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Invictus Theatre brings light and heat to A Raisin in the Sun

Before Ta-Nehisi Coates laid out “The Case for Reparations” in the Atlantic in 2014, Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 classic A Raisin in the Sun clearly showed the effects of racism on Black Americans seeking better living conditions—a problem we’ve yet to fully address. The Younger family—so cramped for space in their roach-infested apartment that son Travis has to sleep on the living room couch—hopes to buy a better piece of the American pie, thanks to a life insurance payout from their late husband and father. But what that pie looks like varies wildly, and Invictus Theatre Company’s current revival of Raisin, directed by Aaron Reese Boseman, honors those conflicting dreams with conviction and heart.

Matriarch Lena (Cheryl Frazier) wants to buy a house, even if that means moving to an unfriendly white neighborhood. Her son, Walter Lee (Michael Lewis), wants to stop being a driver for white people and take the wheel of his own destiny by buying into a liquor store. His little sister, Beneatha (Ashley Joy), wants to be a doctor and is torn between a bourgeois beau, George (Keith Surney), who is interested in her as arm candy, and a Nigerian student, Joseph (Jo Schaffer), who offers a broader vista for her life. Meantime, Ruth (Nyajai Ellison), Walter’s wife, is facing an unexpected pregnancy and anguish about her husband’s growing anger about his deferred dreams.

Hansberry crammed a lot of life into that small flat (the story is based in part on her own family’s legal challenge to racist restrictive housing covenants), and Boseman’s production goes for broke with heartfelt zest, spilling over the edge of Kevin Rolfs’s appropriately tiny dingy set. On opening night, there were some moments where the actors didn’t feel completely connected to each other, but it’s clear that they know these characters’ hurts and hopes to the bone, and I suspect the ensemble will grow even stronger over the run.  v

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