A dream realized

A Raisin in the Sun

Matt Miller, Danielle Moné Thrower and Steve Harris share a tense moment in A Raisin in the Sun<i>.</i>

Matt Miller, Danielle Moné Thrower and Steve Harris share a tense moment in A Raisin in the Sun.

Rated 5.0

Few folks nowadays know A Raisin in the Sun firsthand. Maybe they’ve seen the 1961 film, but the play came first. It’s a cultural landmark, and rightly so. The play, at three hours and change, is nearly an hour longer than the more familiar movie. But you wouldn’t want to cut any of it, because the Sacramento Theatre Company’s production is a powerful, satisfying theater experience.

Yes, Raisin was (and is) an African-American classic. But the primary impression you take home is that it’s a darned good drama, encompassing situations and conflicts we all experience. A few are specifically African-American, but, through the passage of time, they are now embedded throughout our culture. Raisin features three generations of a loving, squabbling family, dealing with life’s big topics and transitions. Marriage and strife, pregnancy and abortion, envy, financial stress, alcoholism and racism all are present.

The much-marketed Steve Harris, of TV’s The Practice, is officially the star. He’s quite good, though his acting (favoring short, “in your face” bursts) is somewhat at variance with the rest of the cast’s more theatrical style. Those who bought tickets last Sunday hoping to see Harris were initially disappointed when understudy Billy Eugene Jones appeared. Jones, who understudied last year’s Broadway production of Raisin and was outstanding as Othello at California Shakespeare Theater last June, will appear in several of the Sacramento performances.

My colleague Patti Roberts saw Jones onstage and said he converted the doubtful. “It was a mesmerizing performance,” she reported. “People may have come to see a TV star, but we all left feeling lucky to witness an emerging theater star.”

Raisin also features fine work from the leading women—the play’s about them, after all. Gloria Stingily is the matriarchal Lena, a recent widow guided by abiding faith. Maya Thomas plays the wife (for better or worse) of Lena’s troubled son. Danielle Moné Thrower plays Lena’s daughter. She’s the family’s first college student—doubtful that God is real, and curious about African roots. Thrower, who emerged locally through Celebration Arts and California State University, Sacramento, is luminous. It’s a breakthrough performance.

Director Philip Charles Sneed does a neat bit of magic, bringing focus and immediacy to each scene, like the wonderful moment when Lena receives an outrageous, impractical hat from her cute grandson. The silent portrait of Lena’s departed husband becomes a center of gravity. Ultimately, the play unfolds around it as an integrated, handsome whole.