Racial covenants that kept Black people out of certain neighborhoods of Chicago, and across the U.S., are not just a thing of the past. Today, there are organizations including Chicago Covenants still trying to un-do them, and the harm they caused.
Chicago-raised playwright Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is perhaps the best known creative effort that captures the pain and trauma caused by this form of racism. And Chicagoans can catch the short run of this play at Beverly Arts Center through February 19 in a wonderful production directed by Devin Christor.
A Raisin in the Sun Through 2/19: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 2 PM, Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St., 773-445-3838, thebeverlyartscenter.com, $40
We meet the Younger family first through the eyes of Ruth, a perfectly understated Jenise Sheppard. They carry Ruth’s emotions through the dramatic swings of this play, bringing us along for the bumpy ride. Ruth’s husband Walter Lee (Aaron Ragland) is a role not to be envied. He is the heel and the heart, representing the stereotypes and real pain of straight Black men navigating a stacked system.
Mother Lena (Veronda Carey) carries the weight of the house, the play, and the world on her shoulders. Her choice of what to do with the life insurance policy on her late husband impacts and haunts all around her. Carey navigates this complexity beautifully; her speech about her late husband and how he toiled his whole short life for his family is heartbreaking.
Then we have Walter’s sister, and Lena’s other child, Beneatha. Played by Yvette Corrine in her Chicago stage debut, I can’t say enough about how enjoyable she was to watch. Her physicality, comic timing, and dramatic flair are reminiscent of actor Tracee Ellis Ross. She’s fabulous. I can’t wait to see her in other productions.
Jayden Triplett is strong as Ruth and Walter’s son, Travis, and the rest of the cast fills out nicely. My main complaint was the sound on some of the minor characters. I had a hard time distinguishing lines from Beneatha’s boyfriends (she’s torn between rich but shallow George Murchison, played by William Brown, and African student Joseph Asagai, played by DeShawn Spivey), or when actors faced away from the audience. But the majority of the play was enjoyable.
Scenic and lighting designer Rick Keeley did a solid job with the set, which stands up to the door slams that increase as the tension in the story mounts. (Having seen some flimsy sets in the past at other theaters, I was worried as that first slam was coming. It did not disappoint.)
BAC is under new leadership, with managing director Dr. Carla Carter and artistic director Kevin Pease. This first big season since the world shut down under COVID-19 in 2020 is really showing how the BAC is back strong—and they are not playing around. I’m especially looking forward to Five Guys Named Moe June 8–18, codirected by Chicago legends Felicia P. Fields and E. Faye Butler.