiate!

Article by Lynn Powell Dougherty featured at

Last night, I attended the premiere of the radio recording at the LA Theater Works of the Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, "A Raisin In The Sun". The play was written by Lorraine Hansberry and, in this production, has a great cast including True Blood's Rutina Wesley.

Rutina plays the role of Beneatha Younger, the daughter of the family matriarch, who dreams of being a doctor and is frustrated by the family's economic conditions.Others in this stellar cast include:
  • JudyAnn Elder - Lena Younger
  • James Gleason - Karl Lindner
  • Noah Gray-Cabey - Travis Younger
  • Corey Hawkins - Walter Lee Younger
  • Deidrie Henry - Ruth Younger
  • Terrell Tilford - George Murchison
  • Mirron Willis - Joseph Asagai/Bobo
The first run of the play opened on Broadway on March 11, 1959 and ran for nearly two years before the stage version was transferred to film with the same cast starring Sidney Portier in 1961.

A Raisin in the Sun portrays a few weeks in the life of the Youngers, an African-American family living in the South Side of Chicago in the setting of sometime between WWII and the 1950s. The matriarch of the family, Mama, wants to buy a new house to fulfill a dream she shared with her husband. Mama’s son, Walter Lee, would rather use the money to invest in a liquor store with his friends. He believes that the investment will solve the family’s financial problems forever. Walter’s wife, Ruth, agrees with Mama, however, and hopes that she and Walter can provide more space and opportunity for their son, Travis. Finally, Beneatha, Walter’s sister and Mama’s daughter, wants to use the money for her medical school tuition. She also wishes that her family members were not so interested in joining the white world. Beneatha instead tries to find her identity by looking back to the past and to Africa. source: Wikipedia.

It was fascinating to see a play performed specifically for radio. These types of performances are recorded without sets or costumes, and therefore rely on the actors to amplify their performances through their voices. The play was about two hours long and did include sound effects that also aided in creating the illusion for the listener. The cast sat in chairs at the back of the stage and each rose and slowly moved to one of the microphones when it was their turn to speak their character's lines. They all did a superb job in portraying this family's very moving story. Each actor not only read the character's lines, but also provided their own animated style giving added life to the production.

While watching the actors perform, and with the addition of the external sound effects, you could see in your mind's eye the family's small apartment and almost smell the breakfast cooking. The sound effects, which added much to help build the illusion of the setting, were done by Rachel Yamshon and Kevin Pong who were also on the stage in full few of the audience (see photo below). The recording engineer and editor was Mark Holden.

Although no photos were permitted during the performance, Rutina looked lovely in black leggings, a light blue top and red flats. The photos below, taken during the intermission, show the stage area with microphones and chairs where the actors sat. The sound effects area that was located to the right of the stage.

stage including sound effects area

Rachel Yamshon and Kevin Pong

Having seen the film version of the play, I knew I would enjoy watching it again; however I was just blown away by the acting of this exemplary cast. Rutina and all of the cast performed their parts to perfection and I strongly encourage anyone to see this production while you can.

The play will be performed five times, November 17-21, at the Skirball Cultural Center. And, if you don't get a chance to attend one of the remaining performances, the L.A. Theatre Works' nationally syndicated radio theater series airs locally in Southern California on KPCC 89.3 every Saturday from 10 pm - midnight. The audio show also airs on many other radio stations throughout the country and can be streamed on demand at

Thanks to Chelsea for the additional photos.

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