THE SHOW "A Raisin in the Sun Revisited: The Raisin Cycle at Center Stage"
WHEN | WHERE Friday night at 9 on WNET/13
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Last spring, Baltimore's Center Stage ended its 50th anniversary season with an ambitious plan. Instead of staging Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 formative racial drama, "A Raisin in the Sun," artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah presented two plays, in rotating rep, inspired by that classic.
One, Bruce Norris' brutal Pulitzer- and Tony-winning social satire, "Clybourne Park," begins in the nice house in the white neighborhood where Hansberry's black family moved at the end of the play, then skips 50 years to see how the decaying house is about to be changed again by gentrification. For the second play, Kwei-Armah, the black British artist who took over Center Stage in 2011, wrote "Beneatha's Place," a drama that traces Hansberry's young Afrocentric character to Nigeria with her African husband and, decades later, her struggles to keep her black-studies program alive.
In just an hour, this documentary, part of 2013 PBS Arts Fall Festival, attempts to explore the importance and the plots of all three plays, racial politics from America to Africa, a trip to Hansberry's Chicago and backstage life at Baltimore's resident theater.
MY SAY The show is tightly edited and good-looking, but superficial and, ultimately, pretty incoherent. Snippets from the productions seem stagy against powerful clips of Sidney Poitier and the rest of the iconic cast in the 1961 movie. Heartfelt observations from Center Stage artists cannot compare with bits of trenchant newsreel interviews with Hansberry. Also, playwright Norris does not appear except in a photo and brief voice-over. Commentator Frank Rich is identified as a theater critic, which he hasn't been in years.
BOTTOM LINE Too much and not enough