AUD Takeover w/ Black Theater Nerd: A Raisin in the Sun - Theatre Memphis

Theatre Memphis recently staged "A Raisin in the Sun," and it was a privilege for AUD to witness this production firsthand with non-other than Black Theater Nerd.

Read

This classic was brought to life through a harmonious blend of dedicated performances, clever direction, and a keen eye for detail, making it both relatable and deeply impactful.

We were invited along with Courtney of @BlackTheaterNerd to explore behind the scenes of this beautiful production. This was an ACCESS initiative dedicated to those that may not be able to attend live theatre. Thank you to the cast and crew of A Raisin in the Sun and thank you to Theatre Memphis. Enjoy an AUD Takeover!

In this AUD Review:

  • Standout Performances
  • A Contemporary Take on a Classic
  • Immersive Design and Technical Mastery
  • Fresh Paint Direction
  • Audience Reception and Takeaways
  • A Personal Reflection
  • In Conclusion: A Production of Resilience and Brilliance

All photos owned and captured by Carla McDonald of Carla McDonald Photography

Standout Performances

Sherronda Johnson as "Lena 'Mama' Younger" in A Raisin in the Sun at Theatre Memphis captured by Carla McDonald of Carla McDonald Photography

Sherronda Johnson's portrayal of Mama was a highlight. She was light, flirty, and sassy. She held her poise with such ease and never came off as judgmental or demanding. Sherronda's performance was akin to receiving a warm embrace from someone who truly loves and cares for you. She held on tight, but it never came across as pressure. She was accompanied by such a harmonious ensemble and supporting cast. Trey Oliver's portrayal of Walter Lee was equally compelling, skillfully navigating the character’s complex layers, making us root for him despite his flawed decisions. He made it his own beyond there being so many famous references to Walter Lee. Now we have Trey Oliver's portrayal.

Donita Johnson’s portrayal of Ruth added a stoic yet subtle backbone to the production. Donita championed having an internal and external dialogue that the audience could see, while Mariah Michelle Stokes as Beneatha brought a fiery spirit to the stage. Any time we weren't being handled and maintained by Ruth, we were being schooled by Beneatha. Outside of every costume she put on making her adorable, it was so refreshing to see Mariah grow and flourish through this piece. In our Takeover, she spoke about how challenging this character was compared to recent sightings of her on stage. She was the drive in this piece that kept us wanting to help the Younger family escape this reality. Last but not least, it's rare that you get to see a young Black actor on stage, and we had the reward of witnessing Braxton Gibson as Travis Younger. He did a beautiful job and we look forward to seeing him grow in his career.

(TL) Donita Johnson as "Ruth Younger" (TR) Trey Oliver as "Walter Lee Younger" (BL) Sherronda Johnson as "Lena 'Mama' Younger" (BR) Mariah Michelle Stokes as "Beneatha Younger" in A Raisin in the Sun at Theatre Memphis captured by Carla McDonald of Carla McDonald Photography

This show was made complete by the ensemble.

Each performance, including those by Fatima L. Gray, Kashief Crain, Marvin Holt, Jonathan Stewart Mosley, and Patrick Ashbee, added depth and texture to the show. Fatima L. Gray, as Mrs. Johnson is gut busting as she stomps roaches and chokes from dust in the Younger residence. The nerve to be so damn funny. Kashief Crain is an actor to look out for. His portrayal of Joseph Asagai really stayed true and never crossed over into mockery. What better role for Marvin Holt in this production other than George Murchison? You couldn't even be mad at George (you can totally be annoyed with this character) because Marvin made so much sense. Jonathan Stewart Mosley played Bobo and in one scene had everyone's anxiety through the roof because the stakes were high.

Patrick Ashbee had one more time as Karl Lindner to say "you people" before we all went mad and threw things on stage...which is a good thing.

(TL) Sherronda Johnson as "Mama" and Fatima L. Gray as "Mrs. Johnson" (TR) Kashief Crain as "Joseph Asagai" and Mariah Michelle Stokes as "Beneatha Younger" (BL) Braxton Gibson as "Travis Younger" and Sherronda Johnson as "Mama" (BR) Trey Oliver as "Walter Lee" and Sherronda Johnson as Mama in A Raisin in the Sun at Theatre Memphis captured by Carla McDonald of Carla McDonald Photography

A Contemporary Take on a Classic

This production of "A Raisin in the Sun" managed to infuse lightness and humor into a narrative traditionally marked by strife, making it more feel like a vintage sitcom. This approach brought an unexpected but welcomed relatability and life to the story.

As a viewer, the play was a reminder of the various levels of liberation, most notably mental. The story’s portrayal of struggle, resilience, and family dynamics was reminiscent of shows like "Good Times," where progress is met with setbacks, reflecting the harsh realities of life.

Immersive Design and Technical Mastery

Hands down Jack Netzel-Yates is the King of Stage Design in Memphis. Do we need to say more about how magnificent the set and the set dressing is? And we couldn't mention that without talking about how much we were in awe every time we noticed another lighting detail from Nicole Northington. The entire space in alive and moving just as it would be in real life and you can see it all, night and day. This is accentuated by the inhabitants of the world this incredible crew has created. The costumes by Marsena Sellers beautifully encapsulated the era and characters, contributing significantly to the visual storytelling in a way that is tasteful, tactful, and proper.

Fresh Paint Direction

Jared Thomas Johnson is known for his imagery, he is skilled at painting a picture. But many don't know how often his direction is tied to his appreciation for art, history, and research. (aside: I have witnessed him create on the inspiration of a theme or art piece for Pass Over and it was so cool). For this production, he focused on a familiar, but challenging theme to execute, "if these walls could talk." It kept the story moving with atmospheric music and overlapping dialogues. The beats are fast and jarring at times as the family strikes conflict. He balances this with a clever and witty cast that captures the humor in the piece well.

Shout out to Justin Raynard Hicks, the assistant director of this production.Your energy and passion are felt throughout this piece and we are proud of you and your debut!

We love when a director showcases multiple facets of his cast and crew. Justin provided the music throughout the production. You can hear the beautiful voices of the actors on stage singing classics. We need a soundtrack! This approach maintained momentum throughout the play’s two and a half hours with a 20min intermission, keeping the audience engaged and visually and AUDibly satisfied.

Justin Raynard Hicks - Assistant Director A Raisin in the Sun at Theater Memphis captured by Carla McDonald of Carla McDonald Photography

Audience Reception and Takeaways

The packed audience’s reception was overwhelmingly positive, a testament to the cast and crew's hard work and dedication. The show's success was well-deserved, especially after overcoming challenges such as inclement weather. Unfortunately, we couldn't have our host, Black Theater Nerd, at the premiere, but she sent her love.

A Personal Reflection

This production resonated with me on a personal level, mirroring the journey of AUD. The themes of communication, vulnerability, determination, and unity were particularly striking, mirroring the experiences of AUD in our mission to elevate Black artistry.

In Conclusion: A Production of Resilience and Brilliance

Theatre Memphis' "A Raisin in the Sun" was an exhibition of resilience, unity, and brilliance. It’s a production that entertains, educates, and inspires, a testament to the power of Black storytelling and the need for more such narratives in our theaters...and not just during Black History Month or when its cold outside. We wish this production had another week.

Article gallery

Featured

Hot Wing King is "HEATED" at Circuit Playhouse - 10s Across the Board

Explore our review of "Hot Wing King" at Circuit Playhouse. This powerful production, featuring standout performances and brilliant direction, celebrates Black queer joy and tackles themes of personal and relational identity. Don't miss this must-see show!

Featured

"Succession" - A Stagnant One for Hattiloo Theatre

Firstly, let's acknowledge the actors who, amidst a muddled script, delivered moments of genuine strength. Their commitment was evident, even as the narrative struggled to find its footing.

Featured

Chillin' and Healin' at Amani BathSpa with Emma Crystal

Discover the transformative power of healing at Amani BathSpa with Emma Crystal, a sanctuary in downtown Memphis offering state-of-the-art treatments and a touch of resilience. Read how our founder, Cleavon Meabon, IV, became a regular and learn more about Emma's inspiring journey and dedication to wellness.