By TheatreWorks, Thursday through Oct. 21, Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theatre, Ent Center for the Arts, UCCS. Tickets: $45.50; $40.95 for UCCS faculty/staff, military and educators; $20 for youths 18 and under; Tickets.uccspresents.org or 255-3232.
The last and only time Nambi E. Kelley was in Colorado Springs was in September 2013, when she was starring in TheatreWorks’ production of August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars.” Kelley has returned to make her directorial debut with the regional theater company’s production of “A Raisin in the Sun.” The play opens Thursday and runs through Oct. 21 in Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theatre at the Ent Center for the Arts at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
The actress and playwright, who now can add directing to her long list of credits, splits her time between Chicago and New York City. Raised in Chicago, Kelley spent part of her childhood in the neighborhood where Lorraine Hansberry penned “A Raisin in the Sun” in 1959, based on the iconic 1951 poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes.
“I went to the same grammar school as Hansberry. It’s still the same ground, but I was not there at the same time. You’re just a kid, and you don’t realize you’re growing up in the place where giants were born,” said Kelley, 45. “I’m trying to bring my sensibilities of what it was like to live there to this play.”
“What happens to a dream deferred?” the poem famously asks.
In the play’s first scene, Hansberry defines the dreams of each character, focusing on what’s at the core of those dreams — the seed, Kelley said. “What happens to the person whose dreams are continually deferred is the question Hansberry is posing.”
Kelley, the first black woman to direct a TheatreWorks play, said she’s excited about the seed that the play is planting in the community, and what it will mean in the Pikes Peak region.
“In a bigger sense, Hansberry was an activist. A lot of our cast members have taken up that pledge, planting their seed of what it means to be a person of color. It is activism. It is a part of the Black Lives Matter movement, defining what black lives are and how we matter in the crevices of America and not just the urban areas,” she said.
The cast is composed of actors from Chicago, New York City and Colorado Springs. Kelley and TheatreWorks auditioned nearly 300 people to fill the roles of the play’s Younger family. Calvin M. Thompson, a Chicago actor who starred with Kelley in 2013’s “Seven Guitars,” was hand-picked by TheatreWorks for the role of Walter Lee Younger even before Kelley was asked to be director, she said. It’s his fourth turn in a TheatreWorks production. Colorado Springs actress Lynne Hastings plays Lena Younger. New York-based actress Al-nisa Petty is Beneatha Younger, and Rashid Kamara plays Travis Younger.
Kelley brought in her “dream team” for the play’s design team, which is “90 percent people of color,” and includes Lawrence E. Moten III (scenic designer), Kathy A. Perkins (lighting designer), Naila Aladdin Sanders (costume designer) and David Samba (sound designer).
“I definitely think this play has particular resonance for Colorado Springs, being that Colorado Springs is the setting for the new Spike Lee movie (‘BlacKkKlansman’). It’s unprecedented, coupled with the fact that you have a black female director and design team.”
Kelley hopes the play will attract a diverse audience. “Anyone who has a family, a brother, a sister, a mother, anyone who has suffered a loss or has wanted anything in their lives, has ever had a dream, is going to love the show.”
MICHELLE KARAS, THE GAZETTE, MICHELLE.KARAS@GAZETTE.COM