Beneatha's place article - review

Center Stage Two for Two with Beneatha’s Place

The Raisin Cycle Series ups the theatre game in Baltimore considerably…

You only got two or so weeks to see this series – don’t miss it!

Playwright and Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah has written a response to Lorraine Hansberry’s  “A Raisin in the Sun” which deals with themes of leadership, power struggles between a man and a woman in a marriage, affirming oneself in a new relationship, coming home, and making progress through the story of one powerful African American woman. Why should women in leadership care about this play and see it – regardless of their political or racial affiliations? Because it highlights the journey many of us make over our lifetimes from girl/daughter of – to woman/mother of…not to mention the impact one’s educational and professional choices can have on so many. All the more reason to encourage young women to chose wisely their partner, their careers and their life paths.

Beneatha’s Place and Clybourne Park is produced in rotating repertory as The Raisin Cycle, using a single company of actors and shared design team, under the direction of Derrick Sanders. In presenting Clybourne Park and Beneatha’s Place side by side, CENTERSTAGE will explore with its audiences the monumental legacy of A Raisin in the Sun and, through the conversation among these plays, a range of perspectives on the state of race and class in our contemporary communities.

The Raisin Cycle Beneatha's Place Jessica Frances Dukes Center Stage article on
Actress Jessica Frances Dukes / Photo courtesy of Center Stage

Actress Jessica Frances Dukes is nothing short of masterful in her portrayal of the headstrong, opinionated “younger and idealistic” Beneatha, her older and wiser Beneatha is slightly forced, but the actress’s ability to believably portray a much older woman – down to the uncannily natural way she walks heavily and outstanding makeup to support the charade – are the kind of magic theatre is supposed to be all about.

Actor Charlie Hudson, III* is absolutely magnificent as the seeming prodigal son who comes back to his native Africa ripe with ideas, and desires to help his people rightfully claim their position of leadership vis a vis the foreigners who have ruled for years.  Just like in Clybourne Park, he steals every scene he’s in and without spoiling the plot for anyone who hasn’t seen the play yet; he makes us wish there was a third part to this series. It’s not saying to much that is as thrilling if not more so than Downton Abbey; albeit with somewhat more culturally sensitive dialog and subject matter and way less emphasis on over the top props, decor and setting to make you believe it’s all for real. Both plays in The Raisin Cycle rely much more on the actors abilities and talent to make you believe you are sitting at the room like a fly on the wall, instead of watching a production as a theatre patron. No small feat and since we’re sprinkling out kudos – let’s give a major shout out to the scenic designer Jack Magaw for the over the top display of talismans of racial characturization. The grotesque dolls, chotzkes and statues  almost steal the show. Be they original or clever recreations we aren’t sure, although they alone, are almost more than worth the price of admission to behold as they occupy center stage (pun intended) and give context and meaning to the dialog being engaged in on multiple levels.

Matters of class, of access to opportunity, emancipation (of a woman in a marriage or a nation in turmoil) are thrilling and heady subjects. Probably why the audience, as well as we who had the pleasure of seeing the play a short while ago, hung onto every word with baited breath.  The Raisin Cycle is the kind of theatre that makes you WANT to go to the theatre, but most of all  makes a strong business case and societal case for WHY it’s most important to support such cultural nurturers and productive dialog catalysts.

At MyCity4Her Media we don’t profess to be serious or even well read theatre critics, we are just business people who can appreciate a job well done and on this one, Center Stage takes the cake. If you have NOT seen The Raisin Cycle, we highly encourage you to do so. According to Center Stage’s web site…

Though each production runs through June 16, please check the calendar for specific performance dates.

PLEASE NOTE The plays in The Raisin Cycle can be seen in any order. Both plays were inspired by A Raisin in the Sun and characters from that play are seen in both Clybourne Park and Beneatha’s Place. Their story lines, however, do not depend on previous experience with A Raisin in the Sun and the plays each present different stories and themes. While Beneatha’s Place was written in response to Clybourne Park and A Raisin in the Sun it is not necessary to have seen either of those plays first.

To find out more about The Raisin Cycle and the schedule of plays click here. To find out how you can support Center Stage and allow the continuation of this kind of community building and cultural re-envigoration click here. To view a short video of the plays see below.


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