The Pear Avenue Theatre presents……
By Lorraine Hansberry
Directed by Aldo Billingslea and Sara Capule
Prejudice is the reason of fools. - Voltaire

A RAISIN IN THE SUN is a profound play on every level, one every thinking individual should see. It gives the audience a glimpse of what it meant to be a Black American in the 1950’s and it reflects every minority’s self-deception that money is the gateway to their own definition of success and happiness. We see so many evils in today’s world, that we often believe we will never achieve true racial, sexual and economic equality. Yet, when the curtain falls on this uncompromising picture of the Younger family, their angers, and their frustrating fight to rise above their circumstances, we realize how far we really have progressed. Black Americans can get a decent education; they can live in any neighborhood they choose and they have as much access to that elusive “American Dream” as any one of us living in America today. It was not so in the fifties in this country.

The plot of this play reflects the American myth that we each have the power to make our future more satisfying than our present. Every minority who fled the limitations of their native land came to this country to make a better life not just for themselves but for their children. None envisioned the glass walls that would lock them into poverty and tarnish their dreams. Once they began to try to build the life they envisioned, they found themselves compromising at every turn. With each compromise, they lost a little of their fundamental pride and a far bigger chunk of their self respect.

A RAISIN IN THE SUN is based on Hansberry’s own experience, when her father bought a house in a white neighborhood in Chicago and the family was forced to abandon it because of the violence and legal battles that threatened to destroy them. Each of the characters in this beautifully realized production have their own vision of the kind of life they want to create but no matter how many steps they take toward that goal, they never seem to get any closer. The impact of this play is that the incidents we see unfold on stage make each of them re-think their objectives and pare down their ambition to fit what they define as reality until they are all pushed to the final and most demeaning compromise of all. Should they sell their integrity to get the money to buy their dream?

The Pear Avenue Theatre recreates the dead-ends, the conflicts, indeed the very core of Hansberry’s play with power and heart. This tightly knit production casts a spell that sweeps us into another time and place and they do this in a tiny 49 seat low budget theater with limited resources that would daunt far larger theatrical organizations. The set designed by Ron Garparinetti is spot-on and the costumes designed by Barbara Murray reflect not just the fashion of time, but the personality of characters themselves.

The direction is masterful and both Billingslea and Capule must be complimented on maintaining the integrity of Hansberry’s Chicago on their tiny stage where the audience is practically sitting in the set. The pace is perfect and the movement of the actors together and alone is orchestrated with the precision of a choreographed dance. Many members of this cast, including co-director Capule studied with Billingslea and his own talent and ability to impart what acting can be to his students is obvious in the way they realized this very important story. The entire cast works together as a tightly knit ensemble, never upstaging each other and always moving the action forward.

Kendra Owens gives a sensitive, masterful performance as Lena, the mother who wants to find a place for her family to be able to blossom; a woman who loves each of her children for what they are and believes that her faith will protect them all, no matter what happens on the very rocky road that life has given them. She reminds her children that God is always in her house and the audience knows that the strength of her belief sustains the entire family and fortifies them to deal with the upsets and setbacks they encounter.

Her son Walter, (Michael Wayne Rice) frustrated, thwarted by his inability to make a living doing anything that gives him self respect, says “I want so many things, it’s kind of driving me crazy,” and justifies his racing after one money-making scheme to another because he believes that if you think big, you have to take the chance of losing big. Lena sees his devotion to money as his downfall and she says, “Once upon a time, freedom was life, now it’s money.”

These two actors are thrilling to watch and the sweep of their talent carries the play, although they never overshadow the very capable cast that supports them. Lorraine Hansberry would have been proud to see them recreate the central characters in her story of dreams unrealized and the inevitable disappointments people suffer when they want so much and can do so little not because of what they are, but because of who they are. Don’t miss this unforgettable theatrical experience that holds a mirror up to our most fundamental belief of the potential of every human being in our society to grab the gold ring.

Our self image, strongly held, essentially determines what we become
Matthew Maltz

A RAISIN IN THE SUN continues through July 10 at The Pear Avenue Theatre, 1220 Pear Avenue, Unit K, Mountain View, CA 94043, and Thursday-Saturday evenings @8 p.m. with an added Wednesday evening performance July 6. Matinees are Sunday @2 p.m. For more information and to order tickets e mail tickets@thepear.org or call 650-254-1148