Post Number: 149
|Posted on Sunday, May 20, 2012 - 11:49 am: ||
Born in 1930, Lorainne Vivian Hansberry the 3rd died of pancreatic cancer in 1965 at the age of 34. Her most famous play, A Raisin in the Sun, opened on Broadway on March 11, 1959, when the author was 29 years old. The play dealt with Hansberry’s family’s decision to move into a racially-restricted subdivision of Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood.
A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by a black woman and the first play with a black director (Lloyd Richards) to be produced on Broadway. Hansberry wrote,
“25 years ago, [my father] spent a small personal fortune, his considerable talents, and many years of his life fighting, in association with NAACP attorneys, Chicago’s ‘restrictive covenants’ in one of this nation’s ugliest ghettos. That fight also required our family to occupy disputed property in a hellishly hostile ‘white neighborhood’ in which literally howling mobs surrounded our house…My memories of this ‘correct’ way of fighting white supremacy in America include being spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school. And I also remember my desperate and courageous mother, patrolling our household all night with a loaded German Luger (pistol), doggedly guarding her four children, while my father fought the respectable part of the battle in the Washington court.”
The NY Times remarked that the play—which introduced details of black life to white audiences and which for the first time drew large numbers of black audiences to the theater—“changed American theater forever.”
After Hansberry’s death, her widower, Robert Nemiroff , became her literary executor. He adapted a number of her writings into the play, To Be Young, Gifted and Black, the longest-running Off-Broadway play of the 1968-1969 season. In book form, the play bore the subtitle, Lorainne Hansberry in Her Own Words. Wikipedia:
“Hansberry contributed to the understanding of abortion, discrimination, and Africa. She joined the Daughters of Bilitis and contributed letters to their magazine, The Ladder, in 1957 that addressed feminism and homophobia. Her lesbian identity was exposed in the articles she wrote for the magazine, but she wrote under the initials L.H. for fear of discrimination against a black lesbian...According to James Baldwin, Hansberry was prescient about many of the increasingly troubling conditions in the world, and worked to remedy them with literature. Baldwin believed ‘it is not at all farfetched to suspect that what she saw contributed to the strain which killed her, for the effort to which Lorraine was dedicated is more than enough to kill a man.’”
Now, Lewis Campbell—“retired from teaching but not from theater” and an old hand at ensemble work—has brought To Be Young, Gifted and Black to his Multi Ethnic Theater in San Francisco. It’s a terrific production directed by Campbell and featuring a cast of eight actors—AJ Davenport, Danielle Doyle, Douglas Marshall, Fabian Herd, Jessica Jade Rudholm, Judith Sims, Robin Hughes and Vernon D. Medearis—all of whom play a variety of roles and all of whom, at one point or another, speak Hansberry’s words. MET first produced To Be Young, Gifted and Black in 1994. The current production, a tribute to the author’s memory, is being presented, writes Campbell, “because so much of what Ms. Hansberry said in the fifties and sixties still needs to be heard today.” It’s a dance of Hansberry’s consciousness as actors’ bodies move swiftly and subtly around the theater space—the play is in effect choreographed—and Hansberry’s words are made alive by a variety of voices: Hansberry “is” everyone in this play. The cast is uniformly excellent, and there are many stand-out moments. AJ Davenport, Fabian Herd, Vernon D. Medearis, Douglas Marshall, and Jessica Jade Rudholm are all MET veterans who deliver their lines with customary brio, humor and effectiveness, but there is no one in the production who is lacking. At the beginning and the end of the play, you can hear a bit of Nina Simone’s “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” a tribute to her friend, Lorainne Hansberry:
To be young, gifted and black,
Oh what a lovely precious dream
To be young, gifted and black,
Open your heart to what I mean.
If you can, get yourself over to see the Multi Ethnic Theater production of To Be Young, Gifted and Black:
The Gough Street Playhouse
1620 Gough Street (near Bush)
It’s a glimpse of a spirit that was unflinching, open, constantly aware, politically active, poetic, sexual, intelligent, funny, and, as James Baldwin said, caught in a history that was “more than enough to kill a man.”
For more information, go to
For tickets, go to the online box office at http://www.custommade.org/tickets.