Denzel Washington, Anika Noni Rose dazzle in ‘A Raisin in the Sun’


Lorraine Hansberry’s classic play A Raisin in the Sun returned to Broadway this week, and this latest revival breathes new life into a timeless piece of American theater. With two-time Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington taking on the role of frustrated dreamer Walter Lee Younger; Oscar nominee Sophie Okonedo plays his practical wife, Ruth; and Broadway veterans LaTanya Richardson and Anika Noni Rose as the family matriarch and Walter Lee’s little sister, respectively, this is a cast for the ages. And, despite the presence of a Hollywood superstar, this is truly an ensemble work.

Washington’s take on the iconic role of Walter Lee is slightly subdued when compared to many earlier performances, but he brings a physical weariness to Walter Lee that communicates the downtrodden spirit of a man who’s reach always seems to exceed his grasp. And there are moments between Washington’s Walter and Okonedo’s Ruth that are alternately poignant and cruel. As Momma Lena Younger, Richardson is stern and wise and serves as the story’s moral center and the play’s emotional anchor. But the real revelation in this revival is Rose’s Beneatha. Rose is charming, funny, biting and altogether human as the idealistic and fiery college student, she’s captivating — whether prancing around in traditional African garb that her Nigerian suitor, Joseph Asagai, brings her, or coldly ripping apart her older brother for his careless ways.

A Raisin in the Sun is a masterpiece and Hansberry’s story masterfully takes fans into the lives of this working class South Side Chicago family, struggling with the economic and racial difficulties of 1950s urban America. But it is also an examination of how ambitions, when they become all-consuming, can be destructive to those around us.

Each member of this family desperately wants to achieve more than their meager surroundings have to offer, and each one, at some point or another in the story, allows those desires to blind them to the bond that holds them together. In the hands of the cast and director Kenny Leon, this latest revival drives all of that home with some of the richest and most resonate storytelling on Broadway. No matter how many times you’ve seen the story — as Lena Younger says in regard to her troubled son, Walter, “There is always something left to love.”

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