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Family struggles brought to stage

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Christina Collins Burton
Editor in Chief

The struggle of a 1950s African American family has been brought from their living room to the stage in the Dailey Theatre’s performance of “A Raisin in the Sun.”

The piece was the senior performance of three of the performers and senior technical theatre major Mike Roche.

Originally written by Lorraine Hansberry, the play follows the story of matriarch Lena Youngers, played by senior theatre arts major Gemma Alfaro, as her family waits to receive insurance money that could change her family’s entire world.

“We tried not to make (race) such a big issue,” director Melody Rahbari, a La Verne alumna, said. “You don’t have to be African American to relate to what this family is going through.”

Upon entering the theater the audience is greeted by a living room with no sign of the stage in sight.

“The set reminds me of my house,” junior arts major Brittani Mitchell said. “I wanted to steal it because it all looks so authentic and like they actually took the time to find everything.”

Exposed rafters enclose the small kitchen and front door of the set, shrinking the already small space that the family of five inhabits.

“The whole idea for the show is they’re living in a small apartment, so it was important to make it feel enclosed but we had to keep it exposed for lighting purposes,” Roche said.

The aged and time appropriate pieces set-up the time period for the audience before the lights dimmed.

From the opening scene as Ruth, played by senior theatre arts major Lauren Ervin, pulled herself up out of bed the audience hushed for the private morning routine of the family.

This morning is special because the whole family is on edge to receive the money being given to them from the death of Lena’s husband earlier that year. Ervin’s movements and facial expressions echoed the weight of the situation they faced.

“My outside life affected my life on stage,” Ervin said. “I was able to channel being able to have energy but at the same time playing tired, it is a huge internal conflict.”

As each character was revealed, the scene was set for the busy Chicago atmosphere.

“There was a lot more pressure on us because of the cultural references in the play; there was a lot of pressure to get it right,” Ervin said.

The most emotional character of the five main players was held by Ray del Rio, senior theatre arts major, who portrayed Walter Lee.

Walter Lee is ambitious and is driven by his will to live bigger. Del Rio was able to execute the highs and lows of Walter’s emotions by relating it to his own experiences.

“It’s not easy,” Del Rio said. “I can feel his struggle, I have to take what I’ve gone through and intensify it and act it out into a 35-year-old body in the 1950s.”

By trying to do the right thing, Walter almost drives away his family as they attempt to take a big step into their future. The biggest struggle was shown through Walter’s progressive ideas and his mother’s traditional views.

“It’s definitely one of the harder roles I’ve had to play,” Alfaro said. “It’s so realistic and being a mother isn’t something I have experience with so I spent a lot of time talking to my mom.”

Alfaro was inspired by the women of her family for the role of Lena. Each woman in her life had some personality trait, whether it was being the matriarch of the family or having the same spit-fire spirit.

“This play is so beautiful, some scenes are really easy to direct because they are written so beautifully it was almost effortless,” Rahbari said.

Rahbari encouraged the performers to research for their roles through text or discussion on their own and bring what they discovered to rehearsals.

“I remember once we talked about their own experience with prejudice or any struggle they can relate to personally with the characters,” Rahbari said.

The play is certainly one to remember, but is not recommended for younger children because of some language or who may be sensitive to shouting.

Performances will continue tonight at 7:30 p.m. Sept 22, 27 and 28 with a special matinee at 2 p.m. Sept. 29.

Christina Collins Burton can be reached at

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