The play presents the Youngers, a poor 1950s African-American family living in Chicago. Lena, the family matriarch, receives her late husband's insurance check which she hopes to use to finance a home for her family outside of their impoverished south-side neighborhood. Her daughter, Beneatha, is an intelligent student studying to become a doctor. Her son, Walter, hopes to invest in a liquor store so he can be an entrepreneur and support his wife, Ruth and son Travis. The family's fights for dignity, integrity and stability serve as the backdrop for one of the truest presentations of family life I've seen on stage, and stood as a reminder to the true possibilities of the greatness of classic American theatre.
The performers did more than hold their own throughout this challengingly didactic classic; they brought it to life with both social intention and character humanity working in absolute harmony. As can be expected, the audience rang to applause upon the entrance of the production's stars but spectacularly they also applauded the moving and intelligent discussions on race from relatively minor characters. It was clear that in this performance it was never just the actor attaining the audience's admiring applause; it was the performer with this revival's chosen star, Lorraine Hansberry.
Many will certainly attend this revival to see Denzel Washington live on stage, but his blockbuster status and his accolades aren't to be taken for granted as a gimmick, he dissolves into the character, subjecting himself to Lorraine Hansbery's characterization, as only a master of the art form can do. He is matched entirely in this quality of performance by the rest of the cast, especially the performances of Ms. Hansberry's nuanced female characters which include Sophie Okonedo as his wife Ruth, an immensely layered performance by Anika Noni Rose as Beneatha Younger in a role that could have been far too flatly placed as the "voice of reason," and the family's moral rock, Lena Younger, as performed by Latanya Richardson Jackson. Even the photorealistic set by Mark Thompson and costume design by Ann Roth create a sense of reality that verges on voyeurism through its perfect harmony of societal space and intimate characterization.
I think "preachy" is a judgment that audiences and critics alike dole out too often as a universal negative. A good preacher can be inspiring, can be soul edifying and can be challenging. Preachy is only vice when it's obvious that those who are preaching aren't intelligent enough or don't have the conviction to preach their beliefs. All involved in this revival of A Raisin in the Sun, from the performers, directors and designers to Lorraine Hansberry have the genius, articulation and dedication to inspire with what they are preaching. Their sermon is delved out of humanity and is a call for change in American society, a call which was inherited through the generations of the Younger family and a call which is still heard through them today.