The first time I saw Lorraine Hansberry's play "A Raisin in the Sun" I was a young girl, and it was in black and white on television. It starred Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Ivan Dixon, Diana Sands and others from the cast when it was on Broadway. As I watched the TV version, I remember laughing at times, getting angry at others and shedding tears as I watched the story of the close-knit black Younger family unfold.

Hansberry wrote "A Raisin in the Sun" when she was only 29 years old and became the first black woman to have a play staged on Broadway in 1959. The play captured the life of blacks in a way that had never been done before on Broadway, with the issues of race, class and prejudice taking center stage. That original production was nominated for four Tonys and won the New York Drama Critics Award for Best Play.


"A Raisin in the Sun" has been reproduced on stage and TV innumerable times and received Tony and Emmy status on Broadway and TV for productions in recent years. The sad part that I always think about when I see it in its new and older versions is that Hansberry, a brilliant playwright, died of cancer when she was only 34 years old. Although she wrote other plays, such as "Les Blancs," I've always wondered if she would have written a sequel to "A Raisin in the Sun," to continue the story of the Youngers after they moved from the projects to the home they faced opposition to buy in the all-white suburbs.

We'll never know what Hansberry might have had in store for the Younger family if she had written a sequel, but at Center Stage in Baltimore, the works of two playwrights who have given it a shot are currently on stage.

Last month, the theater kicked off its "Raisin Cycle," in which two spinoffs of "A Raisin in the Sun" are running in rotation, using the same actors and stage, through June 16. The two plays, Bruce Norris' Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning "Clybourne Park," and Center Stage's artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah's new play "Beneatha's Place," take on and expand the discussion on many of the issues Hansberry masterfully wrote of in "A Raisin in the Sun."

"Clybourne Park" opens in the living room of the wealthy white family whose home the Youngers have bought. Their friends are not happy about the pending move of blacks to the neighborhood. The discussion goes like this: "It's a colored family from Hamilton Park. … Isn't it possible they are Mediterranean? … They're 100 percent."

The second act of the play takes place 50 years later when the neighborhood is going through gentrification and all that entails as a young white couple tries to buy the Younger's home.

"Clybourne Park" is poignant and had me thinking about the gentrification that is taking place in D.C. neighborhoods today. I think Hansberry would have been pleased with the discussions the play has inspired regarding class, racism and gentrification.

In "Beneatha's Place," Kwei-Armah focuses on the Younger's hyper, intellectual and highly opinionated daughter, who fell in love with a Nigerian student in "A Raisin in the Sun." In the spinoff, although Beneatha and her husband have degrees and are doing well, some of the same issues Beneatha faced in Hansberry's play follow her to Nigeria, and later when she returns to the states in a university setting. As a professor, Beneatha finds herself defending the importance of black history courses and her own credentials.

"You entered the system during affirmative action," a colleague tells Beneatha, as they debate whether the black studies curriculum should be downgraded to elective courses.

As I watched the play, I found it thoughtful but was a bit disappointed that Kwei-Armah's Beneatha was not as fiery as I expected. She got her jibes in when insulted by missionaries in Africa here and there, but she was a bit too tactful for me at times; although it worked out for her in the long run of the plot. I just expected more from someone who was based on Hansberry's high-spirited and quick-of-tongue Beneatha.

But to be sure, the "The Raisin Cycle" plays are a must-see. In addition to the plays, the cycle also includes numerous separate events and opportunities following the productions for audiences to engage in discussions on the plays and the issues their authors and Hansberry raised in "A Raisin in the Sun," issues that will continue to be debated throughout this decade and beyond.