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The Daily Tar Heel

Rotating shows raise conversations worth having

Miriam Hyman plays Beneatha Younger in A Raisin in the Sun. The dress rehearsal of A Raisin in the Sun at Playmakers Theatre was on Thursday night.
Miriam Hyman plays Beneatha Younger in A Raisin in the Sun. The dress rehearsal of A Raisin in the Sun at Playmakers Theatre was on Thursday night.

“Once upon a time, freedom used to be life — now it’s money. I guess the world really do change,” proclaims Mama, portrayed by Kathryn Hunter-Williams.

“No, it was always money, Mama,” insists Walter Lee Younger, played by Mikaal Sulaiman. “We just didn’t know about it.”

PlayMakers Repertory Company’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” performed in rotating repertory with “Clybourne Park,” fearlessly tackles race, gender and gentrification with painful honesty and grace.

The play, written by Lorraine Hansberry in 1959, portrays the Youngers, a black family attempting to purchase a home in an all-white neighborhood in Chicago while struggling to balance personal dreams with family loyalty.

The production is directed by Raelle Myrick-Hodges and pays tribute to the themes of deferred dreams and family conflict with character portrayals that transcend the gap between the ’50s and now.

Clips from a radio interview with Hansberry commenting on her own work are sprinkled between scenes.

This artistic choice helps the audience not only delve into the world of the Youngers, but also the life of Hansberry and the significance of this family’s story within racially-charged 1950s America.

Costume designer Jan Chambers dresses characters in a fashion reflective of their journey and the time period.

Miriam A. Hyman’s portrayal of Beneatha Younger drives “Raisin” forward with a contagious energy even through the play’s most disheartening moments, while Hunter-Williams, as Mama, grounds the audience in a complex and recognizable mother’s love.

The sets, designed by Robin Vest, seamlessly transform from the Younger’s rat-infested apartment to the middle-class house in “Clybourne Park,” leaving aesthetics intact.

Bruce Norris’ “Clybourne Park,” directed by Tracy Young, was written in 2009. The first act follows the white family who sold the house to the Youngers. The second act jumps to present day, with the now-predominantly black neighborhood facing gentrification as a white family tries to purchase the house.

“Clybourne Park,” in many ways, continues the conversation of identity in America where “Raisin” left off.

The dialogue, combined with the flawless timing, evokes eruptions of discomfort followed by self-deprecating laughter in the audience.

But with this laughter comes an underlying issue: How much can a person rely on moral principles in a world requiring practicality?

That is the predicament in both “Raisin” and “Clybourne Park,” and both succeed in promoting a different kind of conversation.

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