×
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

  • Richard E Grant Everybody's Talking About

    Richard E. Grant to Play Former Drag Queen in 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie'

    Oscar-nominated actor Richard E. Grant will portray a former drag queen and mentor in “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” the movie adaptation of the British stage musical. “Catastrophe” co-creator and star Sharon Horgan and “Happy Valley” star Sarah Lancashire have also joined the film. Max Harwood will play the titular role of Jamie, a role inspired [...]

  • The Secret Life of Bees review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Secret Life of Bees'

    There’s a sweet sense of sisterhood that’s simply divine in “The Secret Life of Bees,” the heartwarming new musical at the Atlantic Theater Company based on Sue Monk Kidd’s bestselling 2002 coming-of-age novel, set in South Carolina in 1964 amid Civil Rights struggles. (A 2008 film adaptation starred Dakota Fanning and Queen Latifah.) The feeling [...]

  • 10 Comics to Watch

    Variety Announces 10 Comics to Watch for 2019

    Variety has chosen its 10 Comics to Watch for 2019. The honorees will be profiled in the July 18 issue of Variety and at the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal at a cocktail party on Thursday, July 25, followed by a panel and showcase on Friday, July 26. The events are sponsored by Cohen & Gardner LLP. The [...]

  • Vanessa Hudgens So You Think You

    Vanessa Hudgens, Hailey Kilgore to Star in Reading of 'The Notebook' Musical

    Vanessa Hudgens and Tony-nominee Hailey Kilgore are joining an upcoming reading of Ingrid Michaelson’s stage adaptation of “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks. Tony nominee Michael Greif is set to direct the reading, which will open June 23 at Vassar College’s Martel Theater as part of their Powerhouse Theater season. Kilgore will star as the younger [...]

  • Moulin Rouge director Alex Timbers

    'Beetlejuice,' 'Moulin Rouge!' Director Alex Timbers on Creating Worlds on Broadway

    In the past year, Alex Timbers has directed the Tony-nominated “Beetlejuice” and the stage adaptation of “Moulin Rouge!” (which begins previews June 28 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre). Here, he reflects on his most recent projects and the challenges of bringing two iconic movie musicals to Broadway within a year.  Both your musicals live in [...]

  • Actor Anthony Ramos Signs With Republic

    Actor Anthony Ramos Signs With Republic Records (EXCLUSIVE)

    Singer-songwriter and actor Anthony Ramos, known for his roles in “Hamilton” and “A Star Is Born,” has signed with Republic Records, the company announced today. Ramos will release his forthcoming debut album later this year, with new music expected this summer. Footage from the signing aired on his YouTube series today. “Anthony is a true [...]

  • Much Ado About Nothing review

    Shakespeare in the Park Review: Danielle Brooks in 'Much Ado About Nothing'

    The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park productions can be provocative, irritating, enlightening or maddening, but they are always fun. In his new staging of “Much Ado About Nothing” with a cast led by Danielle Brooks, director Kenny Leon (“A Raisin in the Sun,” “American Son”) delivers the fun in a slaphappy, dance-crazy version [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content