‘Raisin in the Sun’ classic revived at Downtown Cabaret
As with many adults, the last time Brian Crook read “A Raisin in the Sun,” he was in high school.
Even so, “Raisin” is one of the few Broadway dramas that has remained throughout the decades as part of the American consciousness, and is “as relevant today” as when it debuted on Broadway, Crook pointed out.
Crook, a professional singer and choral teacher/director for Stamford Public Schools, will take a turn at directing the stage play based on Lorraine Hansberry’s classic for the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport, Friday through Sunday, Feb. 2-18.
The theater describes the plot: “An African-American woman, Lena Younger, lives with her extended family in a cramped apartment on Chicago’s South Side. On their unknowing behalf, she places a down payment on a home in Clybourne Park — an affordable white neighborhood. Racial intolerance attempts to derail the family’s dreams in this 1959 masterpiece, which ‘changed American theater forever’ (New York Times) and continues to resonate with generation after generation.”
The Broadway premiere featured Rudy Dee and Sidney Poitier, who reprised their roles in a 1961 film. In the years that have followed, the play has been turned into radio plays, a musical and television movies and enjoyed several major stage revivals on Broadway, in London’s West End and most recently at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.
“The opportunity to explore the play in depth again has been a great experience,” Crook said in a recent telephone chat. “I was a very different person 15 years ago as a high school student than I am now. I have lived more. I have felt the things that these characters are feeling. In getting refamiliarized with this material, I was able to take my life experiences and really relate it to the characters.
“Every time I read the script, I find myself having an ‘aha moment’ where I am able to connect some piece of my own life to the experiences on the page. It’s pretty thrilling,” Crook writes in his director’s notes.
“The story of the Youngers follows my own family’s journey pretty closely. My grandparents were turned away from purchasing a home in the neighborhood they wanted because of the color of their skin. My childhood was spent living in a community that began largely in part due to the discriminatory real estate practices of the 1950s. I may not have been there in person to witness this, but the trajectory of my young life was set because of it. It is only in recent years, after losing my grandparents and father, that I truly started to appreciate what they went through and how much pride they had while striving to achieve their dream against all odds.
“In today’s climate, prejudice” of all sorts — religious, racial and ethnic — “is in the news. But at its very core, I think ‘Raisin’ is about family” — and the importance of believing in people through thick and thin, he said.
Crook, of Bridgeport’s Black Rock section, said he has been involved with the Downtown Cabaret as an actor and director for almost a dozen years.
“I love acting and I love the camaraderie of my fellow actors ... but (as a director) there is truly no feeling like taking a vision, working all of the elements of that vision and then watching it come alive right in front of you. There is nothing like witnessing your actors discover their character and how they fit into the big picture,” he said.
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