Saturday, March 01, 2008

Raisin Made For Nearly Perfect Television Treat

Raisin Made For Nearly Perfect Television Treat

For all homebound theatrelovers, the past week was the second in a row to offer an outstanding opportunity to kick back and relax in their favorite chairs while watching performances that generated excitement on Broadway over the last several years.

While I've already written about PBS' "Great Performances"' presentation of Company -- which I had the pleasure of seeing live on stage last year -- I regret never having had the chance to see the Tony Award-winning revival of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin In The Sun, particularly after seeing the bravura performances on the small screen version of the play earlier this week by Phylicia Rashad, Audra McDonald and Sanaa Lathan.

Each of these three outstanding actresses reprised their Tony nominated stage roles. In the case of Rashad and McDonald, they actually won Tonys. If the heartwrenchingly real acting I witnessed in the televised version is any indication, those awards were certainly well-deserved. In fact, I'd be downright angry if each did not receive an Emmy nomination.

Never before had I seen the play, nor had I ever seen either of the two previous film incarnations. Those included the 1961 silver screen film that included a trio of young up and coming stars reprising their roles from the 1959 Tony-nominated play: Sidney Poitier as Walter, the man with a plan, Ruby Dee as his long-suffering wife Ruth and Louis Gossett, Jr. as George. The other was the 1989 Emmy-nominated televised film starring Danny Glover as Walter.

So tuning into ABC last Monday evening, I really had no idea what to expect other than the premise that Walter schemes to use the life insurance money left to his mother upon his father's death. What a surprise to discover that the richly layered plot valiantly deals with topics that surely had to have been largely taboo topics for the late fifties, including overt white racism and abortion. It also delves into the black Americans' search for identity, at once both in assimilating into a then majority white society and in seeking a deeper appreciation of one's African roots.

Aside from the sometimes shaky camera work that made me a little sick to my stomach, the otherwise fine direction by Kenny Leon -- who's most often associated with August Wilson, arguably the greatest African American playwright ever -- expertly draws out the powerful, poignant performances of his mostly stellar cast.

While I wish I could say I was moved by executive producer Sean Combs' rather one-note portrayal of Walter, I applaud him for being so courageous in his vision of bringing the superb, moving play to a larger audience of tens of millions via television. I'll most certainly look forward to purchasing the DVD when it becomes available in May.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 01 March, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

I totally agree with you. Bravura is right! The performances were powerful and poignant. (Well most of them, anyway).

Phylicia, Audra and Sanaa were awesome. They created such strong, memorable characters in this play. I became a big fan of Audra McDonald's when I saw her in "110 in the Shade" last summer. What a versatile performer! And Sanaa Lathan is terrific - so full of spunk and self-confidence. This is one of those dream casts that I really wish I'd had a chance to see on stage.

And I think the themes are still relevant today: how do you maintain your identity and avoid getting totally swallowed up in the majority culture? While it's nothing as stark as what happened here, I have friends who, let's just say, haven't always been greeted with open arms when they've moved into the neighborhood.

It would be interesting to see what you think of the original with Sidney Poitier. I saw it years ago. While I applaud Sean Combs for trying, he just didn't seem to have that inner rage ready to boil over. Somehow he seemed a little too contemporary. (And I didn't even know there was a version with Danny Glover! I'll have to check it out).

BTW, Sanaa Lathan is great in a sweet little romantic comedy called "Something New."

At 02 March, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

I'm glad I'm not alone, Esther. I'll definitely have to rent the original film and compare performances.


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