'A Raisin In The Sun'
(Sean Combs, Bill Nunn, et al / DVD / NR / 2008 / Sony Pictures)
Overview: Based on the play that inspired a generation, A Raisin in the Sun tells the story of a family living and struggling on Chicago's South Side in the 1950s. A fiercely moving portrait of people whose hopes and dreams are constantly deferred, A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway. The classic, still-relevant story now will be showcased in this totally new television movie adaptation.
DVD Verdict: To be quite honest, this recent ABC production was erratic; for me personally. And unfortunately this DVD doesn't restore several of the key passages that were cut out - including the memorable speech Beneatha gives to Asagai about what inspired her to become a doctor. In fact, the vital heart-to-heart Act III conversation between these two, which ought to run about 10 minutes, gets boiled down to 5 minutes!
Repeatedly, the edits that were made in what I saw in the broadcast were puzzling - and the fact that they weren't (for the most part) incorporated here on this DVD is mindboggling, sorry! The decision to have Mama visit her drunk son at The Green Hat is dubious; in the play, Hansberry characterizes Lena Younger as a Christian woman who despises liquor and the nightlife of the Southside. The decision to show the whole family visiting the dream house in Clybourne Park is a cop-out - in the play, Lena is the only one to have seen the property, which makes Walter's anger and feeling that his dream has been "butchered" palpable.
The Murchison-Beneatha relationship gets short-changed as well - where's the tense 2nd date scene, in which she spurns his crude advances and sees him as a churlish, shallow fool? I also disagree with the producer's decision to have Travis remain in the room for many scenes--what made the original play great was the fact that Travis never gets to see his parents bicker, which is why he idolizes his father, who seems can do no wrong. Thus, some dramatic irony gets lost.
Then, there is the truly odd decision NOT to have Beneatha adopt a full Afro (did the producers fail to see why Hansberry chose this simple yet powerful symbol in her original production???) - this abridgement was inexcusable. Consequently, the ABC production makes Beneatha look like an "assimilationist", despite her protests. What an absolute blow to the characterization of Beneatha, especially given how talented the actress here is.
The lead actors, with one notable exception, were quite good - I was impressed with how Ruth and Asagai were developed, and I think Bill Nunn was superb in a minor and pivotal role as the naive Bobo. It's a shame this production doesn't include the comical nosey neighbor, Mrs. Johnson, who refers matter-of-factly to a newspaper story about the violence African-Americans face for moving into the suburbs. Indeed, the imminent threat the Youngers face for making such a bold move is watered down in this ABC production.
Lastly, anyone familiar with Hansberry's play should see that Sean P-Diddy Combs really drops the ball in the crucial "Pride" speech. He looks and sounds anemic compared to the riveting performances previously given by Poitier and Glover. The catharsis of his reversal, his rejection of Lindner's buy-out, just wasn't there.
Would I show this production to my high school students? Yes, but only in bits and pieces given the fact that the production deviates significantly from the original play. Students I've spoken to have expressed mixed reviews about this latest production. Teachers, do the right thing and go with the AMERICAN PLAYHOUSE production instead, which is theatre at its finest and true to the spirit and intent of Hansberry's play. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Audio Commentary with director Kenny Leon
"Dreams Worthwhile: The Journey of A Raisin In The Sun' Feaurette