×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Legit Review: ‘Beneatha’s Place’

Latest play inspired by 'Raisin in the Sun' needs work to stand alone from 'Clybourne Park'

With:
Jessica Francis Dukes, Charlie Hudson III, Kim James Bey, Jonathan Crombie, Beth Hylton, Jacob H. Knoll, James Ludwig, Jenna Sokolowski. 

Kwame Kwei-Armah’s play “Beneatha’s Place” has turned legit industry heads as part of an ambitious project at Baltimore’s Center Stage, which is presenting the new title, inspired by “A Raisin in the Sun,” in rep with “Clybourne Park,” the Tony and Pulitzer-winning 2010 play that also takes its cue from “Raisin.” “Beneatha’s Place” offers an earnest and piercing perspective on race at a time that theaters are eagerly seeking product with appeal to multi-racial auds. But in its debut, it faces limitations as a stand-alone play when not tethered to the stronger and more cohesive “Clybourne.”

British born Kwei-Armah, also the a.d. of Center Stage, inventively borrows from both “Raisin” and “Clybourne” to ponder racial divisions on a global scale. From Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play he’s taken two characters, the feisty daughter Beneatha Younger and her Nigerian student boyfriend, Joseph Asagai. From “Clybourne,” he’s appropriated scribe Bruce Norris’ principal device, a focus on the action at a single home on two occasions 50 years apart. He also seeks to capture Norris’ penchant for acerbic dialogue.

But whereas Norris tackles racial issues involving gentrification, Kwei-Armah ponders more broadly what it means to be black in societies controlled by whites.

Directed by Derrick Sanders (who also helms Center Stage’s “Clybourne,” running in rep with the same cast), “Beneatha’s Place” presents its theme via two unrelated developments. In act one, the newly wedded Beneatha (Jessica Francis Dukes) and Joseph (Charlie Hudson III) move into an upscale white neighborhood in Lagos, Nigeria in 1959. She is a medical student; he’s a university professor and a determined leader of Nigeria’s budding independence movement. As they unpack their belongings before a parade of curious visitors — in the process revealing Joseph’s ironic collection of blatantly racist tchotchkes (a clever bit of shock appeal) — the two are rudely introduced to the depths of racial prejudice under entrenched colonial rule.

In act two, set in the present day, an elderly Beneatha returns to the long shuttered property she curiously still owns, the knick-knacks adorning the dusty shelves. But now she is a respected dean of social sciences at a California university who is hosting colleagues for a meeting about the future of the school’s African-American studies curricula.

Her mostly white guests argue that subject is of waning interest to black and white students alike, eclipsed in importance by “critical whiteness studies.” Heated discussions on the topic unearth a vein of racial discord.

The production benefits from Dukes’ solid performance in the title role, setting a high bar for the hard-working troupe. But in its debut, “Beneatha’s Place” faces limitations as a stand-alone play: Act two is especially contrived in its setting and occasionally tedious in its message delivered by a cast of pretentious academics. Their racial debate is an extension of act one’s setup, but it’s a distant one that robs the production of flow.

One assumes the flaw can be fixed by Kwei-Armah (“Elmina’s Kitchen”), who has a gift for crisp dialogue from characters with plenty to say. Given some further development, “Beneatha” could become another solid entry in what’s billed at Center Stage as the “Raisin Cycle” of plays inspired by Hansberry’s play.

A documentary about the “Raisin Cycle” project will air on PBS Oct. 25.

Legit Review: 'Beneatha's Place'

Center Stage, Baltimore, Md.; 541 seats; $60 top. Opened May 15. Reviewed May 23. Running time:  ONE HOUR, 50 MIN. 

Production: A Center Stage presentation of a play in two acts by Kwame Kwei-Armah.

Creative: Directed by Derrick Sanders. Set, Jack Magaw; costumes, Reggie Ray; lights, Thom Weaver; sound, Elisheba Ittoop. 

Cast: Jessica Francis Dukes, Charlie Hudson III, Kim James Bey, Jonathan Crombie, Beth Hylton, Jacob H. Knoll, James Ludwig, Jenna Sokolowski. 

More Legit

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. More Reviews Concert Review: Lady Gaga Outdoes Her Other Vegas Show With Masterful [...]

  • 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    'What the Constitution Means to Me' Transfers to Broadway

    “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a buzzy Off-Broadway production that counts Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem among its fans, is making the move uptown. The play will come to Broadway this spring for a 12-week limited run at the Helen Hayes Theater. “What the Constitution Means to Me” is one part civics lesson, one [...]

  • Choir Boy review

    Broadway Review: 'Choir Boy'

    Honestly, I was afraid that “Choir Boy” — the sweetly exuberant account of a gifted prep school boy’s coming of age, written by “Moonlight” Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney — would be swallowed up in a Broadway house, after winning us over in an Off Broadway staging in 2013.  But aside from the odd set [...]

  • Jason Robert Brown

    Listen: How Ariana Grande Got Jason Robert Brown to Madison Square Garden

    Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown never expected to find himself performing onstage at Madison Square Garden. But he did — thanks to his pal Ariana Grande. Brown met Grande before she was a superstar, when she was in the 2008 Broadway cast of his teen musical “13.” The two have kept in touch ever since [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content