“Raisin” Rises Again

by Rob Weinert-Kendt

in American Theatre magazine

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TCG’s annual Top 10 Most Produced Plays list is among the theatre season’s most anticipated, and most talked-about, barometers—though, as Gus Schulenburg pointed out recently, the conversation as much as the programming can get stuck in some familiar ruts.

One list-inspired discussion that Gus’s story didn’t mention was the one begun by a Terry Teachout column in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago, when he noticed that hot new plays seemed to dominate season schedules, while classics (other than Shakespeare, who is always the most produced and hence isn’t tallied in our Top 10 lists) got short shrift. I won’t relitigate that argument (I addressed it here), except to say that looking at this coming season’s Top 10 list, Teachout might have good reason to revisit his case: The list is composed almost entirely of shows that have been critical or commercial hits in New York in the past season or two. There’s no Miller, no Ibsen, no Pinter, no Tennessee Williams (though one important caveat, that TCG’s nonprofit member-theatre list includes vanishingly few Broadway productions, means that the Main Stem’s star-studded revivals, including the upcoming Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, generally don’t show up in our data at all).

But there’s one notable and heartening exception to this seeming shutout of plays written before the late 2000s: Lorraine Hansberry’s groundbreaking 1959 drama A Raisin in the Sun is slated for eight productions at TCG member theatres. There’s a short explanation for why it’s being revived so much, and that reason also appears on the list: Bruce Norris’s coruscating Clybourne Park, with 15 planned productions, is a kind of meta-sequel to Hansberry’s play about a struggling and striving African-American family on Chicago’s South Side. But while it’s almost certainly true that Clybourne Park—the name itself being a fictional all-white neighborhood conjured by Hansberry, to which the Younger family of Raisin begins a momentous move by play’s end—has sparked the renewed interest in the classic that inspired it, just two theatres are explicitly pairing the the two shows: Playmakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, N.C., will actually stage both plays in rotating rep next Jan. 26-Mar. 3, while Milwaukee Repertory Theater will mount them back to back (and in reverse order, with Clybourne in February and Raisin in March). In the case of Philadephia’s Arden Theatre Company, they’re following up their production of Clybourne earlier this year with Raisin next March.

Elsewhere, audiences will have to travel to more than one stage door to catch both plays, and it’s not entirely clear whether theatres have coordinated their schedules to accommodate this de facto repertory programming. Two Boston theatres probably did, as they’ll offer patrons the shortest commute next March, when Huntington Theatre Company mounts Raisin and SpeakEasy Stage, just a mile away, will stage Clybourne. Connecticut theatregoers, on the other hand, will have to drive half an hour and wait several months to complete the program, with Raisin at Westport Country Playhouse in October and Clybourne at Long Wharf Theatre next May. South Florida audiences also have a long wait and a 30-minute drive between the January, 2011 production of Clybourne at Caldwell Theatre Company in Boca Raton and Palm Beach Dramaworks’s Raisin next February.

And Tennessee theatregoers who loved Tennessee Repertory Theatre’s recent production of Clybourne and want to check out its antecedent in the flesh will have to wait till February and travel three hours to Knoxville, where the University of Tennessee’s Clarence Brown Theatre will stage Raisin.

For a play concerned at least in part with a sense of place, that A Raisin in the Sun is showing up again in so many different places is a gratifying turn. But perhaps its cushiest new berth in the coming season is at the Pistarckle Theatre, where it will play next March. Talk about prime real estate: the Pistarckle is located on an old Danish farm called Tillett Gardens…on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. Cocktails not included.

Rob Weinert-Kendt is Associate Editor at American Theatre. Prior to that he was the founding Editor-in-Chief of Back Stage West, and he writes about the arts for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and Time Out New York. He is also a member of the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop.