I’m watching Latanya Richardson Jackson, Sophie Okonedo, Anika Noni Rose, and Denzel Washington–the cast of Lorraine Hansberry‘s A Raisin in the Sun, now playing on Broadway–on the Charlie Rose show on PBS.
The first time I saw Raisin, I was a high school junior. It was on television, probably Saturday Night at the Movies. The most recent was last week, when it ran on a network that shows old movies 24/7. I’ve never seen it on stage, but if the opportunity arose, I would grab it.
Some stage presentations I see every time I have the chance. I saw Victor Borge three times over the years, the last time only a few weeks before he died. I’ve seen Hal Holbrook‘s Mark Twain Tonight three or four times–I’ve lost count–beginning in the early ’80s. The latest was in San Antonio in 2012, when Holbrook was eighty-seven.
In each performance, Holbrook uses different material, and thanks to Twain, it’s always timely. Two years ago, after reading from Huckleberry Finn and telling The Story of the Old Ram and other humorous pieces, his Twain ended by inveighing against corporations, banks, and corrupt financiers. He also recited The War Prayer. Ugly and true. Nothing funny there.
Two other stage productions I keep going back to originated here in Austin and turn up every fall, if we’re lucky: Greater Tuna and A Tuna Christmas. I wrote about them in a post titled Day 24: Mulomedic (the original topic focused on my adoption of an underused word, but before I could finish, it strayed).
It’s impossible to explain the Tunas to folks who’ve not seen them in person or lived among the characters. Suffice it to say, actors Joe Sears and Jaston Williams (also writers) wear multiple costumes and play multiple roles and make fun of the people sitting in the audience laughing at them. A video is worth a thousand words, so for further edification, check online. They’re there.
Greater Tuna and A Raisin in the Sun intersected in the mid-1990s, when I took my friend Vivian to see one of the Tunas.
I’d first met Vivian when she came to be my mother’s daytime companion, after Mother’s health made it necessary for her to have someone else in the house while I was at work. A nineteen-year-old African-American, Vivian came highly recommended by one of her former high school teachers, who said she was bright, wrote beautifully, and ought to be in college, but was very shy. She was also quiet and spoke only when she had something important to say.
I thought Vivian would enjoy Tuna but wasn’t sure how I would know. True to form, she sat still and silent for the first several minutes.
Then came the scene at Radio Station OKKK, serving the Greater Tuna area, when Arles Struvie and Thurston Wheelis report on the latest production by Little Theater Director Joe Bob Lipsey. Among Joe Bob’s credits, they report, is his all white production of A Raisin in the Sun.
From the seat to my right came a loud Hwa, hwa, hwa, hwa, hwa.
That was Vivian, enjoying the show.
*To fully understand this reference, you must watch the first Greater Tuna clip–The Beginning.