Race. Family. Gender. The American Dream. These themes still resonate decades after black playwright Lorraine Hansberry first wrote "A Raisin in the Sun." Hansberry defied convention by writing the breakthrough composition, the first play written by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway.
The University of Nevada, Reno Department of Theatre and Dance will also be breaking new ground as it presents "A Raisin in the Sun" in March with its first predominantly African-American cast. It will be the premier of the production in Reno, as well.
Set on Chicago's South Side, the plot revolves around the divergent dreams within three generations of the Younger family: son, Walter Lee; his wife, Ruth; his sister, Beneatha; his son, Travis; and matriarch Lena, called Mama.
"You will fall in love with the family," director Sandra Neace said. "Each of the characters has an American dream, and all of them are fighting for a dream. And each of their dreams are different."
The tensions and prejudice they face drive this seminal American drama. The Broadway play has become a vehicle for renowned actors including Sidney Poitier, Sean Combs and Denzel Washington, who are drawn to the Younger family and their struggle. Their journey to retain dignity in a harsh and changing world is a searing and timeless display of hope and inspiration.
Neace, a University lecturer, will lead the cast of both students and community members as they tackle a production that is a turning point for the University theatre program.
"It is huge because of the racism issues that are currently affecting the country," she said. "Theatre should be used as a vehicle for social change. The characters, conflicts and themes of this 1950s play still resonate today. Racism clearly still exists."
The actors also can relate to many of the struggles of the characters as they tackle prejudice, gender stereotypes and family dynamics.
Kennedy Hall, a recent University graduate, was cast as Ruth. She was inspired to audition for the mother and wife figure.
"I would definitely say Ruth is underestimated a lot of the time," she said. "She keeps the family together. She is doing everything she can and working extremely hard so that she can keep them afloat. I think that is really respectable as I come from a family with strong women."
Hall's mother raised her and her brothers, and she saw how that strength of a woman could carry much for her family.
In the end, the drama speaks of how race and gender affect the American Dream, and how family and love can help conquer the realities of striving for a better life.
“A Raisin in the Sun”
When: 7:30 p.m. March 4-5, March 10-12; 1:30 p.m. March 6
Where: Redfield Proscenium Theatre, Church Fine Arts, University of Nevada, Reno
Tickets: $15 for adults; $12 for seniors, $10 for students ages 2-18 and University faculty/staff $10; $5 University students with ID (limited quantity)
The University's School of the Arts embraces its role as a vibrant center for arts and culture in northern Nevada. Its degree programs provide a strong foundation in a range of artistic disciplines, enabling students to contribute as artists, educators and scholars on the local level and beyond. The school also supports and encourages research, innovation and the artistic endeavors of its faculty. Finally, the school encourages broad campus and community participation in the arts through its numerous performances, lectures, shows, core courses and outreach activities that explore diverse cultures and encourage lifelong learning.