Highlighting the many hardships of being an African American family in the 1940s, A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry, can either make one empathize with the struggles of African Americans or simply cause boredom, depending on whether you read the book or watch the play.
The book and play version of A Raisin in the Sun are completely different experiences because of how the actors perform, speak, and dress.
In my opinion, the written version is far superior to the eye-opening Harvard play, which is available online, because the characters in the play act too dramatically. For example, when father Walter loses all his family’s money, the grandma literally shakes her head for one straight minute, shuffles to the other side of the room at a snail’s pace, walks excruciatingly slowly back to Walter, then starts raging.
As I watched this grandma, I thought, why couldn’t she just move a little faster? Another example happens every time mother Ruth feels sad: she continually shakes her head during whole arguments. Weirdly, you cannot tell if she is negating or affirming the speaker’s opinions because she constantly shakes her head diagonally vs. vertically or horizontally. Furthermore, her lips always purse, so the audience must decipher whether she is agreeing or disagreeing. Annoying. At first, I felt confused; as she kept shaking her head throughout the play, I felt distracted and disturbed.
Though likely not the author’s fault, the actors (especially grandma) sometimes talk in very low voices. Hearing the dialogue is difficult. Luckily, I read the book. For instance, whenever the grandma acts depressed, she talks in a slow pace and in an inaudible voice. Perhaps the audio technician stood too far away from the characters or recorded from the back of the stage. Still, this shows that the book “beats” the play in another way; how can you enjoy what you can’t hear?
However, the play has one significant advantage: costumes. When Walter’s sister, Beneatha receives a traditional African dress from Asagai, her boyfriend, I pictured it as a plain white, long, loose-fitting draped toga. However, the actress’s frock had many versions of vivid greens. I also expected Asagai to be as tall and plump as Beneatha. Again, the play differed. Although Asagai stood tall, he looked emaciated.
On the other hand, Beneatha’s boyfriend, George looked stocky and tall. He wore a suit, classy shoes, and acted like a wealthy tycoon. He always checked his fingernails as he stood, showing that he was not interested in Beneatha. On the contrary, I imagined him as a regular-sized guy wearing ordinary clothes who respected Beneatha. These represent only a few examples of how the play gives the audience a different view of the main characters.
In the end, the audience decides which form of entertainment they prefer. Though I do not enjoy slow, dramatic plays, some may appreciate the more quiet, gentle pace. In my opinion, I enjoy the simple form of reading while using my own vivid imagination. Whether you prefer the written or play version, I still believe that you should read the book before the play. If you do watch the play, I recommend you view other troupe performances so that you can feel the emotion and appreciate the implied message from A Raisin in the Sun.