Looking for something with more substance after last night's 3+ hour Oscar fest? A new, three-hour adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun — Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 tale of black mobility and racial discrimination in Chicago — premieres tonight on ABC, and the critics are (mostly) crowing. Starring Phylicia Rashad, Audra McDonald, Sanaa Lathan, John Stamos, and a young wannabe movie star named Sean "Diddy" Combs (you may have heard of him!), the made-for-TV film follows the financially-strapped South Side Younger family as they await the arrival of a $10,000 life insurance check... and the interpersonal dramas that ensue. Combs — who has referred to Raisin as a "coming out" of sorts for him as an on-screen actor — is said to be serviceable in the role of Walter Lee, Jr., but outshone by the powerhouse actresses around him. Some reviews, after the jump.
Marquee lure Combs was considered the weak link on stage. But while he may lack the experience and technique to project to the second balcony, he's more satisfactory — a tad facially inexpressive, but otherwise hitting the right notes — under the camera's intimate gaze. Other thesps, particularly the laureled three female leads and charming Oyelowo, are terrific.
The Hollywood Reporter:
Director Kenny Leon, who also helmed the show on Broadway, attempts to open up the action, drawing on Paris Qualles' screenplay, which in turn is adapted from a TV version of the original play by Hansberry herself. The staging remains a bit creaky, but none of this diminishes the spirit of the play or the cast's commitment to the material, which almost seems palpable. It's still a provocative, powerful piece of work
Los Angeles Times:
Combs does a fair enough job hitting his marks, and he has successfully made himself into a working-class man of the middle 20th century; there is no trace of his own fabulous life in his portrayal of Walter Lee, but there are no overtones in his performance, no intermediate shades — it's all primary colors. It's impossible not to notice that he works at a lower skill level than his costars, who support but also eclipse him.
New York Times:
There are no mediocre performances here. Ms. Lathan is terrific at conveying the snobbery that comes from cultural self-loathing. Beneatha doesn't simply want better things; she wants to be part of a world of bigger and better ideas. Walter, a chauffeur to a wealthy white businessman, wants to live well and be seen. That Mr. Combs makes his desires seem like more than empty materialism must come in some part from the fact that he has been hungry at the same table.
New York Magazine:
We only discovered in 1989, when "American Playhouse" mounted a public-TV version with Danny Glover and Esther Rolle, that a number of passages on class, violence, feminism, and African nationalism (not to mention Beneatha's Afro) had been abbreviated or omitted from the original stage production. They are mostly restored here, too, and more valuable than the attempts to open up the set to the rich interiors and pastoral climes of white employers. Actually, Raisin works well on television, like so many other fifties plays that tended toward the Freudian and claustrophobic, with their Munch-scream close-ups and slammed Ibsen doors.
Beyond giving this rendition a sense of life and dramatic momentum, Leon's direction captures the intimacy and authenticity of the family's interplay — the sardonic humor, eruptions of anger, bonds of understanding and forgiveness among loving albeit often feisty characters living in close quarters.
The latest film version of "A Raisin in the Sun" features Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, surrounded by strong women whose fine acting talents support his less-polished performance. In some ways, his uneven performance is better suited to the role than Sidney Poitier's suave Serious Actor finesse. When this Walter says he's "a volcano," you believe.