Iconic play A Raisin in the Sun coming to Sydney Theater Company in August 2022, directed by Wesley Enoch - Upsmag - Magazine News

Iconic play A Raisin in the Sun coming to Sydney Theater Company in August 2022, directed by Wesley Enoch

It is widely considered one of the greatest plays ever written, and it sits in the US canon alongside the iconic works of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, yet A Raisin in the Sun has never been performed in Australia.

Or so Sydney Theater Company thought.

Zahra Newman and Bert LaBonte play Ruth and Walter Lee Younger in Sydney Theater Company’s A Raisin in the Sun. It’s the first time the US classic has been professionally staged in Australia. Credits: Steven Siewert

“We found out recently that it was performed at an RSL club in NSW in the 1970s,” says actor Bert LaBonte. “We’re pretty sure it was with an all-white cast.”

Adds director Wesley Enoch: “I imagine it was one of their ‘burnt cork’ roles.”

Written by Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun premiered on Broadway in 1959, where it was the first play written by a black woman, as well as the first with a black director, Lloyd Richards. It starred an already famous Sidney Poitier in the lead role, and has since become a benchmark for many black actors, including Denzel Washington, Sophie Okonedo and Phylicia Rashad. Even hip-hop star Sean Combs, better known as Puff Daddy, had a crack at the movie adaptation. “A lot of people seem to know about Puff Daddy,” marvels LaBonte.

Even the play’s audience has drawn attention, with The New Yorker dedicating a whole article to watching Barack and Michelle Obama watching the 2014 Broadway revival. “Obama’s Obama-ness somehow increased Denzel’s Denzel-ness,” the journalist decided.

Sidney Poitier (left) and Joel Fluellen in the 1961 film adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun.

Despite its star-studded legacy, Hansberry’s story of a black family who live in a tenement apartment in south Chicago but have the opportunity to move to a house in a white neighborhood had humble beginnings: it was loosely based on her own family’s experiences. For that reason, it was considered radical at the time for showing a contemporary black family on stage.

“It’s about three generations of a family who find themselves at a moment of transition where the patriarch has passed away and they are about to receive the insurance money,” says actor Zahra Newman. “And what that money represents and what it can do, manifests in very different ways for the different generations in the house.”

It is widely considered one of the greatest plays ever written, and it sits in the US canon alongside the iconic works of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, yet A Raisin in the Sun has never been performed in Australia.

Or so Sydney Theater Company thought.

Zahra Newman and Bert LaBonte play Ruth and Walter Lee Younger in Sydney Theater Company's A Raisin in the Sun.  It's the first time the US classic has been professionally staged in Australia.

Zahra Newman and Bert LaBonte play Ruth and Walter Lee Younger in Sydney Theater Company’s A Raisin in the Sun. It’s the first time the US classic has been professionally staged in Australia. Credits: Steven Siewert

“We found out recently that it was performed at an RSL club in NSW in the 1970s,” says actor Bert LaBonte. “We’re pretty sure it was with an all-white cast.”

Adds director Wesley Enoch: “I imagine it was one of their ‘burnt cork’ roles.”

Written by Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun premiered on Broadway in 1959, where it was the first play written by a black woman, as well as the first with a black director, Lloyd Richards. It starred an already famous Sidney Poitier in the lead role, and has since become a benchmark for many black actors, including Denzel Washington, Sophie Okonedo and Phylicia Rashad. Even hip-hop star Sean Combs, better known as Puff Daddy, had a crack at the movie adaptation. “A lot of people seem to know about Puff Daddy,” marvels LaBonte.

Even the play’s audience has drawn attention, with The New Yorker dedicating a whole article to watching Barack and Michelle Obama watching the 2014 Broadway revival. “Obama’s Obama-ness somehow increased Denzel’s Denzel-ness,” the journalist decided.

Sidney Poitier (left) and Joel Fluellen in the 1961 film adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun.

Sidney Poitier (left) and Joel Fluellen in the 1961 film adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun.

Despite its star-studded legacy, Hansberry’s story of a black family who live in a tenement apartment in south Chicago but have the opportunity to move to a house in a white neighborhood had humble beginnings: it was loosely based on her own family’s experiences. For that reason, it was considered radical at the time for showing a contemporary black family on stage.

“It’s about three generations of a family who find themselves at a moment of transition where the patriarch has passed away and they are about to receive the insurance money,” says actor Zahra Newman. “And what that money represents and what it can do, manifests in very different ways for the different generations in the house.”

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