Raisin in the Sun, Two River Style

August 29, 2017
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Brenda Pressley and Brandon J. Dirden, familiar faces on the Two River Theater stage, star in the Lorraine Hansberry classic “A Raisin in the Sun.”

By Mary Ann Bourbeau |

RED BANK – To celebrate its first production of “A Raisin in the Sun,” the Two River Theater is hosting a Raisin’ the Roof Block Party on Aug. 31. The free community event will feature live music by Gary Wright Roots & Blues, dancing on the plaza and a sampling of food from area restaurants. Participants will have a chance to meet cast members and enter a raffle to win free tickets.

“A Raisin in the Sun” debuted in 1959 and was the first play by a black woman to be produced on Broadway. Lorraine Hansberry’s drama draws on her own family’s experience with housing discrimination, telling the story of the Younger family who live in poverty on Chicago’s south side. Family matriarch Lena Younger lives with her son, Walter Lee, his wife Ruth and several other family members. When Lena’s husband dies and leaves a life insurance check, each person dreams of what they would do with the money. The story explores race, social justice and history, and the different hopes and aspirations of each member of the Younger family as they fight for their piece of the American dream. The play takes its title from these lines in a poem by Langston Hughes:

“What happens to a dream deferred

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”

“A Raisin in the Sun is not only one of America’s great plays, it is in fact one of the greatest works of art ever created,” said John Dias, Two River Theater’s artistic director. “Lorraine Hansberry uses the metaphor of the family to illuminate something profound about who we are as Americans. We have built this production around the talents of an extraordinary family of Two River actors.”

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Lena Younger is portrayed by Brenda Pressley, who starred in Two River productions of “Trouble in Mind” and “In This House.” Brandon J. Dirden and his wife, Crystal A. Dickinson, take on the parts of Walter Lee and Ruth Younger. In addition to starring in several Two River shows, they both had parts in Broadway’s “Clybourne Park,” the 2012 Tony Award-winning play that was written as a spin-off to “A Raisin in the Sun.”

“The brilliance of Lorraine Hansberry to not just comment on a time, you know the 1950s in America, but what she is really unearthing is a deep truth about humanity,” Dirden said in a WBGO live interview at the Two River Theater. “And any time you excavate the truths about humanity it will forever be relevant. The truth that she excavates about race relations in America in this particular are unfortunately, yes, still timely.”

Dirden’s father, Willie Dirden, takes on the role of Bobo, making this the first time the father and son have acted together. New York-based actor/director Carl Cofield directs.

“Carl Cofield’s production will resonate today as a story of how courage, hope and love trump our ongoing history of inequity and injustice,” said Dias.

“A Raisin in the Sun” runs from Sept. 9 through Oct. 8, with an opening night performance on Friday, Sept. 15. Audiences can learn more about Hansberry and “A Raisin in the Sun” through lobby displays and Two River’s Before Play lecture series, which takes place 45 minutes before every performance. There will also be post-play conversations with the cast and a member of Two River’s artistic staff at 3 p.m. Sept. 24, 1 p.m. Sept. 27 and 7 p.m. Oct. 4.

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Tickets range from $40 to $70 and are available at 732-345-1400 or www.tworivertheater.org. Discounts are available for groups, seniors, veterans, U.S. military personnel and their families. Tickets for patrons under 30 are $20.

Arts and entertainment writer Mary Ann Bourbeau can be reached at mbourbeau@tworivertimes.com.

This article was first published in the Aug. 24-31, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.



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