It’s remarkable on how many levels Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play still works. It’s a potent historical document, an evocation of a particular time, and yet its preoccupations are still ours. Power, property, and poverty: we’re still having these conversations. Eclipse Theatre’s touring production trusts the text and its complexities – it lets the play sing its song.
The Younger family live in a cramped Chicago apartment with a communal bathroom and roaches which strut around the miniscule kitchen like Napoleon. Having come into some insurance money following the death of her husband, matriarch Lena wants to secure her children’s future by buying a house, one with a yard and enough room for the family to grow. But the area she has chosen is mainly white and the welcoming committee is anything but.
Dawn Walton’s production is solid and unflashy, the pacing slightly hampered by some momentum-sapping scene changes. The ensemble playing is strong with Ashley Zhangzha suitably volatile as Lena’s son, the argumentative and irresponsible Walter, someone whose sense of worth as a man is fatally entangled with the amount of money he can bring in. His performance is a little on the large side, but then his character is one of extremes, hot-tempered and impulsive. Susan Wokoma is a warm and watchable presence as Walter’s intelligent, idealistic sister, Beneatha, with her dreams of becoming a doctor, and Angela Wynter is gently compelling as their mother, Lena, a woman of pride and resolve – the moment towards the end when she buckles and rages at her son is heart-breaking to watch.