I confess I only caught the first hour of ABCâs A Raisin in the Sun last night. Kenny Leon (pictured), artistic director of Atlantaâs True Colors Theatre Company, directed the three-hour, made-for-TV version of the same show he staged on Broadway nearly four years ago. Reprising their Broadway roles were Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald, who both won Tony Awards for their work; and Sean Combs, the mogul formerly known as P. Diddy, whose marquee-name involvement was no doubt crucial in getting the project to Broadway as well as the small screen.
The first third of Raisin displayed some conspicuous strengths and weaknesses. The adaptation of Lorraine Hansberryâs classic social drama shows some of its age with its heavy-handed foreshadowing and occasionally stilted dialog. On the plus side, Leon opens up with the material to provide brief but telling glimpses of the petty racism endured by African-Americans in big cities in the late 1950s. Combs notwithstanding, it proves a showcase for terrific performances, especially McDonald's powerful, emotional, transparent work that turns a relatively low-key role into a scene-stealer.
Raisin debuted at the Sundance Film Festival this year, but one suspects that Leon doesnât have much time to enjoy Raisinâs moment in the spotlight. Heâs currently serving as the artistic director for August Wilsonâs 20th Century at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (March 4-April 6). The project presents a complete staging of Wilsonâs cycle of 10 plays about the African-American experience, each set in a different decade of the 20th century. This Playbill article features the lineups of each play, the most prominent of which is probably Fences, Wilson's first Pulitzer Prize winner (and True Colors' debut production in 2003). Leon will direct Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr. as former baseball player Troy Maxson, and will also direct the project's stagings of The Gem of the Ocean and Wilson's other Pulitzer winner, The Piano Lesson.
Incidentally, The Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf are the two plays of Wilsonâs cycle that have not yet received Atlanta productions. Perhaps once the August Wilsonâs 20th Century project is out of the way, the last two plays can receive their overdue Atlanta stagings.