Actress Jessica Frances Dukes says the project is shaping up “almost like a race workshop.”
Derrick Sanders is directing both dramas in this cycle, and although he insists that audiences won’t have to read (or reread) “Raisin” to keep up, he adds, “If you do know the details, it’s a whole ’nother ride.”
For several key players in this cycle, Hansberry’s details are bone-deep.
In high school, Sanders played Walter Lee, the frustrated husband-father-son in “Raisin” who wants to use the insurance money from his father’s recent death to open his own business (a liquor store, which his God-fearing mother disapproves of).
And Dukes, who has the title role in “Beneatha’s Place,” played Beneatha last year in “Raisin” at the Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, N.Y.
“I wanted to play her since I was 8 years old,” Dukes says of Walter Lee’s free-thinking little sister. “She was so progressive.”
Kwei-Armah grew up as the son of Caribbean immigrants in London, and his “Raisin” connection seems almost as hard-wired as Dukes’s. “The notion of working your way up is as germane to us as it is to the American dream,” says the playwright, who first read “Raisin” as a teenager.
“Trespassing” is the word Kwei-Armah uses to describe Norris’s cheeky “Clybourne Park” (let the record show that Norris is white) and his own “Beneatha’s Place.” (Perhaps the record should also note that both Hansberry adaptors are men.)
“Who has the right to speak?” muses Kwei-Armah, a former British television actor and a playwright who is wrapping up his second season as Center Stage’s artistic director.
“Here I am,” Kwei-Armah says, “a black British playwright, talking about two plays that quintessentially come out of the American experience. Do I have a right to enter into that world? I don’t know. Does Bruce have a right to enter into the world of commentary, of being the inheritor of Lorraine Hansberry’s story?”
Kwei-Armah first saw “Clybourne Park” several years ago at London’s Royal Court Theatre. By intermission, Kwei-Armah and a half-dozen other black patrons, all strangers, were debating at the bar. Most of them (not Kwei-Armah) were inclined to walk out. A major issue: the implication that neighborhoods are destroyed by blacks and restored by whites.