Lorraine Hansberry planted 1959’s social issues into her social drama “A Raisin in the Sun” and its groundbreaking universality enthralled Broadway, making her the first Black female playwright to do so. Almost 60 years later, the screenplay has been adapted into multiple films and musical theater productions. Through the African American Theater Arts Troupe (AATAT) director Don Williams’ vision, Culture Arts and Diversity (CAD) at UC Santa Cruz brought the play to fruition, selling out its opening performance on March 2.
“A Raisin in the Sun” follows the Younger family in South Side Chicago and explores family life amid redlining and low wages as they await a bountiful life insurance check from the deceased father of the family. Each of the members carries a different narrative about the pressures placed onto the Black working class in South Side Chicago, capturing the accompanying capitalist anxieties.
The two-bedroom apartment’s living room contains the daily drama — a faded rose-patterned armchair on which the characters catch up on the daily news or express hopeful words, the messy couch that functions as ten-year-old Travis Younger’s bed and a kitchenette that hosts domestic anxieties and alcoholic escapades.
Costumes, from bathrobes to chic late-fifties suits, reflect the characters’ developing moods and aspirations while lighting refines the symbolic importance. CAD’s production of “A Raisin in the Sun” is a tenacious grip on individual dignity and family strength to fight against society’s external violence. Catch a performance from Thursday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m. or Sunday at 3 p.m.
Jazmine Logan as “Ruth Younger”
Theater arts and politics, Third-year, College Ten
Drama entered Jazmine Logan’s life her sophomore year of high school when theater classes led her to perform in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and sparked her decision to study theater arts with a focus on acting at UCSC. Her past roles with UCSC theater productions include a Jamaican nurse in Lisa Loomer’s dark comedy “The Waiting Room,” to a gang leader’s girlfriend in Luis Valdez’s musical crime drama “Zoot Suit.”
Now in her third year, she plays the frustrated but graceful Ruth Younger in “Raisin,” who carries much of Logan’s own personality. In order to bring her identity as a 20-year-old college student into that of a thirty-year-old-mother and wife, Logan created a biography for perspective on Ruth’s life to embody her.
“Ruth isn’t just someone in the `50s,” Logan said. “She could be any other woman who is trying to figure out what’s best for her family and who’s trying to love her husband. She’s a very universal character.”
Erika Meilleur as “Beneatha Younger”
Theater arts, Fourth-year, Oakes College
Logan’s performance captures Ruth’s struggle to provide for her family on their limited resources. She rushes her son through his cereal and out the door to school and raises the curtain on the taboo of abortion, presenting her maternal insecurity. Logan’s stiff-bodied composure makes for brightness when she joins her sister-in-law in a Nigerian folk dance and domestic dreams become real.
As a theater major focusing on acting, Meilleur finally gets to bring her theater training onto the stage in her first-ever role as the emphatic Beneatha Younger, the twenty-year-old and liberal-minded younger sister of Walter. Beneatha lives in her mother’s house and questions her faithfulness to God as she searches to understand her ethnic and racial origins from Africa.
Taking on this role was not challenging for Meilleur, she says, because of her similarities to Beneatha’s smart-mouth and firecracker spirit, but feels she’s come out of her performance feeling changed.
“I want people to walk away feeling like their own person and like they can speak their minds and say what they feel without fearing the consequences,” Meilleur said.
Igniting the forward-thinking intellectual of the family is Beneatha, Walter’s twenty-year-old sister, played by fourth-year Erika Meilleur. Beneatha is often perceived as boastful for her academic mindset as she studies to be a doctor. She fights her mother’s conservative beliefs, even when it earns her a slap on the cheek, and refuses to date business-oriented men. She highlights the importance of cultural and ethnic pride through her relationship with Joseph Asagai, a Nigerian intellectual at her university, and strikes her family members with letting her hair be natural. Meilleur carries an air of nonchalance, but her energy is palpable and offers necessary comedic relief and ideological refreshment.
Jokaelle Porter as “Walter Lee Younger”
Film and digital media, Third-year, Oakes College
Jokaelle Porter’s childhood and adolescence were shaped by rap and television, nurturing the entertainment spirit that his father’s passing left behind. His interest in street rapper Mix Master Spade got him into performing rap in elementary school, which eventually gave way to theater performance. In his second performance but his first at UC Santa Cruz, he plays Walter, a chauffeur who wishes he could provide more for his family. Porter finds similarities in Walter’s situation as someone who also grew up in a matriarchal family with five sisters and shares his experience of having lost his father.
“Walter brings a plethora of emotions, he’s all wound up,” Porter said. “I find myself saying the things that the character says. He brings energy, heartbreak, and at the end he comes around and finds his strength.”
At Walter’s core is the desire to provide for his family, a desire which can be felt by the audience. His sensitivity glimmers when he gives his son an extra 50 cents so he can get some fruit or take a cab to school, making up for his inability to buy him a new pair of shoes even when it angers his wife. Porter successfully captures Walter’s chaotic intensity in both humorous and provocative ways that risk exaggeration at times.
Abiel Russom as “Joseph Asagai”
Global economics, Alumnus, Oakes College
Inviting awareness beyond the confined two-bedroom apartment, Abiel Russom plays Joseph Asagai, the global, Pan-African-minded college student introducing Beneatha to the ideology that all individuals of African descent should be united. He reiterates the importance of not assimilating to the U.S.’s dominant white standards, such as suggesting she replace her “mutilated” silky strands with her natural kinks. As a global economics major from Eritrea, Russom is able to convey Asagai’s cultural and intelligent themes that trickle into his personal life.
“The importance of having your identity guide your future, as in what you want to do for yourself and for your people,” Russom said. “He talks about going back to his village and teaching and making change, and that’s something that I aspire to in terms of making it known that you’re from a certain country and celebrating that.”
Although not a central role, Asagai extends the play’s perspective to include what is happening in the larger world in terms of racial ideology. 1959 marked Pan-African Congress’s entrance to South Africa, which contributes to Asagai’s relationship with Beneatha, presenting him as the forward-thinking call for cultural pride, which Russom depicts sincerely but subdued ly. The romantic energy between the two is restrained, but his intellect projects a progressive academic perspective that contrasts with the Youngers’ economic mundanities.