Ask Philippa: “Raisin in the Sun” edition

Philippa Kelly, resident dramaturg for Cal Shakes, invites your questions about A Raisin in the Sun, which runs May 21–June 15. Tickets on sale now.

(L to R) Ryan Nicole Peters as Ruth and Marcus Henderson as Walter in California Shakespeare Theater’s production of A RAISIN IN THE SUN, directed by Patricia McGregor; photo by Kevin Berne.

We’re starting off the season with Lorraine Hansberry’s iconic A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Patricia McGregor, who first joined us at the Bruns last in 2012 with her magnificent Spunk. A Raisin in the Sun offers a stunning portrait of a black family’s experience in racially divided Chicago, injecting domestic and racial tension into 1950s self-portraits of the post-war American Dream. Raisin made Hansberry the youngest playwright, the fifth woman, and the only black writer ever to win the New York Critics’ Circle award. (The play also inspired the Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park, written 60 years later and directed by our own Jonathan Moscone in an award-winning production at A.C.T. in 2011).

Are you going to see our production of A Raisin in the Sun?  Do you have questions or comments about the production’s cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

Dr Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for the California Shakespeare Theater, is also a professor and author. Her 2010 book, The King and I, a meditation on Australian culture through the lens of King Lear, garnered international praise in its very personal examination of themes of abandonment, loss, and humor).

You can email Philippa at pkelly@calshakes.org, or post below to ask her a question.

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Lorraine and You: “Raisin” then and now

As many patrons and reviewers have noted, one of the fascinating aspects of A Raisin in the Sun is how resonant it is today, despite how much our society and culture has changed. Even though we live in an era of increased civil rights, systemic racism still exists—if it didn’t, the play would feel more like a historical document, and less like a contemporary commentary.

Many patrons and students have been drawing these lines between then and now. If you read Amani Morrison’s program article “Then and Now,” you saw these two eras being threaded together.

In a previous blog post, we wrote about playwright Lorraine Hansberry’s peculiar list of “likes,” “dislikes,” and “dreams”:

On April 1, 1960, Hansberry scrawled on legal pad an offbeat list of things that she liked, hated, and wanted, with a final column for what she was “bored to death with.” The fragment is unique for the window it opens on her mind and disposition; it is both sad and funny, political and personal. “My homosexuality” appears twice, as a like and a hate; “racism,” “death,” “pain,” and “cramps” are all hates, along with “what has happened to Sydney Poitier” (who had starred in the first Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun in 1959).

In that same post, we asked our patrons and fans to write their own list, reflecting on both personal and social struggles. What has changed for you in your life? What feels possible? What does not? When we reflect on these ideas–prominent themes in A Raisin in the Sun–we get a glimpse into the power of theater to reveal social struggle, history, and change.

Today, we’re posting some of the written responses we’ve gotten from our on-site Story Hub, adjacent to the cafe at the theater. As the project continues, we’ll post more of our patrons’ likes, dislikes and dreams.

 

Buy tickets for A Raisin in the Sun or learn more about the show.

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Rave “Raisin” Review Roundup

Our 40th Anniversary Summer Season has only just begun, and the buzz has been overwhelming. Since Opening Night on May 24, reviews for A Raisin in the Sun have been praising the stellar cast and inventive production.

Karen D’Souza, in her review in the San Jose Mercury News, called Cal Shakes’ Raisin a “resonant revival” that “taps into the timelessness of the characters, the way their struggles to keep their heads above water echo our own.”  D’Souza praised the “powerhouse actresses” that portray the three women. “Ryan Nicole Peters etches Lena’s daughter-in-law Ruth with great sensitivity,” wrote D’Souza. “Walter Younger’s wife doesn’t usually get a chance to speak her mind but Peters colors her glances with so much exhaustion and regret that you always feel the impact of her presence. Peters also shows us how easily Ruth blossoms in a rare moment of kindness from her husband.” Continue reading

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Life Interrupted

By Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg

On the final day of a trip I recently made to Australia, I sat with my sister-in-law, reading from one of the last diary entries that my brother wrote before his death in a mountain-climbing accident three and a half years ago. In his almost indecipherable backhand, and in between lists of equipment, two-or-three-word observations on the climate in the mountains where he was, and reminders of appointments to be made or kept on his return, John wrote a cryptic note to himself: “Enjoy new challenges. All those years at MSJ and ALLCO not for nothing.” My brother had been a high-flying lawyer for the above two firms: a wealthy man who, in his late forties, decided that he wanted to quit corporate law and devote himself to improving the lives of young people who had not had the advantages his own children enjoyed. Within six months of this decision he was dead, the years of unfulfilled promise stretching before him as a road mapped out for others, and not himself, to travel on.

As I read John’s final diary entry—and knowing how I feel about him (gone/not gone, beautiful/wasted)—I was of course, as is every person who grieves a loved one, reminded of my feelings about others who’ve passed through this inescapable human gate; in this case, Lorraine Hansberry.

Lorraine_Hansberry

A Raisin in the Sun playwright Lorraine Hansberry

In 1959, at the age of 29, Lorraine wrote to her mother in anticipation of the Broadway debut of A Raisin in the Sun:

…it is a play that tells the truth about people, Negroes and life and I think it will help a lot of people to understand how we are just as complicated as they are—and just as mixed up—but above all, that we have among our miserable and downtrodden ranks—people who are the very essence of human dignity. That is what, after all the laughter and tears, the play is supposed to say. I hope it will make you proud. See you soon. Love to all.

The period in which Lorraine wrote this letter to her mother was, she said, “one of the most affirmative periods in history”— a period of upcoming revolution—to which “Walter Lee Younger and his family are tied…whether they have consciousness about it or not.”

Not only did Lorraine go on to open a play on Broadway that had an initial run of 530 performances, but she was also the first black playwright and the youngest American to win a New York Critics’ Circle award. Her play—the play you will see here at Cal Shakes—helped to usher in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, which would change race relations in America forever. Looking back on her play just before her death in 1964, she wrote in a letter to the New York Times:

25 years ago, [my father] spent a small personal fortune, his considerable talents, and many years of his life fighting, in association with NAACP attorneys, Chicago’s ‘restrictive covenants’ in one of this nation’s ugliest ghettos. That fight also required our family to occupy disputed property in a hellishly hostile “white neighborhood” in which literally howling mobs surrounded our house… My memories of this “correct” way of fighting white supremacy in America include being spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school.

Through A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine found her own way to fight, through a war waged with words. She brought the Younger family out of the shadows of Chicago’s South side and imagined for them a different life on a different side of town; absorbing white Broadway audiences within this particular family’s struggles, compelling them to care about, and feel with, a segment of the population that had heretofore been largely faceless to them, visible for the most part only as domestic workers, chauffeurs, yardmen.

Lorraine was initially applauded by her white Broadway audiences for creating a family of “everymans”; but no, Lorraine stated in a rebuke to her enthusiastic reviewers: these were not everymen. These were the Youngers:

 What [reviewers] are trying to say is something very good; that they believe the characters transcend category. I believe that one of the most sound ideas in dramatic writing is that in order to create the universal, you must pay very great attention to the specific. Universality, I think, emerges from truthful identity of what is…. [This family] is specifically South Side Chicago. That kind of care, that kind of attention to detail, to the extent that people accept them and believe them, to the extent that they can become anybody.  [This] is definitely a Negro play before it is anything else.

Perhaps each individual is in some sense an everyman; but every “everyman” is also, in a very real sense, an individual; this is what Lorraine Hansberry believed, and she herself endures as more “individual” than most. Amongst the remnants of Lorraine’s life have flourished a field born of promises: the promise she foresaw in the decade ahead, a promise that the Youngers would not themselves fulfill because this was the 1950s, before the civil rights movement had taken full swing. And, more poignantly still, there was the promise of Lorraine‘s brilliant talent, beckoning toward future works, cut off by her cancer before these works could be written. Who knows what she’d have gone on to do? But what she did do in her brief life was amazing.

To learn more about Cal Shakes’ summer production of A Raisin in the Sun and buy tickets, click here.

Dr Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for the California Shakespeare Theater, is also a professor and author. Her 2010 book, The King and I, a meditation on Australian culture through the lens of King Lear, garnered international praise in its very personal examination of themes of abandonment, loss, and humor).

You can email Philippa at pkelly@calshakes.org, or post on the ASK PHILIPPA blog to ask her a question.

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Ask Philippa: 2014 Pre-season Edition

Philippa Kelly, resident dramaturg for Cal Shakes, invites your questions about our 2014 season, which begins May 21. Subscriptions on sale now.

Headshot of Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo by Richard Friedman.

2014 brings a very exciting season for many reasons—not the least of which is that it’s Cal Shakes’ 40th anniversary.

First up is Lorraine Hansberry’s iconic A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Patricia McGregor, who first joined us at the Bruns last in 2012 with her magnificent Spunk. A Raisin in the Sun offers a stunning portrait of a black family’s experience in racially divided Chicago, injecting domestic and racial tension into 1950s self-portraits of the post-war American Dream. Raisin made Hansberry the youngest playwright, the fifth woman, and the only black writer ever to win the New York Critics’ Circle award. (The play also inspired the Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park, written 60 years later and directed by our own Jonathan Moscone in an award-winning production at A.C.T. in 2011). Next is Shakespeare’s early play The Comedy of Errors, directed by Aaron Posner, a comic take on mistaken identity that offers a brilliant look at the dark side of Shakespeare as well as the light—loss, isolation, family reunion, and redemption. Third in our season director Moscone brings us Pygmalion, often seen as George Bernard Shaw’s most enduringly important play, a savagely ironic critique of the British class system. (This play, too, made such a social impact that it gave birth, 44 years later, to another masterpiece, the musical My Fair Lady.) Lastly is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Shakespeare play most often described as “perfect” in its exploration of love that opens out, concertina-like, from an early threat of punishment and even death. Buoyed by perhaps the most beautifully poetic language of Shakespeare’s entire career, director Shana Cooper will take us into the “green world” of the forest—will the lovers emerge from the forest different, or more truly themselves?

Look out, too, for my free, off-season session, Reprises and Rehearsals, a look at how the plays of the 2013 and 2014 seasons connect to different works and themes in their authors’ lives. Date TBD. In the meantime, post any question or observation you like right now (and into the early spring) and I will post an answer as quickly as possible—often within 24 hours.

Dr Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for the California Shakespeare Theater, is also a professor and author. Her 2010 book, The King and I, a meditation on Australian culture through the lens of King Lear, garnered international praise in its very personal examination of themes of abandonment, loss, and humor).

You can email Philippa at pkelly@calshakes.org, or post below to ask her a question.

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“This was the best field trip I’ve ever been on in my life. …We made Hermione come back to life.”

Actor Christopher Michael Rivera works the audience at a Student Discovery Matinee of A WINTER'S TALE;.

Actor Christopher Michael Rivera works the audience at a Student Discovery Matinee of A WINTER'S TALE;.

From: Ms. Maiuri

Sent: Thursday, October 03, 2013 8:11 PM

To: Clive Worsley

Subject: Thank you so much for everything (could you pass this on?)

Dear Director and Cast of A Winter’s Tale and the Cal Shakes Artistic Learning Team:

I got an email from a student after returning from Cal Shakes’ student matinee performance of A Winter’s Tale: “Dear Ms. Maiuri, This was the best field trip I’ve ever been on in my life.  Also, I’ve discovered that Grace and I have magical powers.  We made Hermione come back to life.  Love, Lisa”

I struggled for years as a teacher in Oakland before I realized that if you’re really honest with students and bring what you love right up to them and put it in their hands, they’ll love it right along with you. I don’t know if it’s the content or the honesty, but it works.

So we study Shakespeare because I love it—the rhythm and the description and the challenge of hearing a play that might be a struggle to understand. I love the slow reveal of the language and the experience of “settling in” when you suddenly realize every word is making sense. I pour my heart into bringing that to my students.

A student asks a question of the cast after a performance of A WINTER'S TALE.

A student asks a question of the cast after a performance of A WINTER'S TALE.

But after I drill and they sweat and we giggle over the plots, we come to Cal Shakes and they’re just mesmerized.  I look over and see kids light up at certain speeches—”It’s too hot, too hot!”—or realize when bits have been skipped or altered, or get quiet and rapt at a moving moment, and I can feel my heart swell and my throat catch.

And then, at the end, to have the actors all come out in hoodies and college t-shirts and sit on the edge of the stage and use real names and talk like real people is the real crux for me.  I can make my students memorize and understand Shakespeare but these artists showed them that it’s okay to stand up and perform in front of others, to cry and feel on stage, to balance football and literature (or even give football up, god forbid), and wear mascara with pride.  Thanks for that. And thanks to the fun and relatable directing and acting choices, they got a Paulina that sounds like their mom’s tough best friend, a steely speech from a jailed mother, a Polixenes that echoes the best and worst of their fathers, and a Leontes who descends into a powerful, believable frenzy that’s surprisingly similar to the throes of middle-school jealousy and spite.

I feel like I’m always making excuses not to write thank-you notes. But Cal Shakes is really special for us, and I thank you all for moving me today.

With gratitude,

Jana Maiuri
(Teacher, Edna Brewer Middle School)

See more highlights of her students’ experience with these photos from Cal Shakes’s 2013 Student Discovery Matinees.

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A WINTER’S TALE FAQ

A Winter's Tale by Alessandra Mello

Tristan Cunningham, Zion Richardson, Omoze Idehenre, Mackenzie Kwok in A Winter's Tale; photo by mellopix.com.

The top five commonly asked questions around the Cal Shakes offices about our current production of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale—answered at last.

1. Is there going to be a bear onstage?

From Cal Shakes Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone: Yes, but you’ll have to see it to find out how it appears.

2. Why is this play less performed/less well known/adapted into film?

From Production Dramaturg Cathleen Sheehan: The play certainly presents some truly daunting challenges in terms of story and staging. There is the dramatic shift in location and tone between Sicilia and Bohemia, the 16-year leap forward, a shipwreck off the coast of Bohemia (which, depending on which scholar you ask about where the  borders were, historically had no coastline), a statue which appears to come back to life, and the tricky business of Antigonus who must “exit pursued by a bear.”

In spite of these challenges and its shifting popularity, A Winter’s Tale has been staged fairly consistently since its inception. In the centuries following its first performances, directors handled these challenges in various ways—sometimes cutting huge portions of the play or allowing one tone to dominate—playing up the Classical themes, for example. In 1756, David Garrick presented Florizel and Perdita at Drury Lane, cutting the first three acts entirely. While 19th–century and early 20th–century productions reinstated Leontes and Hermione as the compelling emotional center of the play, the popular desire for elaborate spectacle meant that the more theatrical elements tended to overshadow the language, characters, and story—and cost a pretty penny as well.

More recently, directors have embraced a more balanced approach to the complexity of the play and accepted the story on its own terms—as a tale including divine, natural, and unusual elements, but one that is essentially human in its struggles and triumphs…with the occasional entrance of a bear.

3. Where in time and space does the play take place?

From Director Patricia McGregor: In this production, in the near future through a Narniaesque door to fantastical fertile lands and the labyrinthine interiors of the self.

4. How will music and dance be featured in the production?

Tristan Cunningham as Perdita

Tristan Cunningham as Perdita in A Winter's Tale; photo by Alessandra Mello.

From Director Patricia McGregor: A Winter’s Tale is performed by a group of traveling storytellers with many tricks up their sleeves. The actors playing Paulina and Autolycus are the ringleaders of this wild theatricalist journey and often use music and dance to transport and transform both the players and the audience. At times, the audience is invited to participate in celebrations and ceremonies through song and dance.

5. What about the play lends itself to a participatory experience?

From Triangle Lab Director Rebecca Novick: I think any play has the potential to be a participatory experience, if the director and the producing theater share that vision.  We like to say that any play could be enriched by “starting with a potluck and ending with everyone dancing on stage.” That said, those are specific participatory activities, and we like to work with directors to design the levels and types of participation that will work best for their production.  In this case, Patricia is particularly interested in how to use a play to build community with an audience, to help people see themselves inside stories that might feel strange or foreign to them, and to encourage people to find their own creative selves.  Seen through that lens, Winter’s Tale is particularly appropriate because it’s a play that asks us to believe that magic can unfreeze our stuck hearts and in Patricia’s production that magic is created collectively by the audience.

A Winter’s Tale runs now through October 20, 2013.

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What’s Your Tale?

Patricia McGregor’s magical, family-friendly production of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale begins previews tomorrow, culminating the 2013 Cal Shakes season with a profusion of music, movement, miracles—and Triangle Lab activities.

Visit the memory wall to collect an object and tell us what memory it evokes.

Pick up song lyrics at the Triangle Lab activity sign (also inserted in your show program) so you can sing along during the performance.

Stop on the entrance path to see video of spoken-word performances by RAW (Richmond Artists with Talent), part of a Triangle Lab workshop exploring the impact of loss and healing through art.

On October 1 and 11, one hour prior to the performance, join storytellers from The Shout—led by Rami Margron—in the Grove Talk Grove to hear and share stories about faith and forgiveness.

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Personalize Our Onstage License Plate!

In our upcoming production of A Winter’s Tale, travelling storytellers spill out of a vehicle to invite you into the story. And since we marketing folks have got connections with the props department (who are so much friendlier than the DMV), director Patricia McGregor has asked us to ask you to decide what goes on the license plate!

The entry the company likes the best gets put on the plate—and earns its creator two tickets to see A Winter’s Tale, and a photo with the vehicle.

Post your entry—no more than seven characters long—by 5pm PST on Wednesday, September 18, one of the following four ways:

Patricia and the cast would like it to have a nod to Spunk, our 2012 production that got so many of them together for the first time.  Here are some ideas that have been thrown around already; maybe they’ll get you thinking.

Mo-Joe
diddly wah diddy
D wah D
GT2GT
JOE CLRK(E)
JULY JAM
6BITS
ZORA
4ZORA
MI-C-MAY
VICE

A Winter’s Tale runs September 25–October 20, 2013.

 

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Ask Philippa: A WINTER’S TALE EDITION

A Winter's Tale

Callie Cullum's show art for A WINTER'S TALE, featuring Omozé Idehenre as Hermione; photo by Jeff Singer.

Philippa Kelly, resident dramaturg for Cal Shakes, shares her thoughts on the current production, and invites your questions. A Winter’s Tale runs September 25–October 20, 2013.

As directed by Patricia McGregor, A Winter’s Tale suggests the overwhelming power of emotion to govern and transform the authority of a king: At the start of the play, it is explosive jealousy that “rules” Leontes, the king of Sicilia; by the end, it’s compassion and sorrow that govern him, by way of the transformative power of his own tears.

Coming right in the middle of King James’ reign over England, Shakespeare wove into this play his profound belief in the truth of monarchy as well as his skeptical knowledge that a king is but a man. The collapse of a king’s authority into blind personal jealousy—resulting in death and even in assumed murder—would have been, to Shakespeare’s audiences, like an apocalypse. For any man, tears have all-too-often been seen as weakness: yet here we have a king whose tears take him to a new strength, a new belief in the power of love, and a knowledge that no man should assume power over others that serves only his own interest.

The “saint-like sorrow” performed in A Winter’s Tale evokes Christian parables of penitence—but these, like the old oral traditions that the title calls on, are in the service of a wondrous theme: that no matter what authority is vested in a king, it takes a village to raise a full-grown human being.

Are you going to see our production of A Winter’s Tale?  Do you have questions or comments about the production’s cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

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