In Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun, a poor black family in Chicago comes into money and endures a crushing combination of thwarted ambitions and oppression. The 2004 Broadway revival — for which Phylicia Rashad (The Cosby Show) and Audra McDonald (Private Practice) won Tony Awards — has been restaged for TV and hinges on how a $10,000 life-insurance check alters everyone’s hopes. The theater-audience draw was Sean Combs, who returns in the lead male role of Walter, an ambitious young man who wants to give his family a better life by opening a liquor store. In a role originated by Sidney Poitier, Combs drops his Making the Band poker face and reminds us he can act with full-hearted expressiveness. He holds his own with Rashad, who plays the stoic matriarch, and McDonald, a theater pro who embodies Walter’s anguished wife with a piercing directness.
The play is old-fashioned enough for us to know that when Walter says, ”Money is life,” his mother will react with pained disappointment. It’s also artful enough to portray the family’s planned move to a house in a white neighborhood as a test of bigotry that affects each member differently. Director Kenny Leon discreetly opens up the play to street and bar scenes, and what appear to be handheld-camera close-ups never mar the delicacy of the performances. Indeed, the whole production is a model of subtle adaptation. B+