Having sketched out a little bit of the historical context, I want to take a brief break and give you an inside glimpse at what Geva Theatre Center‘s production of A Raisin in the Sun will look like. The production, directed by Robert O’Hara, will have set and costumes designed by Clint Ramos, lighting by Japhy Weideman and sound by Lindsay Jones. Our first rehearsal isn’t until next week, but the set designs have been submitted and our scene shop is in the process of building.
Robert and Clint were both really impacted by the images of Chicago’s Southside in the 1950’s, which brings to light a side of A Raisin in the Sun that isn’t often fully depicted onstage – the visceral desperation that the Youngers deal with throughout the play. This family – Mama, Walter Lee, Ruth, Travis, Beneatha and (until his death sometime before the play) Big Walter – have been living in a tight, crumbling one-bedroom kitchenette apartment for over 30 years. As the family grew, the living space became more and more cramped, and the privacy dwindled until it was practically nonexistent. With the family living literally right on top of each other and the absolute absence of breathing space, tensions rose until, as Walter says to Ruth, “How we gets to the place where we scared to talk softness to each other. Why you think it got to be like that? Ruth, what is it gets into people ought to be close?”
According to Clint, this feeling of desperation and the horrible state of most apartment buildings in the Southside was the starting place for the design. He wanted to create “a space so cramped and desperate that moving out really becomes a life and death situation.”
So he has created a space that leaves no room for romance, no room to imagine that this space could possibly have anything but a negative impact on the Younger family. What does a space so small do to a family?
Personally, as I look at this space and try putting myself in the shoes of any of the characters in the script, I feel my chest constrict with hopelessness and frustration. It reminds me of something Lorraine Hansberry wrote in a letter to a young college student who wanted to know her views on Civil Rights, or, as he put it, “the Negro question.” As part of her response, she said, “In the twentieth century men everywhere like to breathe: and the Negro citizen still cannot, you see, breathe.” This is not the point of her reply – but it hits on the head one of the problems with a space like this. There is not even room to breathe.