More than 50 years have passed since “A Raisin in the Sun” debuted on Broadway and the drama about the American dream as seen through the eyes of a black family is still relevant.
“Absolutely, it's relevant because we still have racism in this country,” says actor/director Ron Bobb-Semple, who is directing the Stageworks Theatre production that opens tonight.
“There is still racial discrimination and tensions between white and black communities,” he says.
He adds that the play also is about the different dynamics and tensions within a family and all people can relate to that.
When Lorraine Hansberry's play opened on Broadway in 1959 it became the first play on Broadway written by a black woman and the first to have a black director. It also was the first play to draw black audiences to Broadway.
The title comes from a Langston Hughes poem that asks, “What happens to a dream deferred?”
“Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”
There are several deferred dreams in the play as the story follows various members of a black family living in poverty on Chicago's south side.
When the matriarch, Mama, is set to collect $10,000 from a life insurance policy, her grown son, Walter, wants to invest in a liquor store so he can achieve his dream of a decent income.
Mama's dream is to move into a better neighborhood, something her late husband wanted. More conflicts arise when a representative from that neighborhood offers the family money to stay out.
Hassenberry drew from a similar experience in her childhood. Her father, a successful Chicago realtor, defied covenants that barred blacks from renting or buying in white neighborhoods. He moved the family in the face of threats, violence and a court battle.
Now considered a classic, “Raisin” is studied in schools. A revival is planned for Broadway in 2014 with Denzel Washington and Diahann Carroll. Sidney Poitier starred in the 1961 film version.
The Tampa cast features Brittney Bellamy, Kibwe Dorsey, Josh Goff, Rico Gordon, Tia Jemison, Peter Konowitz, Robert Richards and Cassandra Small.
Born in Guyana, director Bobb-Semple spent many years in New York working in theater and once worked with Esther Rolle who had a key role in the 1989 film version of “Raisin” on PBS.
He has acted in August Wilson plays at American Stage in St. Petersburg: “Fences,” “Ma Rainey's Black Bottom” and “Seven Guitars.”
RAISIN IN THE SUN
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Thursday and 3 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 20
Where: Stageworks Theatre, 1120 E Kennedy Blvd., Tampa
Tickets: $26 adults ($35 for tonight's opening night includes music, drinks and food), $22 seniors and $10 students, artists and military; (813) 727-2708 and www.stageworkstheatre.org