When Anitra Ingram saw auditions opening for “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry, she knew she had to fulfil a lifelong dream.
“It’s a play I have always wanted to be part of,” said Ingram. “So when I saw it on the calendar, I knew I would have to start praying. I said, ‘Lord, this opportunity might not come along again.’”
Ingram took on a lead role while working as a practical nurse and studying nursing to further her education.
“I had time between studying for tests. I employed my friends to help with lines during breaks,” said Ingram.
The Richmond Community Theatre presented “A Raisin in the Sun” from Feb. 16- 25. Many shows sold out.
In the play, Ingram played Ruth Younger, the wife of Walter Lee Younger (Bruce Stanback) and mother of Travis Younger (Jaquann Smith). The family lives with Walter Lee’s mother, Lena (Brenda Wilson), and his sister Beneatha (Kimberly Harrington). After the passing of Lena’s husband Walter, the family received a check from the insurance company and each character has their own plans for the money. While Walter Lee dreams of opening a liquor store, he feels ignored by his family who doesn’t believe in his dream.
“I see (Ruth) as trying to keep her family together but she still has a lot on her,” said Ingram.
Ruth finds out that she is pregnant and is afraid to tell Walter Lee. Fearing raising a baby in a crowded household with minimal resources, she consults with a doctor about an abortion.
“Walter Lee wants a lot of things, but he forgets his wife,” said Ingram.
While Ingram had perspective of her own, she also enjoyed sharing it through the play with youth.
“The schools I feel don’t do Black History Month justice,” said Ingram. “We had the opportunity to perform for Leak Street High School and the Alternative School and it meant so much to be a part of it. The students got a glimpse of what life was like.”
Ingram said she feels it is important for youth to understand that the play was written in a different setting, and that the language used was different at the time. She said she had her nieces and nephews coming to see the show, and realized she would have to explain a few things before they saw it. In one scene, Walter Lee is on his knees, waving his hands in the air, sarcastically saying, “All right, Mr. Great White Father. You just give us that money! And we won’t come there and dirty up your white neighborhood!” Ingram said she wanted to make sure the children understood the scene in context.
Ingram said she has achieved two things she set out to do in life; become a nurse and act on stage. “The road has not been easy,” said Ingram.
All the feedback she has received about the play has been positive, she said, and the cast was very supportive of each other.
“This was my first chance to work with Bruce Stanback,” said Ingram. “I have always wanted to work with him. He’s a brilliant actor — he’s just awesome. He has taught me a lot during this play, he might not realize it.”
Ingram said the cast had deep discussions backstage about how they interpreted the play. Wayne Webb plays Karl Linder, the only white character in the play. Linder comes to the Younger’s home after they purchase a home in a white neighborhood to tell them they aren’t welcome and could receive a check for their home. Ingram said that backstage, Webb talked about growing up during the time where seeing signs for “whites only” was common. Ingram said she got perspective because she didn’t grow up during that time.
“We also had talks about the female side of it, having a husband and raising kids,” said Ingram.
Many people who view the play may think it’s mostly about money, but Ingram said Harrington’s character shows that it isn’t always about money. Beneatha wants to be a doctor, and ends up choosing a man from Nigeria over a rich black man who she is going to college with.
“People think this is a ‘black play’ but it’s not — it’s an American Play,” said Ingram.
Queen Covington is the grandmother of Jaquann Smith, who played Travis Younger, Ruth’s son, and she said she enjoyed the play.
“It was awesome, I really enjoyed it. To see my grandson do something like that made me very proud of him,” said Covington. “When they started try-outs he said, ‘I wanna try out for it’ and he did, and when (Director Shelly Walker) called and said he had got the part, he jumped up in the middle of the floor and said ‘Yes!’”
“It made me feel really good to be in the audience with all those people watching my grandson up there on the stage,” said Covington. She said she explained to him that he might get stage-fright, but he said to her, “Mama, I got this.” According to Covington, Smith has sung in choirs before, and she advised him to look at the tops of people’s heads to avoid stumbling or getting scared. She said he used this method at Richmond Community Theatre.
“He proved it to me that he wasn’t afraid,” she said.
Ingram said she doesn’t have children, and being onstage and backstage with Smith was interesting because he would say things like an adult and Ingram could see both of their roles coming to life as mother and son.
“He’s too smart for his own good,” she said. “He kept us on our toes.”
“I wanted to be in the play to experience what life was like back then,” said Smith. “It was more than I thought. I thought it was just separated water-fountains and bathrooms but it was more than that. I feel that in some states segregation is still the same and some states have settled it and become equal. The hardest thing about the play was getting the lines down. The cast treated me like I was part of the group, they brought me in on everything and were very nice. It’s my first play in the Richmond Community Theatre but in 2008 or 2010 I was at Mineral Springs Elementary School and I played Big Daddy Warbucks in ‘Annie.’ Shelly was a very creative, logical director. When she saw something hidden in you that you couldn’t see, she brought it out for you to see. I didn’t even realize I would be a great actor. She said I was the perfect Travis.”
Richmond Community Theatre’s next show will be “Second Samuel” by Pamela Parker. This comedy is about life in a small town, which seems simple until a secret turns it upside down. Auditions will be held March 3, from 1 to 4 p.m. The script calls for a cast of seven men and four women. The play will run April 26-29 and May 3-5. All tickets are $9.
For more information call the Richmond Community Theatre at 910-997-3765, or visit at 109 E. Washington St., Rockingham. You can also find the theatre on Facebook.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at email@example.com.