My friend Alison and I are season subscribers to Centerstage in Baltimore. Last night we saw the second of two plays that are being billed as The Raisin Cycle, as they are both examining the history of race in America based off of Lorraine Hansbury’s play A Raisin in the Sun. The first is Clybourne Park, Bruce Norris’ Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning play which takes place in the same house the Younger family moves into in A Raisin in the Sun prior to their occupancy in the first act and then in present day in the second act. The second play was written by Kwame Kwei-Armah, Centerstage’s current Artistic Director, as a response to Clybourne Park and some of the issues he sees in the play. Beneatha’s Place follows the character of Beneatha Younger to Nigeria picking up where A Raisin in the Sun leaves off. The first act examines her husband’s fight to gain independence for the Nigerian people from the British. The second act occurs 40 years later in present day as Beneatha, who is now a dean teaching African-American studies at a university in California, returns to Nigeria with her colleagues for a conference.
The Raisin Cycle is getting a lot of well-deserved good press including from The New York Times. In addition, yesterday they just put out a press release that PBS is going to air a documentary special about the Raisin Cycle productions. From the press release: “The “A Raisin in the Sun Revisited” special will feature scenes from CENTERSTAGE’s productions of Clybourne Park and Beneatha’s Place as well as excerpts from film and television productions of A Raisin in the Sun. Interviews with the Raisin Cycle creative team, backstage b-roll, commentary on the impact of Lorraine Hansberry’s work, newsreel footage, and audience discussions will allow the program to explore the legacy of A Raisin in the Sun and examine current and historical perspectives on race, property, neighborhoods, and gentrification. “
I have never seen A Raisin in the Sun performed, but I wanted to prepare for these plays so a group of friends who also regularly go to Centerstage and I read the play and watched one of the movie versions of it. I suspect you would be fine seeing either of these plays without having knowledge of A Raisin in the Sun, but I think it does add another layer to them. I happened to see Clybourne Park first, but I also suspect you could see the two plays in either order.
I have seen a number of really good plays at Centerstage over the years, but the combination of these two plays was fantastic. They both bring up many issues of race and how we are still dealing with them today. They left me with a lot to think about as well as entertaining me for a total of four hours.
Clybourne Park and Beneatha’s Place are playing repertory at Centerstage through June 16. If you are anywhere near the Baltimore area I would highly recommend taking the time to see these plays.
*Full disclosure, my friend Heather is the Public Relations Manager for Centerstage, but our friendship has nothing to do with my endorsements of these particular plays or the fine work that Centerstage does on a regular basis.