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Holiday entertainment at Actors Theatre more than tinsel and mistletoe

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By The Staff

By Michelle Bauman-Cook

Special to The Trimble Banner

This is the season for family, for gathering at home, for laughter and joy. At least that is what the Hallmark commercials tell us.

What the TV movies and holiday blockbusters leave out are the darker elements of these gatherings; the quiet sadness, the struggle against tradition, the memories of dreams deferred and the anger that evinces, and most importantly, the enduring love and strength that holds families together no matter the differences.

Actors Theatre of Louisville, as a part of the Brown Forman Mainstage Series, is presenting a modern classic that embodies all those ideas, both the Rockwell and the real.

While Actors Theatre is known especially for its holiday fare, including the perennial favorites A Tuna Christmas and A Christmas Carol, there is another offering available this year.

A Raisin in the Sun, the 1959 Lorraine Hansberry Broadway smash, is being staged now through December 13. The story of an African-American family from Chicago’s South Side still resonates with audiences with all its original strength, telling of the struggles of the three generation Younger family.

Matriarch Lena Younger, her daughter, son, daughter-in-law, and young grandson live in a small apartment, but have dreams bigger than those four walls. Lena dreams of a home with a yard and “a little spot to grow a garden.” Son Walter Lee yearns for the dignity that business ownership would bring, giving his wife pearls and his son a future.

A college student studying to become a doctor, daughter Beneatha with the ferocity of youth wants it all. Respect for her ideas, admiring suitors, exotic travel, higher education: Beneatha wants the world and all its possibilities. A $10,000 life insurance payment left to the family by Lena’s late husband holds the key to their dreams, but the question of whose wishes should be fulfilled and whose should be passed over provides the conflict of the story.

Staged in the Bingham Theater, an intimate theater-in-the-round setting, Louisville’s production gives audiences a fly on the wall perspective. As directed by Israel Hicks, and almost voyeuristic at times, the story plays out within arms reach of those seated in the front rows. The casting is strong, with the actors giving passionate, nuanced performances.

Marlene Warfield is excellent as Lena, showing quiet strength as a woman who dreams of the freedom that home ownership represents. Joy DeMichelle Moore, a Louisville native, is wonderful as daughter-in-law Ruth Younger, giving her character a sweet humor and determination. A particular standout is Terrence Riggins as Walter Lee Younger. Mr. Riggins gives a powerful performance, creating a character that invites us in, showing us the deep despair and ambition that make this role so intriguing.

The role of Walter Lee was originated on Broadway by Sidney Poitier, and Mr. Riggins’ depiction more than stands up to the original. Also of note is Gilbert Owuor as suitor and African student Joseph Asagai.

Actors Theatre of Louisville does a wonderful job with this latest production. If amidst the tinsel and trimmings, you wish for something more substantial, I would highly recommend seeing A Raisin in the Sun.

Presented now through December 13, tickets are still available by calling (502) 584-1205 or online at ActorsTheatre.org.

Michelle Bauman-Cook is a new contributor to The Trimble Banner. In upcoming weeks, she will offer reviews of movies, music and theatrical productions in the area.