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Review Roundup: ‘A Raisin in the Sun’

The revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun opened April 3 for a limited run at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, where the original production opened in 1959. Oscar and Tony winner Denzel Washington (Fences) stars as Walter Lee Younger, a Chicago chauffeur facing racism and struggling to lift his family out a crowded tenement apartment. As his mother Lena, LaTanya Richardson Jackson (Joe Turner’s Come and Gone) replaced Diahann Carroll who withdrew during rehearsals. Also starring are Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda) as Walter’s wife, Ruth, and Tony-winner Anika Noni Rose (Caroline or Change) as his sister, Beneatha who plans to become a doctor. The production is directed by Kenny Leon, who also staged the 2004 revival which starred Sean Combs, Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald.

The New York critics were mostly enthusiastic. Many praised Washington’s performance and noted that it was not a star turn, but integrated within the ensemble. When the production was first announced, many reporters pointed out the age difference between the 59-year-old headliner and Walter Lee, who is written as being in his mid-30s. (In this production, he is in his 40s.) Most reviewers felt Washington over came the discrepancy, but some, such as Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly and Matt Windman of AM New York, thought the age gap threw the play off-balance. Here are excerpts from the major critics.

Curtain call on opening night of 'A Raisin in the Sun' on Broadway (Photo: Robin Marchant/Getty Images)

The cast of ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ takes a bow during curtain call on opening night (Photo: Robin Marchant/Getty Images)

 

Ben Brantley, New York Times
“This Raisin feels far more of a whole than Mr. Leon’s earlier production… Despite the central presence of a movie megastar, the 2014 Raisin has a welcome egalitarianism. It’s a bona fide ensemble piece, in which we’re newly and acutely aware of the dynamics that define the Youngers.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“Denzel Washington’s popularity makes the revival of A Raisin in the Sun a hot ticket, but there’s a better reason: He and the show are flat-out excellent….The Oscar and Tony winner squeezes this juicy role with all his might, yet also melds seamlessly with his fellow actors.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post
“[T]his first-rate production — efficiently directed, like the 2004 one, by Kenny Leon — is a Broadway bull’s-eye. It captures the play’s passion, pathos and intelligence, without stinting on Hansberry’s dry humor.”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
“One revelation is Sophie Okonedo, making her Broadway debut as Ruth Younger, Walter’s wife. Her bone-weariness is palpable as she opens the show — she even irons and cooks real eggs — and the audience will be inclined to hiss when she’s treated poorly by her husband.”

Linda Winer, Newsday
“Forget any and all reservations, except the kind that are so hard to get for director Kenny Leon’s shattering revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s seminal 1959 drama about a struggling black family in Chicago.Washington, 59, is magnificent — disaffected, exuberant, heart-shredding — as the character Sidney Poitier created on Broadway when just 32.”

Elysa Gardner, USA Today
“The result is a production that, considered alongside its predecessor, is nothing short of revelatory. Where Leon’s last Raisin felt stiff and curiously dated, this time he and his company have reclaimed Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play as an American classic, one that both captures a distinct time in our history and carries an enduring relevance and resonance.”

Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“The performance is a personal triumph for Washington, who refrains from star-strutting to fold himself into a tight-knit ensemble of committed stage thesps who treat this revival like a labor of love.”

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
“The warmth as well as the frictions and frustrations of a real family ripple through this lived-in production, with an accomplished cast that nestles deep into every moment of humor, hope and sadness. Even in its more dated passages, Lorraine Hansberry’s groundbreaking 1959 play remains a work of stirring compassion and humanity.”

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York
“The pivotal role of Walter Lee Younger — a restless Chicago chauffeur and would-be/won’t-be entrepreneur — is played by Denzel Washington; though 20 years older than Walter Lee, he is persuasively youthful (with an apt suggestion of seeming old before his time), and brings considerable charm and magnetism to a difficult, often unsympathetic role. Neither, however, does this production quite explode.”

Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly
“Washington’s characteristic aura of forceful energy, as well as the 59-year-old actor’s middle-aged maturity, throws off the emotional balance of this smooth new production, directed by Kenny Leon a decade after he staged a previous Broadway revival of the show.”

Roma Torre, NY-1
“Sophie Okonedo, a British actress, Latanya Richardson Jackson, and Anika Noni Rose shatter any hint of stereotypes. And movie star Denzel Washington clearly has theatre in his blood. In voice, body and spirit, he channels the struggles of every black man who’s ever known the misery of a dream deferred.”

Matt Windman, AM New York
“In addition to the age issue,Washingtonoverplays Walter Lee’s moodiness and often adds an inappropriately jocular and hammy tone, encouraging the audience to laugh during some of the play’s most heartbreaking moments. Rose, who sparkles in scene after scene, ends up stealing the show.”

David Finkle, Huffington Post
“Perhaps the strongest [performance] is Jackson’s, since A Raisin in the Sun is as muchLena’s play as it is Walter Lee’s. Beseeching the God in whom she staunchly believes for strength in the face of Walter Lee’s infractions,Jackson embodies that strength throughout.”

 

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