There are occasions when a critic needs a reality check on that cold walk back to the car. Was it really that good? Were you really near tears at the curtain call because of the gift these actors gave you? Can you honestly say you would see this same production again and again?
In the case of Warren Bowles’ staging of “A Raisin in the Sun,” which opened Friday at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, the answers are yes, yes and yes. Bowles is articulate, intelligent and sharply observant of behavior and rhythm, weaving the diverse energies of Lorraine Hansberry’s masterpiece into a tapestry of ordinary life that is at once specific to African-American self-determination and universal in its conveyance of human yearning.
From the opening, we sense the preoccupied concern in Aimee K. Bryant’s Ruth, as she gets her household going one morning in south Chicago. Darius Dotch’s Walter Lee, Ruth’s husband, is cocky and street-smart — a working man full of dreams and frustration. Greta Oglesby is the matriarch, Lena, marked by a calming cadence in her voice and unspoken power in her face.
Walter wants to use the $10,000 that is coming to the family after the death of his father, Lena’s husband, to invest in a liquor store and get his piece of the American dream. The world is divided between “the takers and the tooken,” he declares. He wants to be on the winning side.
Lena wants no part of the money hustle. Her dreams are an education for her daughter, Walter’s sister Beneatha, and maybe a home for her family.
Hansberry, who was only 29 when this play appeared on Broadway, must have been alive long before she was born. Her language is filled with the deep wisdom of age and her writing is that rare gift of poetry formed as everyday speech.
Dotch is a revelation as Walter Lee in his body language, his temperament, his voice, his complete command of the stage. Oglesby rides along the evenhanded mien of Lena, and when she explodes in anger, it is an absolute occasion.
Bryant has done so much good work for so many years that it’s dangerous to put this at the top of her list, but she is just devastating as the good-hearted Ruth. Am’Ber Montgomery’s Beneatha balances Ruth’s earnest demeanor with a lively and questing curiosity. Beneatha is in many ways this family’s best hope, and we see that in Montgomery’s bright performance.
And the supporting cast? Very fine. What a great night in the theater.
Graydon Royce is a longtime Star Tribune theater critic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.