By Mary Sprague
Elm Staff Writer
Tawes Theatre was full to the brim. The stage—a mere ten chairs on a bare floor—was set. The lights dimmed, and an expectant hush fell over the crowd as the actors took their places. Connor Lugo-Harris’s Senior Directing Thesis, “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry, premiered Friday, Nov. 3, followed by a second performance on Saturday, Nov. 4.
Set in 1958, the play is based off the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes, which poses the question, “What happens to a dream deferred?” Hansberry explores this idea of sabotaged potential in “A Raisin in the Sun” through the experiences of the Chicago-based Younger family as they wait for and then deal with a large sum of money that arrives.
“I am black, and I am proud,” said Lugo-Harris in his director’s note. “I have always wanted to be able to tell a story that reflected myself and my culture on stage. And I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to bring this story that deals with the black experience here to Washington College.”
The play opens with Ruth Younger (Jaylen Anderson, senior) waking her husband, Walter Younger (Kash Akinsade, freshman), and son, Travis Younger (Dayla Williams, freshman). Tension arises as they await Lena Younger’s (Sofia Sidhu, senior) $10,000 insurance check. While Walter wants to open a liquor store, Beneatha (Calisa Gayle, sophomore) needs the money for medical school. The family’s conflicting desires for how to use the money establish the plot for the play.
Beyond that, the play deals with race, identity, and the effect of these on the dreams of the family members. Each character grapples with their own desires and must wrestle with the backlash they receive in a systemically racist society.
“I believe that the stage reading of ‘Raisin’ had incredibly powerful acting, and it was exciting to see so many new actors enter in the theater department. If we’re lucky they’ll stay involved,” said Abbey Wark, senior. “I hope to one day see a black play fully produced at WC.”
Although the actors were still on-book, that did not detract from the performance, according to Wark.
“The acting was incredible by all involved, but also especially from all of the females in the cast,” she said. “Without a set or props the audience was able to really to focus in on the acting and see how nuanced many of the actors were getting with their roles.”
The opening night ended in a standing ovation following the performance.
The Elm reached out to Lugo-Harris for comment and received no response.
“I strongly empathize with the Youngers in the pursuit of their dreams,” Lugo-Harris wrote. “I have struggled with feelings of inadequacy, of not feeling like I am ‘enough,’ for a long time. Not smart enough, not cool enough, not strong enough, not ‘black’ enough. … But these characters have taught me so much about strength, …wisdom, and being who you are, flaws and all. Like the Youngers, I will fight for my dreams. …. I hope you will too.”
Additional reporting by Brooke Schultz, Editor-in-Chief.