What do you do when The Man gets you down and holds you down, despite your best efforts -- when you hope and hope and hope despite pain and setback and misery? Maybe you reach a point where you wonder whether it's worth it to go on hoping for life to improve.
That's what Joplin, Missouri, native Langston Hughes was talking about when he wrote "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?"
Hughes' eloquent words gave Lorraine Hansberry the title for her dramatic masterpiece, A Raisin in the Sun. In the play, Walter Younger wants to provide for his family, but is virtually trapped by his job as a chauffeur. "What makes Walter frustrated," says Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville theater professor and Raisin director Lisa Colbert Bandele, "is living in this economically deprived, racially segregated environment [of America, circa 1959] and having the dream of doing better and being a man and being able to take care of his family and live in a better neighborhood and not have roaches."
Walter and his wife Ruth just can't get along, and Walter's intellectual sister Beneatha wants to be a doctor, but earns little more than skepticism from her old-fashioned family. Mama Lena is the strong matriarch of the extended family's cramped home, but by the play's end, her strength will be gravely tested.
The various family members careen from hopelessness to hope and back again, largely because of the events that follow the long-awaited arrival of a $10,000 insurance check. The money means hope for a better life -- or does it?
Raisin is an emotional ride -- bring some Kleenex.