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Saint Louis University to Stage “Scenes from A Raisin in the Sun”

by Maggie Rotermund
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Maggie Rotermund
Senior Media Relations Specialist

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ST. LOUIS – Saint Louis Theatre and Dance Productions and Dance will present “Scenes from A Raisin in the Sun" on Friday, April 5. This production honors the 65th anniversary of the Lorraine Hansberry play’s Broadway premiere and will be the first time SLU has presented the seminal work.

The one-night-only event features a cast of students, professors, and professional actors performing a curated selection of scenes from the play. 

Kathryn Bentley, associate professor of theater performance, and artistic director of Southern Illinois University’s Black Theatre Workshop, will direct “Scenes from A Raisin in the Sun.”

“This is a play that I love,” Bentley said. “I’m excited to have a discussion around the value of this work and its continued relevance today.”

Cast of 'A Raisin in the Sun'
The cast of "Scenes from A Raisin in the Sun." Submitted photos. 

Set on Chicago’s South Side, Hansberry’s play concerns the divergent dreams and conflicts in three generations of the Younger family: son Walter Lee, his wife Ruth, his sister Beneatha, his son Travis, and matriarch Lena. When her deceased husband’s insurance money comes through, Mama Lena dreams of moving to a new home and a better neighborhood in Chicago. Walter Lee, a chauffeur, has other plans: buying a liquor store and being his own man. Beneatha dreams of medical school.

Hansberry’s portrait of one family’s struggle to retain dignity in a harsh and changing world is a searing and timeless document of hope and inspiration.

“A Raisin in the Sun” was the first play written by an African American female playwright to be staged on Broadway.

The evening will feature discussions between scenes connecting the audience to the work.

“This is an interactive night – we are going to put this into context and talk about the work and how it hits now,” Bentley said.

“Scenes from A Raisin in the Sun” will be presented in the Mark Wilson Studio Theatre in Xavier Hall. Nancy Bell, associate professor of theatre at SLU and the producer of the reading, said the small black-box space will provide an intimate setting for deeper engagement with the psychological study of Black, working-class life in the 1950s.

“This is one of the great classic works about the Black experience,” Bell said. “I’m thrilled that we have Kathryn, an incredible scholar of American theatre, here to direct this work.”

Bell said she was also excited about the unconventional casting, which includes a mix of those with theatre experience and newer performers. The cast features veteran performer Anita Jackson, two SLU professors and three students.

“Anita lights up a room,” Bell said. “I can’t wait to see her interpret this work.”

The Cast

 Anita Jackson (Mama)

Jackson is a native of St. Louis who returned home after living in New York City for 12 years. She graduated from the American Music and Dramatic Academy in New York and has performed extensively nationally and internationally. Jackson is a well-known background vocalist. In St. Louis, she has been a featured player with the St. Louis Black Repertory Theatre. Jackson accepted a fellowship as a resident artist with the Kranzberg Arts Foundation (KAF) as a featured jazz performance and recording artist in 2018.

 Katrina Thompson Moore, Ph.D. (Ruth)

Moore is the associate dean for diversity, equity, inclusion, and engagement for the College of Arts and Sciences.  She is also an associate professor in the History and African American Studies departments at SLU. She specializes in 19th- and 20th-century issues of race, gender, stereotypes, popular culture, and American entertainment history.

Gary Wayne Barker (Karl) 

Barker is a professor of acting and the senior associate dean for administration and undergraduate affairs in SLU’s College of Arts and Sciences. He is an active actor/director in the St. Louis region.  Barker has directed more than 20 productions at SLU and he has directed for The New Jewish Theatre, Mustard Seed Theatre, Moonstone Theatre, and Shakespeare Festival St. Louis (tour). He is currently nominated for Best Director of a Comedy (2023 St. Louis Circle Awards). 

Mayokun Lawal (Joseph)

 Lawal is a Nigerian-born computer science student at SLU. 

Alexandria Butler (Beneatha)

Butler is a SLU sophomore studying psychology with a minor in forensic science and criminology and criminal justice. Last year, she appeared in SLU Theatre’s mainstage production of Everybody by Brandon Jacob Jenkins.

Lamont Evans IV (Walter)

Evans is a junior at Saint Louis University from Hollywood, Florida. He is a Communication major and a member of the Billiken men’s basketball team.

“Scenes from A Raisin in the Sun” will be held on Friday, April 5, at 7 p.m. in the Mark Wilson Studio Theatre in Xavier Hall. This program is free and open to the public. 

Saint Louis Theatre and Dance Productions and Dance will present a full production of “A Raisin in the Sun,” also directed by Bentley, on Oct, 3-6 at the Grandel Theatre in Grand Center.

“We are building a community around highlighting black voices and the important works of black playwrights,” Bentley said. “As a young Black actor, this was one of the first plays I connected with. I knew and loved these characters. I’m excited for the full production this fall to continue the discussion.”