CEDAR CITY — There is a beautiful moment in A Raisin in the Sun when Walter Lee lays out a very specific vision he has for a moment in his family’s future. He imagines walking in his own front door after a busy day at the office and telling his his son that he can go to any college and pursue any career the young boy wants. It is easy to imagine that playwright Lorraine Hansberry‘s own father, Carl, may have laid out a similar vision to her as a child. After all, it was her father’s fight to move the young Lorriane into a segregated white neighborhood, and the subsequent supreme court case (Hansberry v. Lee, 1940), that inspired the Ms. Hansberry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play some twenty years later. The play is an American classic, and I am so glad that this excellent production is available to Utah audiences at one of the state’s premier venues for an extended run this summer.

Show closes September 8, 2023.

The undisputed star of the this production is Festival veteran Corey Jones as Walter Lee Younger. Jones is both explosive and vulnerable as a man who dreams of a better life while carrying the burden of his father’s legacy. Jones hits all the right emotional highs and lows and the audience is along for the ride, along side his family, as Walter Lee pivots time and again between his two sides: one a harsh, drunken misogynist and the other a charismatic and powerful dreamer. Not to be outdone is Kyland Jordan as the pragmatic Ruth Younger, wife of Walter Lee, and primary caretaker in their home. Jordan is entirely given over in her love and hope for Walter Lee and her family. At the same time, her grief and exasperation with her life and the family she cares for day in and day out are her are clearly reflected in her eyes and in the strength that radiates from her weary, but strong frame.

Monique Gaffney as Lena Younger, Walter Lee’s mother, and Maureen Azzun as her twenty year old daughter, Beneatha, also pull no punches with their acting. I especially enjoyed the scenes between these two women, who, though devoted to one another also are at a precipice in their relationship. Benetha is determined to attend medical school and become a doctor, but at the same time explores an endless string of hobbies and dates two very different men as she seeks to find her own identity. Lena expresses supportive bewilderment with Benetha’s concerns, and wrestles with what she can do to give her children the security and peace of a home that she and her husband always dreamed for them.

On par with the Festival’s reputation, William Kirkham‘s lighting design, blends seamlessly with ArianMarie Moye’s costumes and sets by Jason Lajka. The costumes and sets in particular are elaborate in their historical detail. The way the clothing of this proud but struggling family fit each member helped transport me into their world. At one point Lena points out that she has owned one of the chairs for 25 years, and indeed the furniture looks like it has been sitting in, and has been sat upon, in that living room since 1935.

Left to right: Kayland Jordan as Ruth Younger, Corey Jones as Walter Lee Younger, and Monique Gaffney as Lena Younger (Mama) in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2023 production of A Raisin in the Sun. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2023.)

Director Derek Charles Livingston‘s casting choices have done a lot of heavy lifting for him in this excellent production. However, a few of the blocking choices left my ears craning to catch everything being said on the intimate, unmicrophoned stage. Azzun’s voice, as well as that of Dylan Nelson (playing Travis Younger, the youngest member of the family), were a bit hard to hear at times. Also, more than once, I found myself craving a little more stage movement from the actors, which might have lent some quiet scenes bit more tension. The production includes two intermissions and with a run time over two and half hours; a quicker pace would not damage the show.

It is unfortunate that in the more than 80 years that have passed since Hansburry v. Lee the only thing that seems dated about the script and its message is the pacing of some of the scenes. In the last few weeks the current U.S. Supreme Court has made decisions with direct impact on Walter Lee’s question about “which women is suppose to wear pearls in this world” regarding affirmative action and student loan debt (issues with significant impact on African American families). With their choice of this play and the power of this production, the Utah Shakespeare Festival reminds its audience of the importance of every Americans’ dream.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival production of A Raisin in the Sun plays at 2 PM or 8 PM on select days through September 8 in the Randall L. Jones Theatre on the campus of Southern Utah University. Tickets are $30-85. For more information, visit bard.org.

This review is generously supported by a grant from the Utah Division of Arts and Museums.