reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Indiana Repertory Theatre continues their 2017-18 season with Lorraine Hansberry’s masterpiece, A Raisin in the Sun. The play opened to high praise on Broadway in 1959 and went on to win the New York Drama Critic’s Circle Award for Best Play of the Year. The IRT production represents the fourth opportunity for Timothy Douglas to direct the iconic play.

The story concerns the Younger family, struggling in the depths of a segregated world, hoping and dreaming for better, happier lives. Every one of the adult family members has a dream that would lift them out of their circumstance – but the times seem to be against them, with civil rights mechanisms having barely started. The expectation of a life insurance windfall seems to complicate matters, but eventually leads to the possibility of a more promising future as the family takes hold of their fates. As the play shows us – idealism is part of life, and dreams are necessary.

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Dorcas Sowunmi (Ruth Younger) and Kim Staunton (Lena Younger) in IRT’s “A Raisin in the Sun”

Presented on Scenic Designer Tony Cisek’s highly detailed rendering of the Younger family’s Chicago tenement apartment, the show is offered by a first-rate team of actors lead by veteran actress Kim Staunton’s portrayal of the matriarchal Lena Younger. Ms. Stauton recreates the role from her LA appearance in the production directed by Phylicia Rashad. Her powerful portrayal on the IRT stage is full of nuance and meaning, showing us how a loving, strong, experienced woman handles the doubts and dreams of her fluid family.

Chiké Johnson takes the role of Lena’s fancifully ambitious son, Walter Lee Younger. Johnson gives an impressive performance, riding his character’s emotional roller coaster with an astute understanding of his turmoil as he makes flawed choices in hopes of securing a better life for his family. Dorcas Sowunmi carries the weight of Walter’s wife Ruth’s disappointments and hopefulness with aplomb, while Stori Ayers shines as his younger sister, Beneatha – full of new ideas and a far more hopeful outlook for the world.

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Lex Lumpkin (Travis Younger) and Chiké Johnson (Walter Lee Younger) in IRT’s “A Raisin in the Sun”

Elisha Lawson and Jordan Bellow handle well the roles of Beneatha’s boyfriends Joseph Asagai, and George Murchison, and D. Alexander is solid as the disappointed business partner, Bobo. Lex Lumpkin does a noteworthy job as Ruth’s young grandson Travis, and Paul Tavianini completes the cast as Karl Lindner.

Kara Harmon’s costumes and Peter Maradudin’s light design add greatly to the realism that director Douglas has overseen here.

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Elisha Lawson (Joseph Asagai) and Stori Ayers (Beneatha Younger) in IRT’s “A Raisin in the Sun”

Bottomline: This script provides an American classic story-line – with a look at a part of our troubled history that is not completely resolved. While the performance I saw seemed to get off track a bit emotionally in the second act, the compelling result of the experience as a whole cannot be denied. There were many moments of strength and truth. This is a moving and important piece of drama; the ideas Ms. Hansberry has laid out in her play are powerful reminders of what we have left to do.

A Raisin in the Sun will continue its run at Indiana Repertory Theatre through February 3rd. For specific information on dates, show times, and ticket orders, visit IRT’s website at

  • Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale
  • Photos by Zach Rosing