Review: With heart and humanity, this ‘Raisin in the Sun’ still hits home

The Younger family matriarch (Saundra McClain) receives a check for $10,000, and what should be a fresh start leads instead to family strife and racial barriers to a better life.
(Craig Schwartz)

For anyone who has not yet experienced playwright Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” the current production at A Noise Within is an opportunity to experience a near-optimum staging of this American classic.

The play centers on the embattled Younger clan, a hard-working African American family making ends meet in 1950s Chicago. The ramshackle apartment, richly realized by scenic designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s set, suggests a family with pride making do on limited means.

When matriarch Lena (Saundra McClain) receives a $10,000 insurance payment following her husband’s death, a long-deferred dream of buying a house seems within reach. But having so much cash in hand warps the judgment of son Walter Lee (Ben Cain), and Lena’s attempt to purchase a home in an all-white neighborhood also puts the Youngers’ future in doubt.

Inspired by Hansberry’s own family’s Supreme Court case, the play is written from the intensely personal perspective of someone who experienced the struggle against discriminatory housing practices. Against this backdrop, McClain’s portrayal is rich in humor and humanity.

A Noise Within's
Walter Lee (Ben Cain) dips wife Ruth (Toya Turner) in a moment of joy while Beneatha (Sarah Hollis) opens to door to a visitor (Bert Emmett) from an all-white homeowners association. Craig Schwartz

Cain shines in one of the most complex, frustrating and richly flawed characters in American drama, capturing the agonizing self-doubt under Walter Lee’s impenetrable machismo while allowing his character’s earthy humor to come to the fore.

Gregg T. Daniel’s direction conveys the droll, heroic sprawl of the embattled Younger clan. The production does sometimes venture perilously close to stereotype, particularly in Sarah Hollis’ portrayal of Beneatha, Walter Lee’s sister, an undeniable crowd-pleaser but a character who can seem like mere comic relief rather than an organic component to the play. Toya Turner may be a bit too youthfully gamine to be completely convincing as Walter Lee’s long-suffering wife, Ruth.

But these are trivial objections in the context of a fine production. This staging draws us fully into the lives of the vibrant Youngers, the clan that redrew the boundaries of the all-American family.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

‘A Raisin in the Sun’

Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena

When: In repertory (see website for schedule); ends April 8

Price: From $25

Info: (626) 356-3100,

Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes (with one intermission)

See all of our latest arts news and reviews at


Small-theater roundup: Are we ready for plays about moral responsibility?

Joy, heartbreak and surf rock power a fierce, funny 'Cambodian Rock Band'

Taylor Mac on gay history, 'Hamilton' and his epic 24-hour extravaganza at the Ace

The curious care and feeding of Olaf the snowman in Broadway's 'Frozen'