Monday, April 7, 2014

TOP PICK -- Broadway Theater Review: A Raisin in the Sun with Denzel Washington

David Cromer, Bryce Clyde Jenkins, Latanya Richardson Jackson, Anika Noni Rose, Denzel Washington and Sophie Okonedo Photo: Brigitte Lacombe
Raisin in the Sun, Not Just About Star Shining in the Spotlight
By Lauren Yarger
“You a good looking guy,” Lena Younger tells her son Walter Lee, played by film superstar Denzel Washington. A huge cheer goes up from the audience.

While fans are buying up all of the tickets available to the limited-run Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun, this production of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic truly isn’t just all about a big Hollywood star on the boards (although it doesn't hurt ticket sales). It’s about a really great production – probably the best I have seen of this play – and a marvelous cast directed by Kenny Leon.

Washington gives a moving, complex and completely satisfying portrayal of a man in the pit of low self esteem who slowly rediscovers his pride and family ties. Turning in rich performances with him are Latanya Richardson Jackson as his mother, Lena, Sophie Okonedo as his struggling wife, Ruth, Anika Noni Rose as his dream-filled sister, Beneatha, and Bryce Clyde Jenkins -- who demonstrates extraordinary acting technique for one so young -- as his son, Travis.

It’s a well-oiled machine that smoothly delivers the tale of a family with hopes of escaping poverty and dim hopes for a future on Chicago’s South Side. Generational differences come to light between Lena, who remembers grandparents who were slaves, and her children, whose focus is on money, rather than freedom. 

Making the move possible is a $10,000 insurance check paid on the death of Lena’s hardworking husband. Lena wants to put a down payment on a home of their own in the all-white neighborhood of Clybourne Park. Ruth sees a new home as an answer to prayer – Travis will have his own room and won’t have to sleep on the living room couch any more, the family won’t have to share a bathroom with other tenants (or cockroaches), and maybe she’ll be able to keep the baby they are expecting. The Family’s shabby apartment is designed by Mark Thompson.

Walter Lee has other ideas, however, for how to invest the money. He dreams of owning a liquor store with friends including Bobo (Stephen McKinley Henderson who is exquisite in a minor role) and being a big employer who receives a lot of respect. Lena insists, however, that part of the money to go toward Beneatha’s dream of becoming a doctor. 

Beneatha's suitor, wealthy George Murchison (Jason Dirden), discourages that dream, telling Beneatha that men are only interested in what they can see. Her other beau, Joseph Asagai (Sean Patrick Thomas), encourages her to explore her roots and to return to his native Nigeria with him.

The family’s hopes and dreams are gambled and lost, then hinge on a meeting with Karl Linder (David Cromer), who stops by to explain to the family that his neighborhood “improvement association” is offering them a nice profit NOT to buy the house in Clybourne Park where they aren’t really welcome. (Cromer, an absolute genius director -- Our Town -- exercises his acting skills here in the small role, making our backs tingle with creepiness every time he smiles with false civility and refers to the Youngers as “you people.”)

Though set sometime before 1960 (Ann Roth costumes the ensemble), the play feels contemporary. Jackson is a mother/grandmother we all know and she brings a lot of knowing “hmm hmms” from the audience as she tries to motivate her family. The scene where Walter Lee lets her down and she prays for strength is unbelievably gripping. Okonedo (
"Hotel Rwanda"), making an impressive Broadway debut, conveys Ruth’s sadness and weariness throughout the 2 hour, 40-minute run – even through laughter, which struck me as completely realistic.

It’s one of those plays you can just sit back and enjoy, and not just because Denzel’s not hard to look at. I took practically no notes, so absorbed was I in the flawless storytelling. One of the treats of the season.

Special kudos go to Lighting Designer Brian MacDevitt, who catches individuals at crucial junctures and highlights them in the "sun." The line from Langston Hughes' poem "A Dream Deferred," from which the play's title is taken, is projected on the curtain before the show with audio of an interview with Hansberry playing.

A Raisin in the Sun plays at the Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th St., NYC through June 15.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain
-- abortion

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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