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‘A Raisin in the Sun’ appearing at Arena Stage
The Nigerian Joseph Asagai, Bueka Uwemedimo creates gorgeous chemistry with the uncompromising Beneatha. He is written largely as a figure of hope and something of a speech-giver and in the wrong hands might come across as preachy. But Uwemedimo imbues him with such warmth and color and such believable fondness for Beneatha, he is instead the ideal vehicle through which Hansberry’s ideas can soar.
(The play’s strongest voice of reason comes from the Nigerian character Asagai, a courtly suitor to Beneatha who is studying to be a doctor). Still, the audience listens with Beneatha’s eager ears as Asagai (a delightful Bueka Uwemedimo) brings perspective to the family’s calamities over the money.
Joseph Asagai’s “I live the answer!” retort and speech to Beneatha Younger, Lena’s daughter, was one of many highlights in the show. Bueka Uwemedimo’s Asagai was a well-crafted portrait of a wise, insightful young man.
The entire cast delivers some of the greatest acting I have witnessed in the DC Metro area, and this is where “A Raisin in the Sun” truly shines.
This small cast packs an enormous emotional punch. Bueka Uwemedimo as Ray Heffernon, Vincent’s wayward brother, is playful with an edge. His sudden flashes of aggressiveness are scary in their unpredictability, but balanced out by Uwemedimo’s ability to consistently convey Ray’s underlying vulnerability, you continue to root for him.
But key to the story as well, is the complicated charisma of Vincent’s older brother, Ray, an intractable drug addict, unable to overcome the neglect in his past, but still adored by his younger brother. Played by the powerful and talented Bueka Uwemedimo, the scenes between Ray and Vincent were illuminating and touching. There is wonderful chemistry between the two actors, which is important to the storytelling.
The brother’s relationship was nicely explored, and when onstage together, Kumasi and Uwemedimo provided exceptional moments. As the addict slowly remembering his past failings, he shows great emotion range, always on the edge, a hair-trigger away from failing. A burly man, his sense of weakness when confronted with the demons of his addiction was striking. The scene played on the second level of the set (effectively set up by Kathryn Kawecki, with construction by Howard Forman) of a train trestle and the brothers wrestling, a hair-trigger from death, riveted the theatre.
In scenes between the brothers, Kumasi and Uwemedimo interact with a mischievousness that fully envelops the world of adult sibling relationships through which we see them as children. It’s a balance Kumasi and Uwemedimo find with extraordinary skill.
During a recent rainstorm, 1st Stage’s riveting production of The Good Counselor, by Kathryn Grant, had to be stopped. On stage, Manu Kumasi, as Vicent, a small-town public defender, Deidra LaWan Starnes, as his mother Rita, and Bueka Uwemedimo, as the troubled son, Ray—gamely battled their way to the end of a compelling scene. Up to that point the acting had been first rate. As rain thundered down on the roof, it was heroic. To everyone’s credit, the audience was on the edge of their seats, straining to hear. Every word mattered. We were spellbound.
Lynn Nottage's Ruined at the Everyman Theatre
Also notable are Bueka Uwemedimo as Fortune, the farmer turned reluctant soldier who yearns to reconcile with his wife
A suggestion that rape evaporates the spirit is seen in the dead-eyed rage of Salima’s husband Fortune (Bueka Uwemedimo, dangerously forbidding) and Mama Nadi’s cavalier attitude toward her girls.
Bueka Uwemedimo, who plays her estranged husband, Fortune, is also aptly named, as what he represents — a return to an idyllic life of sweet gardens and blue skies — is a fortune to be had, but a wild gamble at best.
Fortune (Bueka Uwemedimo) is Salima’s husband who initially chased her out of the village when she returned from her ordeal. He is now a soldier in search of Salima, realizing he still loves her. He eventually tips the scales of the delicate balance Mama Nadi has managed to create and sets off the violence bubbling beneath the surface.