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story.lead_photo.caption The cast of The Rep’s A Raisin in the Sun includes (clockwise from left) Lynnette R. Freeman as Ruth Younger, Hisham Tawfiq as Walter Lee Younger, Myxolydia Tyler as Beneatha Younger, Tyrese Treyvon Bluford as Travis Younger and Phyllis Yvonne Stickney as Lena Younger.

— Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is one of the classics of American theater and it’s the Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s first production of 2011. Along with the historic nature of the play, it stars Little Rock native Phyllis Yvonne Stickney in her debut hometown performance.

Stickney has appeared in the films Malcolm X, Jungle Fever, What’s Love Got to Do With It?, New Jack City, The Inkwell, How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Die Hard With a Vengeance. She is also an author, poet and comedian.

“I’ve never done A Raisin in the Sun, never seen a stage production,” Stickney says. “I’m grateful to get the chance to play Lena Younger as the family matriarch of the play.”

While Stickney was born in Little Rock, she grew up in Texas, but kept her connections to Arkansas, thanks to relatives who remained hereabouts.

“That meant we came back to visit every summer and holidays,” she explains. “I consider myself bicoastal now, living in Harlem and splitting my time between there and Los Angeles, but also living on the road, or in airport terminals, as I sometimes put it.”

Stickney’s character presides over a family whose members all have their own ideas over what she should dowith a forthcoming $10,000 inheritance from her late husband’s life insurance policy. She wants to buy a house but her son, Walter Lee, wants the money to buy a liquor store, although his wife, Ruth, agrees with her mother-in-law about spending the money on a house.

Beneatha, Walter’s sister, wants their mother to finance Beneatha’s medical school tuition.

The play takes its name from a Langston Hughes poem, “Harlem,” also known as “A Dream Deferred,” thanks to its lines: “What happens to a dream deferred?/Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun?”

The play also marks the return of director Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj, whose previous work at The Rep includes Dreamgirls, IntimateApparel and Little Rock. Maharaj was the assistant to the director of the 2004 Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun, which won a Tony Award and featured Phylicia Rashad and Sean Combs.

Spirit Trickey, a playwright, filmmaker and acting chief of interpretation at the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, is assistant director of A Raisin in the Sun.

“My first experience at The Rep was as an usher, so I could see the plays,” Trickey says. “Now Rajendra has taken me under his wing, and asked me to put together a dramaturgy table to provide resources, like historical context about the playwright, different elements mentioned in the play, like the great migration of blacks leaving theSouth, going to Chicago.

“In the time period, what was the political, social and racial context of the play, and why was the play so groundbreaking? It was one of the first black-centric plays produced on the stage, and what was the reception that it received by all the communities?”

The cast of 12 features Lynette R. Freeman as Ruth Younger, Hisham Tawfiq as Walter Lee Younger and Myxolydia Tyler as Beneatha Younger.

Freeman is reprising the role of Ruth, whom she also portrayed in a production two years ago by the Trinity Repertory Company near her college, Brown University in Rhode Island.

“If you have the opportunity to do a role more than once, it’s always different,” Freeman says. “Different directors bring their different ideas, the cast is always different, even the theater is a different size and shape, so it’s a rare experience to be able to connect again with a role, and you discover more in it, and all that surrounds it.”

With the play’s setting in the 1950s, Freeman praised the costumes of that era.

“The costumes are beautiful, absolutely gorgeous,” she says. “Some are actually vintage, and some were built for the show.”

Tawfiq has previously worked at The Rep and with the director when Intimate Apparel was produced here.

“My character, Walter, he’s a handful,” Tawfiq says. “When you have dreams, when you’re so close, then you watch them slip away, it can drive you mad. He’s surrounded by all these women, and he has a young son, so he’s on a huge roller coaster ride. He just needs a chance, an opportunity.”

Trickey notes that the playwright got the subject matter for the play from incidents that happened in her own life when her family fought in the Illinois courts to have the right to live where they chose, despite restrictive housing covenants that were written to keep blacks from living in white neighborhoods.

“It’s like a blueprint to how we are the way we are today,” Trickey says. “A missing link, even. There were all these overlapping things - housing, schools, as in where are the good schools and where are the bad schools - that affected people then and now. The playwright’s father was involved in a lawsuit in the 1940s that led her to write about it years later.”

Stickney praises the truth of the characters that are the essence of the play.

“I hope people who see the play leave with a sense of hope, responsibility and accountability,” she says. “I hope they’re willing to have this open dialogue, as in ‘I can’t get well until you get well!’ What legacy are we leaving for our children ?”A Raisin in the Sun 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m.

Wednesday-Thursday, through Feb. 6, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Sixth and Main streets, Little Rock Preview performance: 7 p.m.

today, with pre-show talk by director from 6:15 to 6:45 p.m.

Tickets: $25 to $40 (with discounts of $10 or $5 off advance ticket purchases in the “A” and “B” sections, an offer that expires after today)

(501) 378-0405 or www.therep.

org

Weekend, Pages 34 on 01/20/2011

Print Headline: THEATER Rep’s Raisin in the Sun stars Little Rock native

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