A Raisin In The Sun
About the Play
March 11, 1959 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York City. Producers Philip Rose and David J. Cogan. Director Lloyd Richards. Starring Sidney Poitier as Walter Lee Younger.
4 women, 8 men
A Raisin in the Sun is still produced and read often and can be found in most bookstores and libraries. A copy of the script can also be purchased from Amazon and Samuel French, among other online sellers.
Lena Younger and her family have lived, through discrimination and poverty, in the same
beaten-up apartment in Chicago’s Southside for years, ever since Lena and her husband
purchased it soon after their marriage. Mr. Younger has passed away, and Lena has
inherited 10,000 dollars in insurance money that promises to change their lives forever.
Finally in possession of the fortune they never had, the Younger family now must ask
themselves whether poverty versus wealth is truly equivalent to despair versus happiness.
As the money moves from one family member’s hand to the next, each Younger struggles
with their own choices for moving forward in a world in which their gender, age, and
color of skin seem to determine their past, present, and future.
Lorraine Hansberry was only 28 years of age when her first play, A Raisin in the Sun, premiered on the Broadway stage. Not only was she young to meet with such a success, but her Broadway production was the first written by an African American woman and the first to have an African American director. It won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, as well as praise from audiences and critics, who deemed it a play both universal and specific in its revealing and honest writing. James Baldwin said that “[n]ever before, in the entire history of American theater, had so much of the truth of black people’s lives been seen on stage.” While not all critics were as thrilled with the socialist, civil rights activist’s debut work, A Raisin in the Sun won Lorraine Hansberry a place in the history books as well as a rank among America’s greatest and most influential playwrights, despite her premature passing only six years later. Her play, influenced by her own experiences as a young girl living in an all-white “restrictive covenant” in Chicago’s Southside, explores the discrimination she and her family fought after World War II, both as African Americans and as members of the working class. Hansberry’s father’s struggle against the restrictive covenants resulted in a 1940 U.S. Supreme Court case titled Lee vs. Hansberry, which he won, though it did not put an end to racial discrimination in Chicago.
A Raisin in the Sun continued to find success in the years following its premiere and Hansberry’s death. The 1961 film version, for which Hansberry herself wrote the screenplay, won a Cannes Film Festival Award, and Bill Duke directed a production for American Playhouse/PBS Television in 1989. The 1973 musical, produced and written by Hansberry’s ex-husband, Robert Nemiroff, and Charlotte Zaltzberg, won the year’s Tony Award for Best Musical. 2004 saw the first Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun, starring Sean Combs and Audra McDonald. All three female actors won Tony Awards for their performances (Phylicia Rashad, who played Lena, was the first African-American to be named Best Actress in a Play), and the production won Best Revival. Hansberry’s story has continued to inspire discussions about race and equality today and in 2011 inspired Bruce Norris to write his Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony Award-winning play, Clybourne Park, which is based on and is set directly after the action of A Raisin in the Sun. Hansberry’s masterpiece continues to be taught in schools--as a piece of history, literature, and theatre-- and is produced often to this day.
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Brennan, Clare. “A Raisin in the Sun review--still challenging its characters and audience.” The Guardian: Observer. Guardian News and Media Limited, 7 February 2016. Web. 19 June 2016.
“Clybourne Park.” Dramatists Play Service. Dramatists Play Service, Inc., 2016. Web. 6 Aug 2016.
“Clybourne Park, by Bruce Norris.” The Pulitzer Prizes. The Pulitzer Prizes, 2016. Web. 6 August 2016.
Dowd, Vincent. “Raisin in the Sun writer’s ‘most important work’ revived by National Theatre.” BBC. BBC, 29 March 2016. Web. 19 June 2016.
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Scenes from the Play
A Raisin in the Sun, Act I, Mama, Ruth, and Beneatha
Mama and Ruth scold Beneatha for her strong and contrary opinions about marriage, wealth, and God. View Scene
A Raisin in the Sun, Act II, Mrs. Johnson, Mama, and Ruth
Mrs. Johnson visits and talks up a storm about the way black folks are being treated in white neighborhoods, much to the annoyance of Mama and Ruth. View Scene
About the Playwright
Lorraine Hansberry was born in Chicago’s Southside on May 19, 1930 to Nannie and Carl Hansberry. Her father, who worked in real estate and banking, was at the forefront of the fight for civil rights in the city of Chicago and rebelled against the “restrictive covenants” that prevented African Americans from living in certain all-white neighborhoods of the city. His fight led to his family taking a house in one of these neighborhoods and facing extreme violence in response. Later, he and the N…
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