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‘A Raisin in the Sun’ cast shines in Wish Theater

March 3, 2023

Courtesy of Alex Cornell du Houx
SHOWSTOPPERS: From the left, Sarah Munoru '23, Aaniyah Simmons '26 and Milo Livingston perform in Wish Theater. This weekend the Department of Music and Theater is showing its take on the American classic "A Raisin in the Sun." The production features an almost entirely Black cast.

Loraine Hansberry’s 1959 play “A Raisin in the Sun” follows the Younger family as it confronts obstacles both within and outside of its home. The Department of Theater and Dance has recreated the Younger’s South Chicago home on the stage of Wish Theater. This weekend, audiences will be able to watch the set come alive with an almost entirely Black cast.

To the members of the cast, bringing a production like this to campus marks a momentous step for the College.

“I think it’s just so significant to have a Black cast to this extent at a predominantly white institution, or just in the media in general,” said Aaniyah Simmons ’26, who plays the role of Ruth Younger. “Having Black faces and Black voices amplified at Bowdoin to the extent that this play is, to tell our culture, share our hardships and what we have to go through in America, I think it’s so significant.”

Sarah Munoru ’23 reflected Simmons’s sentiment and spoke of the production as a way for the College to do good on its rhetoric of inclusivity.

“I feel like Bowdoin does talk all of this stuff about having such a diverse community, or trying to build up to that, and not really having anything to show for it,” Munoru ’23 said. “This production is really a way of doing that in trying to cultivate this community and share this really hopeful story about Black life, Black trauma, Black love and that community around it.”

Because of the weight of the story they are telling, it was sometimes a challenge to not carry this difficult headspace out of the theater.

“After rehearsing so many times, and really just practicing your lines, some of that stuff inevitably gets ingrained in you—especially because it’s a lot of repetition,” Souleman Toure ’23, who plays Walter, said.

Toure added that cast absences due to illness presented an additional roadblock during rehearsals, but one that the cast used to its advantage. Visiting director Craig Anthony Bannister had the available actors practice improv exercises to gain a deeper understanding of the character’s worlds that went beyond the script—for example, asking and exploring what Walter might do when at work or his lunch break. Exercises like this are what allowed cast members to settle into their respective roles so effectively.

Simmons spoke on the relationship she developed with her character.

“[Ruth Younger] is the epitome of life tearing you down. I resonate with that a lot, especially as I see my grandma a lot in that role,” Simmons said.  “How [Ruth] relates with Walter—that’s a familial relationship I’ve seen. Playing her is trying to give my grandma justice for the life that she deserved.”

Simmons, Munoru and Toure all remarked on the strength of Bannister’s support for the cast and his openness to their input. Bannister became involved in the project through discussions with Professor of Theater and Chair of the Department of Theater and Dance Abigail Killeen of what would be most impactful for the Bowdoin community.

“I hope that [audiences] gain the wisdom and the desire to act on what needs to happen, to turn to what seems to be happening—to look at how humanity is suffering because we are not being kind to each other, we’re not really sharing the love that we are supposed to be sharing with one another and just to recognize that we’re all in this game together,” Bannister said.

Simmons explained that performing a play that is deeply rooted in Black culture at a predominantly white institution comes with its own set of challenges and anxieties.

“I didn’t know how it would go over with a lot of people. I didn’t know if they’d be receptive to it. I didn’t know how receptive I would want people to be to it, with some of the jokes that are racial. I don’t know how I would want people to react to that if they’re not Black,” Simmons said. “But, it does go back to a rewarding feeling, [the dress rehearsal] did calm my nerves a lot with how people would react and how I wanted them to react.”

Notably, this will be the first Department of Theater production where members of the cast and crew earn a full credit, as opposed to the half credit that usually accompanies the considerable commitment. Students, however, were not aware of this when they first came on board for the project.

In addition to the full credit, the cast gained new friendships and strengthened old ones.

“I think the connections just flowed really easily as we continued practicing and rehearsing through this play process,” Simmons said. “I think our connection is definitely going to show through our roles, through our daily interactions outside of our character work, through the play.”


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