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BHS Drama Students Portray Harsh Realities of Life in the 1950s

On December 7, the Berkeley High Drama Department performed their first show of A Raisin in the Sun.

The classic play by Lorraine Hansberry, is a story about the Youngers, a poor African American family who live on the south side of Chicago in the 1950s. They receive an opportunity to get out of poverty in the form of a life insurance check worth ten thousand dollars that, Lena Younger, the matriarch of the house, receives after the passing of her husband.

In the play, the check is seen as both a blessing and a curse because it represents something different to each family member. The check has the potential to change all of their lives. The money has the power to help the family move out of the dilapidated apartment into a better house, help Beneatha, Lena’s young daughter, with her education, or help Walter, Lena’s eldest son, with investing in a liquor store. Throughout the whole play, the family has arguments about how to put the new money to use.

Each family member has their own idea for the best way to spend the money, and how their plan will help the family as a whole in the future.

When I watched the play, I noticed that all of the characters in the play were played by the race they were intended in the original book, which I really loved because unlike Hollywood, this production didn’t whitewash any of its characters.

I interviewed Ayyub Love, who played Asagai, a man who teaches Beneatha about her African heritage, and asked him to discuss his thoughts on this matter of whitewashing.

He said, “I think it’s good that we kept the play how it always was. Of course the actors added some uniqueness. But I don’t think there would be any point in changing the characters, it would take away from the play.”

Patience Sykes, who played Ruth Younger, the wife of Walter, also was vocal regarding the lack of whitewashing in the play.

She said, “I feel empowered on how the drama department went with the original, and how the play showed how it was a struggle for people of color back then.” Students also reacted positively to the play. For example Erin Mcgarry, a BHS junior, said, “I think a lot of students can relate to wanting to do something or have a dream but can’t do it because of money troubles.” This was an interesting answer because, as teenagers, we often worry about money when going out.

Ayyub Love saw a similar connection. He said, “I would say it connects through the students’ lives. Everyone at BHS has dreams and ambitions, but not all of them may reach their dreams. They may have something that makes it seem possible, and they may have something that gives them hope. Sometimes they may have to give up what they want in order to benefit others. The same way in the play Walter Younger did what benefited his family.” Similarly, Sykes said,  “The play connects to certain communities, mostly the African American Studies Department, which pushed to get the play.” Both actors agreed that the most empowering scene in the play was the one where Walter refuses to take the check from Linder, a man who attempts to incentivize the family out of buying a new house in a white neighborhood. Ayyub said, “This scene was empowering to me because Walter realized that he wants his family to be happy. He realizes that moving into the  neighborhood is bigger than just him.”

The entire play was great overall. The acting was spot-on. You could see Patience Sykes and Jehni Stewart (who played Walter) bring their characters to life at both the moments of frustration and the many moments of joy, which brought levity to the often heavy play. The whole cast was fantastic. They did a wonderful job of bringing A Raisin in the Sun to life. They created a vivid picture of a complex family, illustrating the hardships faced by African Americans in the 1950s. These struggles are still experienced today, which goes to show that A Raisin in the Sun was a very relevant choice for the BHS Drama Department to produce this year.