You could say Tommy Wedge has been preparing for this moment since the day he first opened the pages of “A Raisin in the Sun” while in high school. The Lorraine Hansberry classic has informed every play written in the last six decades, said Wedge, now an experienced theatre professional.
Still, the celebrated story of a struggling black family in 1950s Chicago continues to surprise Wedge even today as he prepares to direct an adaptation for the stage at Saginaw Valley State University.
“This is a play that touches on race, and here I am, a white man from South Dakota, directing this pillar of black literature,” Wedge said. “It’s been a wonderful learning experience for me, trying to honor that.”
The adjunct instructor of theatre said the time was right for SVSU to host “one of the best plays of the last 60 years.”
“We have such a talented pool of actors of color,” Wedge said of the production's largely black cast. “We have some fun things in mind for lighting and the setting, but a lot of this production is going to showcase the very realistic and naturalistic elements of the play. This is a daunting play to produce because it’s so richly-written, but the cast members are really showing their acting gifts.”
Donté Green, a theatre major from Detroit, will play the lead, Walter Lee Younger, the patriarch of the black family featured in “A Raisin in the Sun.”
“He brings a lot of gravitas and confidence to the role,” Wedge said of Green, whose previous SVSU roles include Cassio in “Othello” and Brom Bones in “Sleepy Hollow.”
Walter Lee Younger was perhaps most famously portrayed by Sidney Poitier, who was cast both in the Broadway production from 1959 to 1960 as well as the 1961 Hollywood film.
“It was an extremely popular play, and the first black play that really punctured the American experience,” Wedge said of Hansberry's tale. “It was universally popular for all audiences.”
The plot follows members of the Younger family as they clash with racial politics — and each other — after being offered a substantial sum of money to sell their home in an effort to ease the anxieties of white neighbors.
“It’s a serious play but it has some very lighthearted moments too,” Wedge said. “It’s about the journey of a family. No matter what your experience, you’ll be able to identify with the story and enjoy it.”
While Wedge has never been involved in a production of “A Raisin in the Sun” before, he is familiar with the play’s world. In spring 2015 at Saginaw-based Pit & Balcony Theatre, he directed an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Clybourne Park,” which takes place in the formerly all-white neighborhood where the Younger family lived 50 years earlier.
Both plays are challenging, sometimes uncomfortable character studies that allow Wedge and his cast to explore — and learn — more about the human experience, he said.
“During rehearsals, there have been a lot of moments where I’m helping the cast try to find these truthful moments they can capture,” Wedge said. “They’re learning a lot about themselves and I’m learning a lot about myself as a director. It’s been a pleasure being part of that.”
Wedge hopes audiences are similarly pleased after the curtains open for “A Raisin in the Sun” during showings at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, Nov. 16-19, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20, in SVSU’s Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. Tickets are $13 for the general public and $10 for students or attendees 60 or older.
For more information or to order tickets, contact the SVSU box office at (989) 964-4261. Click here to purchase tickets online.