Brave local cast breathes life into American familial drama

Brave local cast breathes life into American familial drama

SHOW: A RAISIN IN THE SUN
CAST: PAKA ZWEDALA, LESEDI JOB, LEBO TOKO, KHATHU RAMABULANA, KHULU SKENJANA, TRENA BOLDEN FIELDS, CHARLIE BOUGUENON, GAOSI RADITHOLO, HUNGANI NDLOVU
DIRECTOR: JAMES NGCOBO
VENUE: JOHN KANI THEATRE AT THE MARKET THEATRE COMPLEX UNTIL FEBRUARY 28
REVIEWER: PETER FELDMAN

The Market Theatre is in celebration mode. Not only is this iconic theatrical landmark celebrating 40 years of storytelling, but in conjunction with the US Embassy in South Africa it is also celebrating Black History Month.
To honour this occasion, the theatre’s Artistic Director James Ngcobo has chosen Lorraine Hansberry’s classic 1950’s American drama that resonates well with our own situation in South Africa.
Utilising a talented South African cast, who didn’t always manage to master the American accent, Ngcobo has fashioned an interesting production that encapsulates the hopes and dreams of a Chicago family whose daily struggles mirror the current challenges many families face in our society today.

Set in the aftermath of World War II, the Youngers are a poor African-American family living on the South Side of Chicago.
An opportunity to escape from poverty comes in the form of a $10000 life insurance cheque that the matriarch of the family, Lena Younger or Mama, receives upon her husband’s death.
The family also comprises Walter Lee (Paka Zwedala), his wife Ruth (Lesedi Job), their son Travis (Hungani Ndlovu) and Mama’s daughter Benetha (Gaosi Raditholo).
Each of the family has an idea as to what he or she would like to do with this money. Mama intends purchasing a house to fulfill a dream she shared with her husband. Walter would rather use the money to invest in a liquor store with his friends. He believes that the investment will solve the family’s financial problems forever.

Walter’s wife, Ruth, agrees with Mama, however, and hopes that she and Walter can provide more space and opportunity for their son, Travis who sleeps on the couch.
Finally, Benetha, wants to use the money for her medical school tuition. She also wishes that her family members were not so interested in joining the white world. Benetha instead tries to find her identity by looking back to the past and to Africa.

We may recognise the characters; the devoted mother and grandmother trying to do the best deal for her family by moving to a better suburb, but her endeavours meet with opposition from the white community.
Walter attempts to show some entrepreneurial skills by opening a liquor store, but his trust in his friend Willy is misjudged.
Other members of the tightly knit family also face various challenges, including young Benetha who is being wooed by a Nigerian gentleman named Joseph Asegai (Khathu Ramabulana). As the plot unfolds the family begins to clash over their competing dreams.

The cast do a brave job in bringing the drama to life, but I found my mind drifting at times through the wordy dialogue, which needed to be crisper and audible, with more light and shade.
A persistent problem I found was when the actors were upstage, the words were lost and this situation was not helped by untidy grouping where the characters often blocked each other.
The huge stage did not convey the impression of a small, crowded apartment, and intimacy was often lost. A distracting element was having two dancers (Teresa Mojela and Tshepang Maphate) in silhouette flitting around on an upper level.

The stand-out players for me were Trena Bolden Fields as the caring and thoughtful Mama Younger, Paka Zwedala’s unfortunate Walter and Lesedi Job’s sincere Ruth.
The message of the play ultimately not only operates on a political level, but expresses the universal theme of a family and its dreams.

* Book at Computicket.