‘Raisin in the Sun’ and ‘Clybourne Park’ both on stage
“Raisin in the Sun” was a groundbreaking work, the first play written by an African American woman that made it to Broadway. Lorraine Hansberry’s dramatic portrayal of an African American family about to move into a white neighborhood in 1959 Chicago was nominated for Tony Awards and became a classic.
Harry Elam, vice provost of Stanford University and Lorraine Hansberry expert, said “Raisin in the Sun” was in some ways autobiographical. Hansberry’s family moved into a white Chicago neighborhood in 1937, resulting in a case that went to the Supreme Court.
Elam was part of a panel discussion about “Raisin” and its sequel, “Clybourne Park,” written by Bruce Norris. In “Clybourne,” the story picks up in 1959, then fast forwards to 2009 when a white family wants to move into the same neighborhood. “Clybourne Park” won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and 2012 Tony Award for Best Play.
Norris joined Elam on stage in the Paul Green Theatre at the UNC Center for Dramatic Art for a discussion by PlayMakers Repertory Company, which is presenting both plays in rotating repertory. It opens Saturday and will run through March 3.
“Raisin in the Sun” director Raelle Myrick-Hodges, “Clybourne Park” director Tracy Young and PlayMakers producing artistic director Joe Haj were also part of the discussion in a public talk leading up to this weekend’s opening night.
“Raisin in the Sun” is about a family moving out of Southside Chicago but also about family, Elam said, and “how to find the American dream.”
“For me, ‘Raisin’ is about past, present and future of African American generations,” Myrick-Hodges said.
Norris, who is white and grew up in a white community in Texas, watched “Raisin in the Sun” in social studies class. He was 12 and remembered thinking about the other half of the story, about the white family who put their house up for sale. “Clybourne Park” is about the tension, hopefully in a funny way, Norris said, of a white family trying to move back into that neighborhood after white residents fled and it became economically depressed.
The play is set in a home and also about the meaning of home, Young said, and feeling like an insider or outsider in your community.
Haj said that the masterpiece of “Raisin in the Sun” and “Clybourne Park,” which he called one of the truly great modern plays, were meant to be in conversation with each other.
Myrick-Hodges said PlayMakers sees the two plays as one – all of “Raisin in the Sun” and the first act of “Clybourne Park” as Act One of a play, and Act Two of “Clybourne Park” as Act Two of them both.
Elam said Hansberry’s original ending of “Raisin in the Sun” was the black family waiting with guns for whites to attack, but was changed to a hopeful ending.
Haj said the squirm factor in “Clybourne” is pretty high.
Norris said that with his white characters, he writes about people who always had privilege, were quite comfortable with it and assumed the alpha spot at the top of the world.
“I don’t want to lift people up. I want to do quite the opposite,” Norris said.
A person in the audience at the panel discussion asked them what white people need to know before seeing the plays.
“That everyone bleeds red,” and that the perception of black women on television is a lie, Myrick-Hodges said.
More than 50 years after “Raisin in the Sun” was first produced for the stage, Elam said, he is amazed how much resonance it has and how much it speaks to today.
WHAT: “Raisin in the Sun” and “Clybourne Park”
WHEN: Through March 3
WHERE: Paul Green Theatre
UNC Center for Dramatic Art, Chapel Hill