Review: Beneatha’s Place (Young Vic)

Beneatha’s Place,revived ten years after it was written, has been referred to by its playwright/director Kwame Kwei-Armah as the third play in ‘The Raisin Cycle’.

Inspired by, and a sort of sequel to, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, and in response to Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park, which imagines Hansberry’s play from the white perspective, Beneatha’s Place presents a dramatic act and a discursive one, separated by fifty years.

It assumes that Raisin‘s protagonist, Beneatha, did marry Joseph Asagai, and followed him to an unstable Nigeria seeking independence. He, a doctor, and she, a medical student, are moving into a white neighbourhood populated largely by ‘the Brits’.

Production photo for Beneatha's Place

Met by an openly racist and religious white couple from Alabama, who are shocked by Joseph’s collection of Jim Crow memorabilia and patronising about the black situation in both the United States and “darkest Africa”, the Asagai’s find their lives thwarted before they even settle in.

Like Clybourne Park, the second act moves forward in time and has actors from act one return in different roles. It echoes back to what we have already seen and makes us tackle difficult topics and views head-on.

The place, Beneatha’s Place, is the same give or take a few cracks in the wall and sand under the doors and skirtings (design by Debbie Duru), and the topic is education, specifically whether Californian students should major in ‘Critical Whiteness’ rather than ‘African American’ studies.

Production photo for Beneatha's Place

I found act two stronger than act one, mainly because I could sense the danger Joseph was in, but didn’t know why or what was at stake, and the shocking conclusion seemed to come from nowhere.

As in Raisin, there was the issue of white privilege and bribery to put the black character in their place, but the 1950s America of lynchings, apartheid and fear of miscengation is easier to follow and understand.

The performances are generally very good, with Cherrelle Skeete’s Beneatha dominating the stage, whether as a nervous new bride or a respected university dean in old age. As her aunt Fola, Jumok√© Fashola offers the dignity of the strong and a glimpse of what Beneatha might become.

Production photo for Beneatha's Place

Nia Gwynne and Tom Godwin’s characters are awful and unredeemable throughout the play, while Sebastian Armesto is sweetly dangerous and strongly clueless as the 1959 neighbour and the contemporary (white) professor who reads “Black Twitter”.

Beneatha’s Place is an important addition to the discourse around racial politics, and features a strong coda where Zackary Momoh’s Joseph returns to his wife’s heart, while it makes an interesting addition to the world of Hansberry’s original play.

It continues at the Young Vic until 5 Aug: tickets here.

***.5

Image credit: Johan Persson