From Twelfth Night to Life Is a Dream: Fate Works in Mysterious Ways

Get Tangled Up In Love show art for Twelfth NightThe first two productions of our 2015 season—Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night about falling in love with mistaken identities and Life Is a Dream, Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s 1635 drama, translated and adapted by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Nico Cruz, which examines the relationship between fate and reality—couldn’t seem farther apart at first read. But it turns out Olivia, Viola, Orsino, and Sebastian have more in common with King Basilio, Segismundo, and Rosauro then one might think. Here our Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly explains the link between these two wildly different productions.

The question: Where character comes from and where it can lead? is at the core of both Twelfth Night and Life Is a Dream. Twelfth Night’s characters have their dreams, but they end up with fates they never dreamed of. In Life Is a Dream, Calderon’s 17th century Spanish masterpiece, translated and adapted by Nilo Cruz, the question grabs us from the very start and chills us with its development. Does a person have any real power to change the fate that’s written for him or her? And if not, why not? Malvolio struggles with this idea in Twelfth Night and we’ll see in Life Is a Dream the vengeance that is wreaked by a son who is imprisoned for the first 20 years of his life. Was his father right to lock him up? Was he wrong to release him, given that he’s done exactly the monstrous deeds that were predicted at his birth? Or is his vengeance created by his father’s actions? (Who wouldn’t want to go on a rampage after being locked away since birth?) Do we have the power to change our fates and to change the way we adapt to experience? Come judge for yourselves.

Twelfth Night starts Previews on May 17 and runs through June 21. Life Is a Dream starts Previews on July 8 and runs through August 2. Click here to learn more and buy tickets. Hear more about the link between these two shows from Philippa herself at the Life Is a Dream Inside Scoop, June 22 at the Orinda Library. Reserve your spot here.

 

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The Understudy Diaries

If you attended a Cal Shakes show this past weekend, you may have seen my face—on our stage. I’m the understudy for Movement Director and actress Erika Chong Shuch, a powerhouse of a woman, and I wound up being called on to play Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Many people have asked me what this experience was like, and so I thought I would chronicle it into phases.

Phase I: Excitement

After interning all summer at Cal Shakes, I auditioned and was accepted to understudy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was all knock-knees and general excitement, highlighting away in my binder during the first rehearsal and gasping at all the set and costume designs. Understudying allows you to absorb so much information and as a young actress it’s pretty ideal. I get to try on a part without as much of the risk, and see the professionals do their work.

Phase 2: Technical Rehearsal

This was the most fun part of being an understudy for me, where I learned all my lines and wrote down all my blocking. Essentially the expectation is to know everything by Opening Night, and then to have your understudy rehearsal the following Tuesday. Simple enough. I had just finished my internship and so was content to hang around the Bruns all during tech, cracking jokes with cast and crew and being on book when needed. I was so impressed with all the actors, working twelve hour days and being incredibly patient and generous with each other.

Regina Fields and Danny Scheie (Puck) backstage before the show. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Phase 3: Understudy Rehearsal

Finally our time had come! My fellow understudies were chomping at the bit to do their scenes. They were really prepared and ready to finally DO something with all the knowledge they’d been collecting. On the way to rehearsal we all got an email that would change the whole course of our day. Brian, the understudy for James Carpenter (Egeus/Starveling) was going to go on! It was getting real. We spent most of the day doing Brian’s scenes, which meant I only got to walk through one Titania scene once.

Catherine Castellanos (Snout) and I kept joking about how it would be crazy if I had to go on after not getting to do any of my scenes. Good thing that was entirely unlikely. Little did I know…

Phase 4: The Call

Friday morning the unthinkable happened. I received a text message from Karen Szpaller, our stage manager/resident superwoman, saying I should be prepared to go on, and she would let me know as soon as she could. At which point I immediately began to do three things:

1) hyperventilate

2) read my script 500 times

3) cry (just a little).

In order to understand why I would react in such a fashion it’s important to note that I’m a senior in college, who has a few credits mostly accrued while at conservatory in Europe. Cal Shakes is a theater I respect and whose company of staff, crew, and actors I am constantly in awe of. Basically I felt like I was hitting fast forward on getting to do my ultimate dream job.

Karen confirmed that Operation Understudy was a go (she doesn’t call it that, I do, and I’m not sorry about it) and I hit the road around 3pm, reciting Shakespeare all the way.

Regina Fields' understudy debut in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Phase 5: The Trial By Fire

I got to the theater with enough time to warm up, walk the space, and get fitted into a costume before my two hour put-in rehearsal began. A put-in is essentially what it sounds like—putting me into the show. However, anyone who has seen this show with Erika knows: you can’t imitate greatness. So we (and by we I mean Craig, and the fairies; Travis, Parker and Mel), re-choreographed a whole lot, from the top of show fight, to my entrance out of the trap (under the stage) and more.

Everyone was incredibly supportive, including Jonathan Moscone who came to help direct me through some moments and get acquainted with the show. The fairies (Travis Parker and Mel) helped me focus on my job, which was to make everyone else not freak out by appearing calm, knowing my part and just doing the damn thing.

After asserting my warrior dominance as Hippolyta in the first scene, I had a second to look out and had only one thought: “oh my lanta, people”. I don’t even remember saying my first line. What I do remember is the outpouring of love from everyone around me. I felt like I was on an Olympic Rowing Team and we were all going for the gold in one final burst before the finish line: either we all won or we all didn’t make it, and failure was not an option. Coming through the green room door after that first show was the most electrifying feeling in the world. We had done it! We had pulled off this behemoth, beautiful, inspiring show and I quite frankly couldn’t believe I’d gotten to be a part of it.

Phase 6: The Aftermath

I cannot stress enough how much Cal Shakes’ culture of support, love of art, and community helped me to get through this moment. Without all of the words of encouragement from my fellow actors, and the amazing Cal Shakes audience, I never would have found the courage to step out on that stage. Now that Erika is back and more graceful than ever, it feels like even more of a family because we all helped each other through a tough spot. I have nothing but eternal gratuity and respect for everyone involved for helping a young actress to realize her dreams for just a few shows. The best way to articulate how I feel is with a quote from the play:

“Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream.”

Regina Fields and Daisuke Tsuji (Oberon, Theseus) in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Jay Yamada.

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About the author: Regina V. Fields is an Artistic Intern and local actress.

 

 

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Beginning Again: The Love Balm Institute

By Triangle Lab Artist-Investigator in Residence Arielle Julia Brown

The Love Balm Project is a theater of testimony workshop series and performance based on the testimonies of mothers who have lost children to violence. The Love Balm Project currently collaborates with six mothers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Last summer, with support from the Triangle Lab, we hosted site specific performances in the spaces where the young men—sons of the mothers—had been murdered. These performances took place on street corners, in front of homes, at a BART station, in front of a church, on the porch of a mothers’ home and on a MUNI train platform. These performances met the communities in the spaces that haunt them and the spaces we learn to forget. Naturally, it was in these spaces that more mothers and community members began to inquire about getting involved in this work. Mothers approached me after performances, family members took my contact information to give to other mothers they knew.

This leads me to the beginning of my current investigation with The Triangle Lab. How is it that a grassroots arts collective recreates itself? How do we move in full awareness of our limited capacity as facilitators and yet be open and permeable for new knowledges, new community members, new stakeholders? What does it look like structurally to have an open space for all mothers to find and make space in their neighborhoods to tell and witness their stories? I am in deep search of what these answers could look like for the Love Balm Project. The only place I knew to begin is with the Love Balm workshop series. The workshop series features 4 workshops for mothers and community artists to gather together and perform, witness and creatively write their testimony. So I began to imagine in the middle of last year’s site specific investigation, what would it look like to have an institute to train other artists, mothers and cultural workers in how to facilitate a Love Balm Workshop series or group. In the Love Balm Institute we collectively questioned this work, reviewed and adapted the curriculum, witnessed mothers’ testimonies, explored applied theatre methods including original games, playback theatre, drama therapy and theatre of the oppressed and finally strategized about workshopn structures and funding models. The Love Balm Institute was supported by The Triangle Lab, Eastside Arts Alliance and The Akonadi Foundation. The institute took place from May 23rd–25th in Oakland.

Several amazing cultural workers attended the institute. The cultural workers live and work with communities throughout the state of California. Please see their bios below to see what kind of work they are doing in communities already. Each of them have studied and taken their training from the institute to start planning love balm workshops and community circles for the communities they work and live in. The cultural workers will facilitate the Love Balm workshop series with mothers, LGBTQ youth, young men and women of color who have both perpetrated and survived acts of violence. Check out their projects below alongside their bios. I will continue to post updates as their projects progress.

 

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The Comedy of Errors Production Spotlight: Assistant Director Leah Gardner

Assistant Director Leah Gardner in full clown regalia.

By Aliya Charney

The Comedy of Errors Assistant Director, Leah Gardner, found herself at Cal Shakes this season through none other than our very own Danny Scheie (Dromio of Ephesus and Syracuse) and Patty Gallagher (Merchant, Officer, Courtesan, Abbess). At UC Santa Cruz, Gardner was a student of both Scheie and Gallagher. Gardner served as Assistant Director for many of Scheie’s productions as well as founded a student theater group at Santa Cruz, BarnStorm, through Scheie’s guidance. As a student in Gallagher’s clown class at UCSC, Gardner tapped into her true talent. “Patty pulled me aside one day after class and told me that I was a natural clown. That was truly one of those life-changing moments where everything makes sense.”

Since then, Gardner has been clowning her way through life. Upon moving to Seattle, Gardner joined Pi, a physical clowning troupe, which eventually relocated to San Francisco. Once in the Bay Area, Gardner joined the San Francisco Clown Conservatory to hone her craft, learning more about juggling, acrobatics and clown technique.

This is the first time that Gardner is working with The Comedy of Errors director, Aaron Posner, but she has seen some examples of his work at Shakespeare Santa Cruz, what Gardner describes as a “remarkable” production of As You Like It. “With Aaron, the story is paramount,” she says. “Each choice is made to tell the story in a clear way.” On the topic of clowning, which is prevalent throughout Posner’s version of Shakespeare’s earliest comedy, Gardner jokes that “[Posner] says he doesn’t know what clowning is,” yet he has produced “a very physical, real, simple, clear, honest rendition of the play that works perfectly with the clowning style.”

Gardner admits that “clown” is a loaded word. “Lots of people have different ideas of what it is. But [to me] it’s a very simplistic joy at the very heart of it and at its core. In terms of Aaron’s vision, he talked to us about ‘simple joy’ and I feel like we are seeing that vision.”

On the topic of “dark” comedies, such as The Comedy of Errors, Gardner insightfully reasons that, “there is, in good comedy, a darkness to it [and] looking at this play through the clown perspective is a brilliant way of working through it because all good comedy is rooted in tragedy. Laughter is a way to deal with the darker side of life in a constructive, positive way. The heart of all comedy is tragedy.”

Before beginning rehearsals for The Comedy of Errors in May, Gardner had “very high expectations for the cast…and they have exceeded that. This is…the most fun…I’ve ever had in a rehearsal hall.”

You can join the fun till July 20th! Tickets for The Comedy of Errors are on sale now. Get your tickets here!

For more information about Leah’s clown troupe, Pi, visit: www.piclowns.com.

 

 

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Shakespeare’s Settings

Elizabethan Europe

By Tess Brumwell-Gaze

With only a modest Stratford upbringing, Shakespeare’s knowledge of foreign cultures is an intriguing aspect of his works. Plays ensue with backdrops of rural Italy and monarchical Denmark, but very rarely Shakespeare’s English home ground. Whether this was to spur Elizabethan imaginings of exotic landmarks, or to avoid political controversy, there is also the question of how Shakespeare managed to accurately portray his oversea settings.

Why overseas?

A first explanation for overseas settings is bound in the political climate of Shakespeare’s time. Directly portraying English politics in the Elizabethan era was a risk. Perhaps to avoid this controversy, Shakespeare could reflect his own monarchy without controversy by relocating and renaming them as foreign rulers. Macbeth exemplifies Shakespeare’s careful political balance—representing the Scottish monarch as a tyrant and the English as the righteous power.

Though a factor, this does not entirely explain why Shakespeare chose the settings that he did; stereotypes of foreign countries can to some extent explain this. For English Elizabethans, Italy was a country excelling in “the fields of art, music and literature, as well as banking, fencing and political science” explains Professoressa Laura Tosi, of Ca’Foscari University in Venice. In the same light, Italy’s culture was imagined as “the cradle of political, religious and sexual corruption.” On hearing that a play was set in Italy, audiences would expect certain characteristics. Most notable of these, Warren King discusses, are “heat, extreme emotion and violence.” What better setting for a desperate romance or bitter rivalry?

A similar account stands for Shakespeare’s Greek settings. Ancient Greece spurred associations of darkness, magic, and myth. This spiritual dimension was taken advantage of in The Comedy of Errors, as themes of witchery and immorality surface in the ancient city.

Less romantically, Shakespeare’s settings were often poached. Hamlet, for example, could hardly be taken from its original Denmark setting without being wildly reworked. This point is also especially poignant in Shakespeare’s classic plays.

A villa in Verona's countryside, close to the Capulets' imagined mansion.

 

How could Shakespeare articulate these settings?

Being from a modest background, the diverse history and language used in Shakespeare’s works suggests a much more fulfilled education. How did he educate himself on such specific times and places, especially if he would have been unable to visit?

Professoressa Tosi supposes that Shakespeare could have “read political treatises, novellas, tourist books, published traveler’s reports or unpublished ones in manuscript” as a way of informing his Italian works. Equally, oral sources could have aided the writer, with “Italian merchants living in London, scholars, musicians, and cultural mediators like John Florio.” Professore Valerio di Scarpis (Ca’Foscari University, Venice) added: “there were so many travel guides on Venice scattered around Northern Europe at that time, Shakespeare could have easily gathered all the necessary information from London.”  There is still a tiny possibility that he reached Italy—both aristocrats and companies of English players on tour moved across the continent at the time. His precise descriptions of Italian villas, locations and even plants are often cited as evidence that he must have toured the country.

Shakespeare’s grasp of language

Only fairly recently have historians supposed that Shakespeare had a fairly good grasp of Latin. This is most likely as a result of grammar school in Stratford. At this time, grammar institutions would demand pupils learn prominent texts by heart. Most prominently, Ovid’s Metamorphoses would have been mandatory, which Shakespeare references in his poem “Venus and Adonis.”

It is largely assumed that Shakespeare did not have an equivalent knowledge of Greek. Instead, works such as Plutarch’s Lives, translated by Sir Thomas North in 1579, would have informed Shakespeare’s own work. An exception may be The Comedy of Errors, which it is thought Shakespeare would have directly based on the original Menaechmi by Plautus.

The Comedy of Errors also notably opens with Virgil’s words;

“A heavier task could not have been imposed
Than I to speak my griefs unspeakable” (1,1.32-33)

Translations were a key source for a number of plays. Julius CaesarAnthony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus were written with the aid of Sir Thomas North’s translations, though there are a number of further sources expanded his classical knowledge and use of language, as Professor Panos Karagiorgos discusses.

Shakespeare’s settings can be explained by a mix of political controversy, Elizabethan romanticism and education. The Bard’s reading shaped both his choices in setting and linguistic experimentation, formed by revised translations and a disciplined schooling.

Tess Brumwell-Gaze is based in the UK and writes for Italian Villa company, Tuscany Now. She is interested in all areas of Italian culture, though is especially fond of arts and literature.

Interested in seeing how director Aaron Posner depicts Ephesus, Greece? Buy your ticket for Cal Shakes’ The Comedy of Errors, opening June 25.

 

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Inside the Rehearsal Hall for “The Comedy of Errors”

“The play’s the thing.”

—Hamlet, Act II, Scene II

Hello!

This is dramaturgy intern Aliya Charney blogging from inside the rehearsal room for Cal Shakes’ upcoming production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, directed by Aaron Posner. We started off running (and tumbling!) this past Wednesday at the Meet and Greet, where cast members, artistic staff, production crew, the entire Cal Shakes team, and donors had the opportunity to listen to Posner discuss his vision for the play, which centers around the idea of “play.”

The cast of The Comedy of Errors in rehearsal.

The various puns on the word “play” (a stage performance, an exercise of amusement, fun and jest, a game, to act the part of a character, and even another word for “pun” itself ) perfectly complement Shakespeare’s earliest comedy. The Comedy of Errors, which is filled with wordplay and jest, is a play about mistaken identity, mystery, doubling, farce, magic, confusion, and love.

The notion of play, which Posner will use to drive The Comedy of Errors forward, will manifest on stage not just through juggling, clowning, and acrobatic tricks performed by the actors, but through the sense of what Posner himself calls “invented Shakespeare”—a term he uses to describe the contemporizing of Shakespeare’s texts through the fluidity of the Bard’s own language. Meaning, Posner, the cast, and artistic staff will create a world that profits from Shakespeare’s enduring language, rather than interpreting the play through a specific historical lens.

Costume Designer Beaver Bauer draws inspiration for her looks from Buster Keaton, 1920s fashion, eastern European clowns, Steampunk, and much more. Her looks coincide with Posner’s vision of play and “invented Shakespeare” because they do not come from one specific place or time period, but rather, are drawn from themes and images that the text itself evokes. Nina Ball, scenic designer for the production, has created a multi-level, colorful, trapdoor-filled, “shutter-cluttered” open stage that provides a canvas for abundant physical humor, allowing the actors to fully embody the sense of play, while simultaneously harmonizing with the beautiful, natural backdrop of the Bruns.

Posner adds to the play’s themes of doubling and confusion with a cast of seven. Both sets of twins (four characters total): Antipholus of Ephesus/Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus/Dromio of Syracuse (played by Adrian Danzig and Danny Scheie, respectively) are performed by two actors, while other cast members play multiple personalities on stage as well. The actors, therefore, rely on quick changes (some of which take place on stage before the audience), accent shifts, and physical humor to tell the story of mistaken identity between two sets of brothers.

Less than one week into rehearsal, The Comedy of Errors is already promising to be a a fun-filled, hilarious, and loving production. Posner began the first rehearsal by requesting the cast to “find the love” in this dark comedy. Indeed, love of all forms flourishes on stage: from romantic love to love between brothers, sisters, and friends, and even unapologetic self-love, The Comedy of Errors balances Shakespeare’s oft-dark text with fruitful moments of tenderness guaranteed to make the audience fall in love with the production, and actors.

The Comedy of Errors begins previews on June 25th and opens on June 28th. With rehearsals now fully underway, I will be updating this blog periodically with production developments and insight into the rehearsal process.

Join in the madness! Buy your tickets for The Comedy of Errors here.

Aliya Charney is a dramaturgy intern for Cal Shakes. A recent graduate of UC Berkeley, Aliya is a Shakespeare and cat enthusiast from Chicago. Her favorite line in The Comedy of Errors is: “I to the world am like a drop of water / That in the ocean seeks another drop.”

 

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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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Who’s Your Twin?

When Shakespeare penned The Comedy of Errors—one of his shortest, most slapstick plays—the idea of twins (a central theme of the play) fascinated the Elizabethans. Though they didn’t understand the genetics of multiple births—the difference between fraternal and identical twins, for instance—they had many beliefs about twins: that they signified an especially fertile mother, and that the comradely twins would hold hands in the womb, for instance. (Interestingly, Shakespeare’s wife birthed twins—Hamnet and Judith—in 1585, seven years before the publication of The Comedy of Errors.)

Twins fascinate us today just as much as they did in Shakespeare’s time.  When we read stories about long-lost twins finding each other again at age 78, it makes front-page news for the BBC. Twins tell us about ourselves, our genetics and culture and how each makes us similar and/or different.

Even if you don’t have a biological twin, we all joke about having “twins” in a metaphorical sense. Sometimes we spot a celebrity, friend, or a random person on the street who reminds us of someone; my elementary school even had “twin day”—where (non-twin) students would coordinate outfits and mannerisms.

For our Comedy of Errors program, we’re asking our patrons and fans to send in pictures of themselves and their twin–whether real, celebrity, or stranger. Who do you look or act like? Who look or acts like you? Further your fame by sending in a picture of you and your twin (real or imagined)—the best ones will appear in our program.

Email your twin pictures to our publications manager and get a chance to be in the Comedy of Errors program!

Learn more about The Comedy of Errors or buy your tickets by clicking here.

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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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A Raisin in the Sun and Dreams Deferred

By Shi Yi

Harlem

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

-Langston Hughes

A Raisin in the Sun is about the dream of the Youngers, a black family living in South Side Chicago in the 1950s. Like any family, the Youngers’ dream is a stitched-together mosaic; as they impatiently wait for the arrival of an insurance check for ten thousand dollars, each member of the Younger clan has a slightly different dream for the money. Yet when the check actually arrives, their dreams collide. Even as the dream of each relation moves closer to reality, the family fragments. The struggle between material desires and family ideals escalates into a heavy and bittersweet drama.

Racial Segregation in Chicago in 2000

Half a century after the debut of A Raisin in the Sun, Chicago remains a segregated city; this block map is based on US Census data from 2000.

A Raisin in the Sun is about a family’s aspiration to a better life. But this is not just a story of the American Dream. This is a story of an African American Dream. This is not a story that transcends category, but a story that unfortunately transcends time. From slavery to restrictive covenants to gentrification, the form of racial inequity has changed, but its essence perpetuates in our society. A Raisin in the Sun may have been written in the 1950s, but the struggles of the Younger family can be found in neighborhoods around this theater and near where we live. Perhaps, the dreams of those families who may never make it to Cal Shakes in their life are not too different from the dream of the Youngers. I wonder what happens to their dreams deferred.

Do [they] dry up
like a raisin in the sun?

 

 

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