Monday, March 4, 2013

Where To Be Merry: To Be Young, Gifted and Black @ The David Schall Theatre

The Merriment: a theatrical production celebrating the life and legacy of Lorraine Hansberry, produced by the Actors Co-op Theater Company

The Location: The David Schall Theatre on the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood campus

The Vibes: Complex, celebratory, thought-provoking, poetic

Good for: Anyone who appreciates or is interested in learning more about Lorraine Hansberry

When-To-Go: Show runs until Sunday, March 17th: Friday and Saturday shows – 8pm; Sundays shows – 2:30pm (with conversations with the actors immediately following the show)

The $ Factor: $; $30 GA; $25 seniors; $20 students

I’ll Be Back…: on a Sunday to speak with the actors after the show!

The 4-1-1: “A Raisin in the Sun” is one of those slivers of ingenuity that’s woven itself into the consciousness of our country’s being. It is just as “American” as apple pie, as baseball, and as the cry for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But who was the writer behind it,
and what were her experiences that inspired such a poignant story?

“To Be Young, Gifted and Black” creatively answers this question, by revealing the many sides and inner thoughts of playwright Lorraine Hansberry, from her childhood until her untimely death at age 34. For two hours, eight actors intricately weave together excerpts from her diary, plays, letters and other writings to give us an idea of who Hansberry was, and her defining moments, her insecurities, her accomplishments and so much more.

The manner in which this is done is unique in itself. Yes, there’s a clear beginning and end like a traditional play, but scenes don’t fluidly flow into one another. Instead, one scene ends, and the next scene – not necessarily related to the previous one – quickly picks up. Another nontraditional aspect is that actors switch roles frequently. There’s not just one “Lorraine Hansberry” – there are multiple ones, and there’s not always an announcement that there’s been a shift. It leaves you on the edge of your seat, making sure you're paying close attention to every minute detail, so as not to miss anything.

The actors themselves also do a phenomenal job. The lack of props – just a bare black stage – gives them the opportunity to showcase how talented they really are, through lively gestures, vivid facial expressions and excellent diction. They add a sense of depth and dimension to Hansberry’s works that’s surreal. Watching them, it’s easy to forget at times that they’re performing works – letters and diary entries – that at the time they were written, were never meant to be performed; they were just the musings of Hansberry. But the way they’re presented is so natural and organic that it feels as if they were written specifically for each actor.

All in all, “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” pays tribute to an important American playwright in a pleasantly unconventional manner. It is at times quite complex, addressing harsh realities like classism in the African-American race and abortions, but it is also beautifully poetic from start to finish. It depicts the environments that shaped Hansberry, and thus helps us understand the woman behind so many timeless masterpieces.

I highly recommend that anyone who is interested in learning more about Lorraine Hansberry’s life see “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” Perhaps I’ll catch you at the next show soon!

For more information:

Photo Credit for 3rd and 4th photos: Lindsay Schnebly

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