From the time of its 1959 Broadway premiere, "A Raisin in the Sun," Lorraine Hansberry's drama of a striving black family, was destined to become a classic of the American theater and -- as these things go -- to be showered with praise for its humanity and timelessness. In a praise-happy age encomiums like those rarely mean much, but there are those other times -- the new TV adaptation (airing Monday, 8-11 p.m. EST, on ABC) is one of them -- when the tribute to timelessness cuts precisely to the point. To watch, once more, this saga set in the 1950s is to be struck again and again by just that quality in this story about the Youngers of Chicago's South Side.
The title was inspired by the poet Langston Hughes's reflections about a dream deferred -- does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? One dream not about to be deferred will soon be realized for the family head, Lena (Phylicia Rashad), a domestic about to retire. A stalwart, churchgoing tower of strength devoted to the memory of her late husband, Lena is about to get a $10,000 insurance check from his estate. For Lena's son, Walter Lee, Jr. (Sean Combs), who has long-cherished dreams of being able to give up his job as a chauffeur for rich white people by going into business for himself -- which he can do only if he can get Lena to part with that money -- the $10,000 appears a shining hope. It will soon be a cause of bitter resentment, as he realizes that his chances of getting his hands on it are thin. They grow even thinner when Lena discovers, to her horror, that the business her son yearns to invest in is a liquor store.
Does this matriarch imbued with moral values so stern that she can't abide the idea of investment in something so detestable as a liquor store seem, today, a voice from a distant time and place? It might in a character wrought with less skill and fire. Lena and her faith come through, to the contrary, as a living force. To appreciate that fact, it's only necessary to consider an early scene in which her daughter, Beneatha (Sanaa Lathan), a free-thinking sort with plans for a career in medicine, incautiously chatters on about her lack of belief in a Supreme Being and any works attributable to one. Man, she confidently declares, is the maker of his destiny.
To read the rest of this review, visit Wall Street Journal: