Kuntu Repertory Theatre's latest endeavor is the 1973 double-Tony Award winner Raisin, a musical re-working of Lorraine Hansberry's much-acclaimed 1959 play A Raisin the Sun. You might expect something special. But Kuntu remains a community theater, where productions like this most often feel like gatherings of the faithful rather than polished, memorable productions.
The story, if directed with more insight, could become moving, emotional drama. It concerns the Younger family, black Americans living in 1950s Chicago and hopeful due to insurance money from the father's death. But in this production, puzzlingly, thematically significant material is excised: After the mother, Lena, decides to move them all to a new house in a segregated white neighborhood, Kuntu's version omits the sequence where a community representative tries to buy them out.
Meanwhile, last week's opening-night audience witnessed two-and-a-half clumsy hours directed by Ernest McCarty. In one scene, the Nigerian Joseph Asagai and Lena's daughter Beneatha are getting romantic when, suddenly, a glowing moon appears in the backdrop sky. It disappears when the scene ends -- and it's daytime. Lights dim and go up during some songs and not others. The overture from the original cast recording is used for a dance routine even though, for most of the show, a keyboard trio plays live, even inserting noodling background music during dialogue ... except when other recordings randomly get used. And performers with body mikes shout and blur their words, while no one at the soundboard appears able to modulate.
The large cast mostly sings with skill in quite a few attractive songs by Judd Woldin and Robert Brittan, and do well in dances choreographed by Greer Reed Jones. Most performers also give adequate suggestions of character, although actors in principal roles barely get beyond the rudiments. Stephanie Akers creates a believable portrait of Lena, conveying vulnerable sweetness in a role more often played dynamic and sturdy. And Monté Howell presents an appealing and genuine portrayal of Joseph Asagai.
I can't help wondering how, with considerable corporate backing, Kuntu often produces such cheap-looking, unprofessional results. That includes, in this case, a badly printed program, where a full page is devoted to McCarty but nothing is written at all about the cast, the production staff or the songwriters. Such amateurishness insults the intelligence of Kuntu's audience.
Raisin continues through Feb. 5. Kuntu Repertory at Alumni Hall, 4227 Fifth Ave., Oakland. 412-624-7298 or www.kuntu.org