When Langston Hughes wrote "Harlem No. 2" in 1951, he spoke of the hopelessness of lives spent fighting poverty and prejudice, with no promise of change except through bursts of violence: "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun...Or does it explode?" He was describing what he knew, the Harlem of the 1930s and '40s, but the conditions he wrote about were not limited to Harlem. When Lorraine Hansberry wrote her play about a black family trying to escape their lot in 1950s Southside Chicago, where she was born and raised, she saw the same forces at work and named her play A Raisin in the Sun after Hughes' poem.
Now, as the Dallas Theater Center prepares its production of Hansberry's play 40 years after its premiere, the questions asked continue to be as relevant as they were decades ago, when Hughes first captured them.
"Our young people today live in communities where the life is being sucked out of them, where there is no air," says L. Kenneth Richardson, director of DTC's production. "This play is by no means dated--the audience is going to recognize that what is happening in front of them relates to what is going on outside the theater."
When the play premiered in 1959, Hansberry became the first African-American woman to have a play on Broadway. "The play was a wake-up call," says Richardson. "I mean, this was the 1950s. She predated the black-power movement, the rise of Martin Luther King, and the national awareness of civil rights."
Hansberry made it clear in her book To be Young, Gifted and Black that she was describing the African-American experience, and specifically, the life she had known in Chicago.
"It is very important to me that Dallas' African-American community come out and support this play--working-class, middle-class, everyone," says Richardson. "She was talking about this specific community, though this is a play for all Americans. Through being specific, I think she reached the universal."
Lloyd Richards, director of the original 1959 Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun, will be at the Kalita Humphreys Theater on January 24 to discuss the play, and the public is encouraged to participate.
Dallas Theater Center's production of A Raisin in the Sun at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd., runs from January 13 to February 7. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays, and 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Saturday and Sunday matinees are at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $16-$49; January 17 is pay-what-you-can. The In Perspective Series with Lloyd Richards is free and will take place at 4:30 p.m. January 24.