If plans to catch “A Raisin in the Sun” on Broadway aren’t yours, don’t fret.
A stage is set right here in Midtown on April 26 and 27 for Lorraine Hansberry’s timeless classic with the debut production of the St. Ambrose Episcopal Church Theater Ministry.
It’s a production that brings Patricia Caple, a renowned director of theater in Raleigh and long-time member of St. Ambrose out of retirement. Caple, an accomplished actress and vocalist herself, helped catapult the Shaw Players and Company of Shaw University into a thriving company along with her late husband, Horace. She went on to found and direct N.C. State University's Black Repertory Theatre from 1986 until she retired in 2007.
The production, unwittingly chosen in tandem with the Broadway production, opened the doors of casting to both church parishioners and veterans of local theater, many of them born under Caple’s tutelage.
The Broadway production of “A Raisin in the Sun” stars Denzel Washington, LaTanya Richardson and Anika Noni Rose. It opened April 4 and runs through June 15 at Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theater, where it premiered in 1959 starring Sidney Poitier; it was the first play written by a black woman performed on Broadway.
The play takes us into the lives of a black family, the Youngers, living under racial segregation in Chicago, yet struggling to realize dreams and survive amid social, political, financial and familial challenges; perhaps, symbolic of Hansberry’s own family’s struggles with segregation that led to the Supreme Court case Hansberry v. Lee.
Langston Hughes’ poem, “Harlem,” is credited for the play’s title: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”
“If you don’t know about ‘A Raisin in the Sun,’ now is the time to know something about it,” said Caple, a life-long advocate of African-American playwrights. “Lorraine Hansberry was ahead of her time; her work and her thoughts have such universality of appeal and they speak to us the same today.
“A Raisin in the Sun talks about those things that were happening in the 50s that it seems like we have gone back to in many, many ways – the racial issues, the housing issues, the way that all kinds of things have happened and still do happen in an attempt to keep all black people and colored people…to keep us in our place,” she said. “It all seems to be there in ‘A Raisin in the Sun.’”
Mine will be an interesting seat. St. Ambrose is my church; its members are my family. Seeing Caple’s work, and that of the veterans she helped train, reminds me of the wealth of talent around me right here at home. I’ll also celebrate others as they come into their own.
One of the budding stars is Esther Delany, who is making her acting debut as Lena Younger, or Mama.
Caple said Delany’s push convinced her to create and oversee a theater ministry. Even so, Delany, who’s most comfortable behind the scenes, was surprised when Caple, who “can spot talent a thousand miles away,” cast her — without audition — as Mama Lena.
“Be careful what you wish for,” said Delany, 63. “I’m out of my comfort zone, but I’m learning a lot. I’ve learned there’s a lot more that goes into this than what you think.
“It’s an experience — and I’m no spring chicken!”
Caple said Delany has been her “special project.”
“She’s going to be the best Mama Lena anybody has ever seen.”
We should all be excited about Delany’s performance — and more, said Ron Foreman, cast as Walter Lee Younger.
“People who come to this production will probably be blown away,” said Foreman, a former N.C. State co-worker of Caple’s whom she lured into acting over 20 years ago and who remains at NCSU’s University Theater.
Not only will St. Ambrose break a church-theater mold by bringing live, mainstream theater into its scared place, the theater ministry’s production of “Raisin” blends the untapped talent of newcomers with the talent of renowned local theater talent, and beyond, including Tony Award-winning actor Jerry Tellier, cast as Mr. Linder.
In addition to Delany, Foreman and Tellier, other members of the cast include: Caple NCSU protégés Sherri Linton Crocket as Ruth Younger and Damion Sledge as George Murchison; East Carolina University graduate student Danielle Harris as Beneatha Younger; Walnut Creek Elementary fourth-grader, Chase Alexander Burt-Perry as Travis Younger; St. Augustine’s University student, Wallace Morgan as Joseph Asagai; and a St. Ambrose husband-wife team, Jake and Kathleen Breland, cast as Bobo and Mrs. Johnson, respectively.
“It’s been fantastic,” said Jake Breland. “I’ve enjoyed learning; just looking and listening, I’ve learned a lot about myself, too.
“It’s been a growth experience.”
Lori D.R. Wiggins covers the people and places of Midtown. Contact her via email at email@example.com